Thursday, July 18, 2013

Inequality Keeps Them In Power

Everyone complains about public apathy. We know that democracy in Canada is in trouble. But nothing seems to change. Alex Himelfarb suggests that the reason things don't change is because we lack social trust:

By “social trust” is meant something more than whether we trust our neighbour or others in our community or in similar circumstance. It is rather the generalized belief that most people in a society can be trusted, including those quite different from ourselves.

Social trust is not the same as political trust, but where it is high people are readier to trust their democracy, more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to government when something goes wrong, and less likely to see the latest scandal as indicative of the entire class of politicians. Even when governments perform so badly as to make political trust impossible, where social trust is high, citizens still participate, still try to make things better. Because they trust the future and their ability to influence it, they are still capable of outrage rather than the indifference or fatalism of the jaded.

Himelfarb notes that recent research indicates that social trust varies with the degree of inequality:

According to the research, the most important factor in determining the degree of social trust in a society seems to be its level of equality, both economic equality and equality of opportunity. In highly unequal societies rich and poor live such fundamentally different lives that it’s impossible to develop the mutual empathy essential to building trust and a sense of shared fate. When this is coupled with lack of opportunity for economic progress we get conflict, politics as a zero-sum game and a downward spiral of distrust. Highly unequal societies are also characterized by widespread corruption, which undermines all manner of trust.

The countries with the highest social trust are the Scandanavian countries. These are also the countries with the highest taxes, and the most vibrant economies. How does Canada compare to them?

Over much of the post-war period, with some exceptions, most notably our shameful treatment of Aboriginal people, Canada did pretty well in both social trust and equality, tucked in just behind the Scandinavian countries and Netherlands. The last couple of decades, however, have seen a sharp decline in social trust and an accelerating increase in income inequality, and while mobility is still pretty high it won’t stay that way if income inequality continues to grow.

Consider what has happened during the last twenty years:

Canadians are rightly proud of our universal medicare but we are allowing it to erode. Public funding for education is in decline so more of the burden and related debt fall to students and their families. Wages are under assault – witness the attacks on collective bargaining and the abuse of the foreign workers program. Fewer than forty per cent of unemployed Canadians have access to employment insurance. Our income support system is fragmented and inadequate – and too often demeaning. Huge gaps – childcare, civil legal aid, pharma- and home-care – exacerbate inequality.

It's nothing new to say that the Harperites are leading the charge for more inequality. That's what keeps them in power.


Lorne said...

It is always a pleasure to read Himelfarb's insights, Owen. We need more such people of social conscience and intellectual rigor in the public arena.

Owen Gray said...

Nobody has a better grasp of how this country works, Lorne -- or, at least, how it should work.

Himelfarb stands as a stark defender of Canada's "better angels."

Anonymous said...

Always interesting to read Mr. Himelfarb's insights. I just wish people of his intellect would address the current political realities more directly and suggest realistic solutions. Yes, Alex, we all know we are stuck in the swamp. How can we get out?

Anonymous said...

Yes where is the trust when resource extraction multi-nationals are allowed to pollute our lands and our homes and expect the taxpayer to clean-up all the while making record profits and literally paying almost zero taxes?

Although they make the most they pay the smallest share of taxes only 8.3% of government revenue. We can't trust a system manipulated by the very wealthy to ensure corporate welfare while stealing essential services to pay for it. Quoted from link above:

"Corporate tax giveaways mean that the federal government has foregone billions of dollars in revenues. As a result, Ottawa has borrowed billions of dollars and driven up both the deficit and the national debt. Now, the government has chosen to make massive cuts to public services that are essential to Canadians in order to pay the bill for those tax breaks. These service cuts include closing the Coast Guard station in Canada’s busiest port in Vancouver to save $900,000 a year, and closing the Search and Rescue call centre in St. John’s to save $1 million."

Stephen is an office boy for the rich transferring wealth like never before in Canadian history to the wealthy who simply don't need it. So when disaster strikes on either coast we will be on our own, the government can't help and rich refuse with all that money they have made at our expense. Look what happened in Quebec, the Harper government and the industry are squarely to blame. See here:

"OTTAWA – The Auditor General’s Office is refuting a claim that it “granted” Transport Canada extensions on fulfilling commitments to address weaknesses in its oversight of the transportation of dangerous goods.
“We aren’t, as auditors, the ones who grant extensions,” spokeswoman Celine Bissonnette wrote in an email. “That is Transport Canada’s own decision, for which they alone are accountable.”
The deadlines in question were set in response to a damning audit from the federal environment commissioner, who worked in the Auditor General’s Office, published in December 2011.' from:

Basically Harper wants more jails for us all the while he leaves corporate crimes to self regulation. How can you trust a government and large corporations in an environment specifically designed so they do not have any liability and we have to assume it.

Hey you Harper cheerleaders you are also very responsible for this mess.

Anonymous said...

AU has mandatory voting - doesn't keep the fascists at bay.

Owen Gray said...

We get out, Anon, by mobilizing enough voters to get Harper out.

That means that the opposition needs to develop social trust, instead of trying to pulverize each other.

I admit that's a tall order.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Anon. The cheerleaders are responsible for this mess.

It's time to call the cheerleaders out. They are doing us no favours.

Owen Gray said...

Only informed citizens can keep the fascists at bay, Anon. And informed citizens are not apathetic citizens.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have truly lost all confidence in our opposition parties, Owen. They're so busy courting power that they've lost the courage to stand for ordinary Canadians. You can't fight inequality and the rehabilitation of Canada's middle class by mumbling platitudes. It has to be at the forefront of your policy platform, front and centre, and you have to show you mean business.

That means you have to threaten the powerful, let them know that inequality of wealth, of income and of opportunity is going to be arrested and reversed not to harm them but because that's the only way forward.

Promise me, Owen, that you'll wake me up and let me know when you hear that message crossing the lips of Mulcair and Truedau.

Owen Gray said...

I haven't heard that message from either Mulcair or Trudeau, Mound. I have heard it from Elizabeth May. Unfortunately, she is a party of one.

As much as I would cheer Harper's demise, it will make no difference if we go from the frying pan into the fire.