I don’t know whether it’s smugness or indifference, but we Canadians can be a self-deluding lot. Growing inequality, portrayed recently in The Economist as a global scourge, when viewed from Canada, seems to be a problem only for others.
After all, it was other countries’ banks that crashed in 2008. It’s in southern Europe that tens of thousands are taking to the streets. And it was in France and the United States that recent elections were fought over the fact that those who created the mess, the top 1 per cent, are still getting big bonuses and low tax rates.
"The ideas of economists and political philosophers … are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." - John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money (1936)
In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability. - J.K.Galbraith, New York Times Magazine (June 1970)
The policy community praises the ideal of “evidence-based” policy – policy with a solid research base. In the real world, however, we all know that public policies, as implemented, are more often than not only vaguely related to research results and the best available data.
This is the first section of a three-part commentary by Sheila Block on our Equality Project report. Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we release parts two and three.
The Broadbent Institute paper provides an overview of the complex range of causes of Canada’s increased income inequality. They range from changes in how economic activity is organized and located internationally to domestic policy decisions. Some, like changes in patterns of international trade and production or technological change, can make the problem seem very large and intractable. That is why it is particularly important to identify those government policies that have contributed to increased inequality. These policies that concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many were not inevitable. The politicians who implemented them made choices, and those choices can be reversed. Reversing these policy decisions is an important step to addressing inequality in Canada.
Inequality seems to be the watchword of the moment in Fall 2012. It is on the minds of many, it seems, sometimes forming on surprising lips. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, had this to say in a mid-September talk in Toronto to financiers, bankers, executives and lawyers: “In the U.S. over the last generation, we have been much better at generating wealth and much less good at distributing it." President Obama mentioned inequality in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, as did others who spoke there, notably Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard Law Professor, now a U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, and co-author of the 2000 book The Fragile Middle Class. And the recent report of the World Economic Forum, The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 focuses on the fundamental importance of social and environmental sustainability (including efforts to diminish social inequalities) to any country’s global competitiveness.