Stephen Harper has always been up front about one of his political objectives -- the destruction of the Liberal Party. Recent polls suggest that he hasn't succeeded on that front. But, if Frank Graves' latest numbers are correct, he may well have gone along way to obtaining his second objective -- the destruction of the middle class.
Harper bought into the touchstone of the American Right -- Ayn Rand's dictum that selfishness is a virtue. Graves writes that, in both countries, the results have been the same. The middle class is in decline:
A comparison of poll tracking in Canada and the United States shows just how recent and clear this decline has been. This tracking covers a little over a decade and corresponds with one of the longest periods of tepid growth in Canadian and American economic history. What Tyler Cowan called the ‘Age of the Great Stagnation’ is working in depressing lockstep in Canada and the United States. And while the U.S. is more advanced on the inequality curve, both economies are seeing a much larger share of a much smaller pie go to a very small portion of the über-wealthy.
Graves' numbers indicate that Canadians are deeply concerned about something that Mr. Harper cares nothing about -- income inequality:
This has made the issue of income inequality a pinnacle political concern for the Canadian public. This isn’t about the perennial divide between rich and poor — this is a political split between those at the very top of the pyramid and everyone else.
It is an odd, slow-building sort of crisis. Labour market confidence is stronger than it was in the 1990s and most citizens are still faring pretty well. But the trendlines are disturbing and describe deepening public pessimism: Only around 10 per cent of Canadians and Americans think the next generation will enjoy a better quality of life. Once we disentangle the issue of intergenerational mobility by generational cohort, we see that this gloomy long-term outlook may be unfolding now.
What this means, writes Graves, is that now is "a dismal time to be young." It didn't used to be that way:
Seniors born before the end of the Second World War inherited a much more prosperous life than their fathers (over three-to-one upward mobility). The swollen baby boom cohort enjoyed a similar, if much less dramatic, pattern of upward mobility, with a plurality of 40 to 34 moving up versus down.
Young Canadians live in a country which has ditched the concept of social mobility:
Now consider the plight of generations X and Y. They’re considerably less likely to be moving upward compared to their fathers and the incidence of upward mobility is literally three times lower than for the oldest senior cohort. This result for the millennial cohort is not conclusive — there are a lot of students in the mix, they belong to generations that enter the workforce relatively later — so it’s early days yet in terms of nailing down what all of this means.
But here’s what we can say: Vertical intergenerational mobility seems to be collapsing for young Canada (and in the U.S., we suspect). It looks an awful lot like the flattening and reversal of progress may already be well underway.
In the end, Stephen Harper has built a gerontocracy. John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that his adopted country rewards senility. Canada now apes its southern neighbour.