"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, December 06, 2021

It's only class war when it looks like we might hit back

  “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal loaves of bread"

-Anatole France 


We are constantly reminded that Canada is a wealthy country. And it is a very wealthy country, one of the richest economies in the world.

During the first year of the  COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $78 billion. That's about $2,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada.

 Canada is a rich country.

Canadians, not so much.

  • 1 in 7 (or 4.9 million) people in Canada live in poverty.
  • Poverty costs Canada billions of dollars annually.
  • Precarious employment has increased by nearly 50% over the past two decades.
  • Between 1980 and 2005, the average earnings among the least wealthy Canadians fell by 20%.
  • Over the past 25 years, Canada’s population has increased by 30% and yet annual national investment in housing has decreased by 46%.
  • In Canada, 1.3 million children live in conditions of poverty (that’s 1 in 5).
  • 1 in 2 Status First Nations children lives in poverty.
  • More than one-third of food bank users across Canada were children in 2016.
  • About 1 in 7 of those using shelters in Canada are children.

"But, but, but" - we regularly hear the politicians (especially the conservatives) sputter- "taxation is theft! Private property rights are sacred! Corporations grow the economy! A rising tide lifts all boats!"

"Taxing the rich is simplistic slogan, not a realistic policy" says the think tank funded by wealthy corporations and individuals. 

"Really, a flat tax would more fair to everyone, don't you think?" says the newspaper op-ed provided for free from the 'Taxpayers Watchdog Group' with 12 members and apparently unlimited funding from, well golly gee, who knows? 

"Won't someone think of the poor, poor, job-providing oil companies? Prices went down, so they can't afford to clean up their old wells. We must help them, for the sake of the environment" says the politician whose campaign is funded by...well, never mind. "And we the people should buy them a pipeline that goes through someone else's land, whether those anti-progress tree-huggers and spoiled natives like it or not. I am not a racist, but gosh, we GAVE those people reservations and tried to educate them in special schools, what more do they want?"

"Sure, large parts of the country have been rendered uninhabitable by the resource extraction sector from which all money flows, but some hippies drove nails into some trees so they couldn't be cut down this one time, so both sides are just as bad." writes the distinguished pundit. "Yes, we all know there are homeless people begging on every other street corner, but if those dammed dirty commies ever got elected, there would be people panhandling on EVERY corner. And besides, who really needs whales anymore? Harumph! We just have to accept that the world is changing!"

Why don't you get a side gig driving for Uber or delivering food? Why haven't you started a business on the internet? Have you considered blockchain currency speculation? Why aren't you flipping your house? Whatever happened to the spirit of entrepreneurship that made this country great? I guess your generation is just afraid of hard work...

We are in the midst of another Gilded Age, where wealth is worshiped and there are no poor, just people who aren't working hard enough to get rich yet. 

I am old enough to remember when food banks started to open. Prior to that, there were soup kitchens in bigger cities and private charities like the Salvation Army that have always helped the poor, but when food banks started to open in the 1980s everyone assumed they would be a temporary measure. When the food bank in Picton, Ontario, opened in the early 1990's I can remember a letter to the editor (who was me) published in the local paper suggesting it be named the Brian Mulroney Commemorative Food Bank.  

The current skyrocketing prices in housing in most cities have put home ownership out of reach for most younger people. And home ownership has long been the cornerstone of building transferable generational wealth in North America. Baby boomers bought houses in their 20s and most in the middle class were able to put away a little money for their retirement. My cohort of Gen-Xers couldn't afford houses until we were in our 30s or 40s and we are counting on selling them to pay for our retirement, because an awful lot of us haven't been able to put much aside. People of my children's generation who don't inherit a house from their parents or strike it rich will likely be renting for the rest of their lives. There are corporations planning for this already and buying up houses as fast as they can.

Another pillar of economic advancement has always been higher education. Get a degree and you can get a good job and make more money, right? That was true through the 20th century, especially in the three decades after World War Two, when a university education was the most accessible and affordable it has ever been. In the 60's and 70's you could pay for a university education and support yourself on a part-time minimum wage job. You weren't living in luxury, but you could get an apartment and keep groceries in the fridge and pay your tuition. This became harder in the 80's, just like buying a house did. 

Today, you will not find many people graduating university without student loans. Most universities in Canada are public institutions, funded in part by the state, but tuition rates keep going up and schools are struggling to stay afloat, with most bringing in more and more foreign students (who pay much higher tuitions) to help pay the bills. The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into that approach for some school. The Ontario government recently allowed Laurentian University in Sudbury to nearly go bankrupt and it is unlikely to be the only school facing a similar situation. And a degree is no longer a ticket to the upper middle class like it once was. Most tradesmen make as much as someone with the arts degree required for a white collar job these days and don't start out with tens of thousands in student debt.

I am not some wild-eyed Maoist. I believe in free enterprise and people being entitled to the fruits of  their labour. I'm not in favour of doing away with capitalism or lending money at interest. I'm not suggesting we bring back the guillotine or start packing off anyone whose hands aren't calloused to a labour camp, but our current situation is not sustainable. Far too many people are falling farther and farther behind. 

The people who control the money are making decisions based on reaping short term profits that will have negative consequences for decades. Government is too busy pandering to large corporations, the wealthy and those who think they will be wealthy someday to even consider any kind of serious effort at breaking up large interests that hold a near monopoly. 

We had a scandal in Canada over huge grocery chains fixing the price of bread. But the Weston-owned chains gave out a few gift cards, so no harm, no foul, right? The ghosts of 19th century robber barons are sitting up in their tombs saying "price fixing on bread? Shit, now that is some evil genius. How come we didn't think of that?"

Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you." (John 12:8) but he didn't think that was a good thing. He was referring to a passage from the Torah - what Jesus fans refer to as the Old Testament.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be...For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’" 

(Not to get all theological and scriptural on you, but I am the REV. Paperboy for reasons.)

The direction our society is headed cannot be allowed to continue. There either has to be a redistribution of wealth through taxation overseen by the government or we are going to see pitchfork and torch wielding mobs gathering in front of gated communities across North America. Throw in the long-term effects of climate change on agriculture (and thus food prices) and things could get very, very bad. Like Khmer Rouge Russian Revolution Mad Max level bad. People need to stop voting against their own interest just because they've been taught to think they will one day be wealthy. Governments need to stop kowtowing to money for short term political gain. We all need to smarten up. And soon.

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable"

-John F. Kennedy