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Rich wage class war, not StatsCan


Conrad Black may be languishing in a Florida jail but his influence, sadly, lives on in Canada.

 

Black used the pages of his newspaper, the National Post, to champion the cause of Canada‘s wealthy – a tradition that’s continued at the Post in the post-Black years.

 

So last week the Post was quick to denounce a Statistics Canada report revealing rising inequality, even accusing StatsCan of setting off a "class war." StatsCan’s offence was to document the fact that the earnings of middle-class Canadians have stagnated since 1980. Meanwhile, earnings have risen at the top, while earnings of the poor have declined.

 

It’s not that the StatsCan report was inflammatory. It went out under the heading "Catalogue no. 97-563," with the stirring title: "Earnings and Incomes of Canadians Over the Past Quarter Century, 2006."

 

StatsCan’s knack for dull presentation perhaps explains why the venerable institution has been able to survive and assemble much important information, even though its data sometimes embarrass its political masters. (For this, retiring Canadian chief statistician Ivan Fellegi deserves considerable credit.)

 

But it’s easy to see why the Post is nervous about information on rising inequality getting into the hands of ordinary Canadians.

 

Ordinary Canadians might also be interested to learn that in the post-war years of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, most Canadians experienced real increases in their incomes.

 

Neil Brooks, a tax professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, notes that during this era the share of income received by the richest 1 per cent actually declined – from about 20 per cent in the early part of the century to about 7 or 8 per cent by 1980. The rich didn’t like this, and have been waging a kind of class war ever since, convincing governments to impose "neo-conservative" policies like lower minimum wages, tighter monetary policy, less social insurance protection, open markets and shifting the tax burden from capital to labour.

 

The results have been grim for many Canadians, but spectacular for the rich, particularly the very rich. During the last quarter century, the richest .01 per cent of Canadians saw their real incomes rise on average from $2.9 million to $5.9 million – an increase of $3 million!

 

Those defending the neo-conservative policy package typically argue it’s been necessitated by "globalization" – even though many European countries have avoided this path and are competing nicely in the global economy.

 

As the class war rages on, embedded journalists over at the Post are busy defending the neo-conservative cause. In his column last week, the Post’s Terence Corcoran suggested StatsCan had distorted the picture by using data on individual earnings, rather than on total family incomes, where there have been some modest gains among the non-rich since 1980.

 

This is curious, coming from the Post. Total family incomes include social transfers – but the Post typically argues for reduced social transfers. The family income data show how important social transfers are.

 

Furthermore, family incomes have mostly risen because, with far more women working than in 1980, families now typically have two incomes.

 

So let’s get this straight: Even as neo-conservative policies have helped the ultra-rich increase their incomes by an average of $3 million, the Post thinks Canadian families should be content with earning a little more than they did 25 years ago – by working twice as much.

 

Luckily Canadians have the Post to help them see how really well they’re doing in this neo-conservative age.

 


Linda McQuaig was a freelance columnist for the National Post from 1998 to 2002. [email protected]

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