The fact that income inequality in Canada today is significantly greater than it was 30 years ago is not in serious dispute. But there is much less agreement on the underlying causes.
It is important to look at trends in the “pre-distribution” of income by the market in the form of wages and salaries, and changes in the impact of government taxes and income transfer programs that redistribute market income from the more affluent to the less affluent.Read more
Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh. The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975. Harbour Publishing. 2012.
This impressive and readable book by two well-known and respected British Columbia authors sheds light on a now largely forgotten episode in Canadian politics and is a welcome reminder of the very real gains that can be made by a determined and genuinely progressive government.
Geoff Meggs is a journalist and current Vancouver City Councillor, and Rod Mickleburgh writes from Vancouver for the Globe and Mail.Read more
Statistics Canada released today the Survey of Financial Security (SFS), providing Canadians with the first comprehensive snapshot of wealth and wealth distribution in the country since 2005.
While Canadian’s net worth has increased significantly since 2005, mostly due to increases in housing prices, the real story is one of persistent economic inequality and rising debt.Read more
Discouraging women from working outside the home is surely not an appropriate goal for tax policy. But that may just be the motivation behind the Harper government's plan to introduce "income splitting" for families — an expensive tax gift to traditional families with one breadwinner and a stay at home spouse.
The gift is already proving costly to Conservative party unity. The Harper government's own finance minister is speaking out against the policy that would deprive the treasury of tax revenues while benefitting mainly big earners.Read more
Statistics Canada released Friday Canada's January Labour Force numbers, showing Canada's job market remains mired in a weak recovery.
On the surface, the labour force numbers look alright. The national unemployment rate fell from 7.2% to 7.0%, and employment rose by 29,000, all in full-time employment.
However, the employment rate (the proportion of the working age population with a job) was unchanged at 61.6%, and the unemployment rate fell mainly because of a decline in the number of persons seeking work.Read more
In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget, expected early next month.
As Christopher Ragan argued in a previous Economy Lab commentary, it is simplistic to think we can set out firm rules for responsible fiscal policy, the conduct of which demands a nuanced understanding of the state of the economy and of public finances.Read more
For the first time ever, the percentage of Canadian seniors aged 65 to 69 who are still working rose to more than one in four in the autumn of 2013.
As shown by Statistics Canada, while the life expectancy of Canadians has been steadily rising, the average number of years spent not working has actually been stable since the mid-1990s – due to the fact that more and more seniors continue to work past the traditional age of retirement.Read more
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the economy is too weak to support a modest, phased-in increase in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) premiums divided between employers and employees.Read more
This is disputed by experts, and also contradicts Conservative messaging in two important ways.
First, in every other context, from the Speech from the Throne, to the recent Economic and Fiscal Update, the Conservatives have bragged about Canada's economic performance and highlighted the chances of a strong recovery. Except when it comes to the CPP debate, "the land is strong."
There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that we need to create more 'good middle-class jobs', especially for young people leaving the educational system, recent immigrants to Canada, and aboriginal persons.
Middle-class jobs can be seen as those which provide decent pay, working conditions, and benefits; a measure of employment security; and, above all, opportunities to build skills and progress over time in a career. In today's labour market, these kind of jobs generally require a professional or advanced technical qualification acquired through postsecondary education.Read more
Today, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he is opposed to the provincial proposal to expand the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) because it is not a “modest” proposal and would cost jobs. In fact, according to pension expert Robert Brown, the provincial plan would gradually raise employer CPP premiums by 1.55%, starting at earnings above $25,000.
That sounds pretty modest.Read more
In October, 2011, two leading U.S. economists, Nobel prize-winner Paul Krugman and Lawrence Summers, squared off in Toronto in the high-profile Munk Debates. At issue was the question of whether North America faced a Japan-style era of prolonged economic stagnation.
Mr. Summers, former Treasury secretary under president Bill Clinton, a key White House economic adviser in President Barack Obama’s first term, former president of Harvard University, and for a time a highly paid adviser to a leading hedge fund, is as close to an establishment economist as one can get. He was widely reported to be President Obama’s personal choice to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and probably would have been nominated if not for strong opposition from the many Democratic senators who saw him as too close to Wall Street.Read more
Two major recent studies – from Derek Burleton and his colleagues at Toronto-Dominion Bank, and from former senior federal government official Cliff Halliwell published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy – provide excellent overviews of recent developments in the Canadian job market, and an informed framework for thinking about our future skills needs.
This message seems to have finally got through to the Harper government. In a speech to the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce on November 14, Employment and Skills Development Minister Jason Kenney told employers to stop complaining and to stop relying excessively upon temporary workers. Instead, he said, employers should “put more skin in the game” by increasing wages in high-demand occupations and by investing more in the training of Canadians.Read more
In 1939, the United States and much of the world were still struggling to exit the Great Depression that had begun a decade earlier. In that context, Alvin Hansen – the prominent economist and disciple of John Maynard Keynes – famously argued before the American Economic Association that the underlying problem was not cyclical, but rather “secular stagnation.”
Mr. Hansen anticipated an extended period of sluggish growth and high unemployment, due to a structural shortage of demand compared with already existing productive capacity. Under such circumstances, there were few profitable investment opportunities for business, resulting in excess savings and idle resources.Read more
One of the major forces behind the rapid increase in the income share of the top 1% in the United States and Canada has been rising senior corporate executive pay, especially in the form of stock options.
The majority of the top 1%, and an even higher proportion of persons in the ultra-wealthy top 0.1%, are either senior managers of non financial companies or work in the financial sector where stock options are usually the biggest single part of total compensation.Read more
The Oct. 19 Globe and Mail editorial supporting expansion of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) got it exactly right. The CPP is “one of the country’s great public policy successes” and “the best [savings plan] we’ve got.”
Notwithstanding evidence that many middle-income earners will face a sharp decline in living standards in retirement as a result of the erosion of employer pension plans and very low rates of private savings, the Harper government has refused to endorse the emerging provincial government consensus in favour of CPP expansion. The main argument against seems to be that the required increase in contributions (about 3 per cent of earnings) would amount to a damaging tax increase.Read more
The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths has been critically well-received in the UK by such publications as the Economist and the Financial Times and stands as a refreshing new take and counterpoint to today’s rather stale debates on the economic role of government.
On the one hand, the right celebrates private sector entrepreneurship and so-called free markets as the only sure road to prosperity. The private sector led “creative destruction” process is seen as the key source of capitalist dynamism and growth. On the other hand, progressives tend to stress the role of the state as a needed regulator of economic activity, as a Keynesian backstop to stable growth, and as a vehicle for achieving a fairer distribution of income and wealth. Proponents of a more active government role in the economy are often portrayed by the right as enemies of a successful economy.Read more
During the last federal election, Stephen Harper promised that his Conservative government would introduce a new way to tax families with children after balancing the federal budget.
We are likely to hear a lot more about the merits of Harper's 'income-splitting' proposal before the 2015 election. The Conservatives continue to slash spending and erode public services precisely in order to create the fiscal room for this promised tax cut. Never mind that Mr. Harper’s aggressive agenda of tax cuts has already helped turn a $16 billion surplus in 2006 into annual deficits.Read more
Not content with the recent Harper government decision to trim program costs by raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (OAS/GIS) from 65 to 67, the Fraser Institute wants to withdraw OAS benefits from more seniors.
They propose to claw back OAS benefits from seniors with individual incomes of more than $51,000, instead of the current clawback level of $71,000. Under their proposal, benefits would be entirely lost at an income of $95,000, instead of the current $115,000.Read more
The high-profile Toronto Centre federal by-election features two well-known opposition candidates who agree that soaring income inequality, especially the fast-rising income share of the top 1% with all of its well-documented negative effects, is the defining political issue of our times. At issue is what we should be doing about it, through changes to public policy.
In thinking about this question, it is useful to distinguish between policies that affect the distribution of income by the market (called predistribution) and policies that make incomes after taxes and transfers more equal than market incomes (redistribution).Read more
A new study by the Fraser Institute argues that introduction of anti-union “right to work” laws in Canada would boost manufacturing output and jobs. While they are right that these laws, which make dues payments voluntary, severely weaken unions, it is far from evident that unionization comes at the cost of poorer economic performance.
This is because collective bargaining has benefits for employers as well as for workers, and because collective bargaining outcomes reflect economic realities.Read more
Andrew Jackson is the Broadbent Institute's Senior Policy Advisor.
In September, 2012 he retired from a long career as Chief Economist and Director of Social and Economic Policy with the Canadian Labour Congress.
In 2011, he was awarded the Sefton Prize by the University of Toronto for his lifetime contributions to industrial relations. Educated at the University of British Columbia and the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he earned a B. Sc. and an M.Sc. in Economics, Andrew is the author of numerous articles and five books, including Work and Labour in Canada: Critical Issues, which is now in its second edition with Canadian Scholars Press.