As the Robert Reich film, Inequality for All, hits theatres this weekend, Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford write that what has happened in the United States has also happened in Canada:
Now Statistics Canada has turned its attention to the problem, too. The agency’s National Household Survey has documented the stark differences in personal income between the richest 1 per cent and the rest of us. The data are less precise than would have been attained from the former long-form census (which was cancelled by the data-phobic Conservative government). But despite its flaws, the report confirms that the gap between rich and poor in Canada has become enormous.
Incomes for the bottom 90 per cent of Canadians averaged just $28,000, according to the report. In contrast, the top 10 per cent took home an average of $135,000. And the top 1 per cent pocketed $381,000.
We like to think that somehow we're more humane that our American cousins. But the data -- even though the Harper government tries to hide it -- tell a different story:
Income inequality has reached a historic extreme. Inequality was high during the 1920s and 1930s (the “gilded age”), but fell sharply during the Second World War (as Canadians got back to work and taxes were raised to pay for the war effort). The three decades after the Second World War — a “golden age” of controlled capitalism — saw further decline in inequality. The economy was booming and powerful institutions (like progressive taxation and surging unionization) ensured the wealth was broadly shared.
Since 1980, however, we’ve entered another “gilded age.” Business-friendly economic and social policies replaced the former Keynesian welfare regime. In recent years, inequality has reached levels higher than at any time since the 1930s. And it is clearly staying that way, regardless of small year-to-year fluctuations.
And it's not just a matter of political philosophy:
Does income inequality matter? There’s a growing consensus among scientists from many disciplines that it does: in complex, surprising and economically important ways. Numerous studies document a powerful relationship between income inequality and varied dimensions of social pathology.
Indicators as diverse as happiness, mental illness, infant mortality, children’s educational performance, teenage pregnancy, homicide, imprisonment, social trust and social mobility all get worse as the income gaps within society deepen.
The Harperites insist that they know what they're doing. They don't understand -- or care to understand -- the consequences of their policies. They only understand who will reward them. And, so far, that's been enough to keep them in office.