Human dignity hangs in the imbalance

Provincial report proposes greater redistribution of wealth needed in Canada

Politically outspoken punk rock legend Jello Biafra has long been an advocate of the maximum wage.

“Six figures and it’s payback time for Uncle Sam,” he spouted early on in his career as a spoken-word artist. In 2000, when he ran to represent the U.S. Green Party, Biafra called for a maximum wage of $100,000.

Opponents say such a thing would curb innovation. Advocates say this would limit inflation, something a lot of Canadians, say 99 per cent, are feeling these days.

The Occupy movement may not have really got off the ground here in the Shuswap, but it did elsewhere in Canada, enough to spark some serious dialogue about the growing disparity between the haves and have nots.

A January 2012 B.C. provincial government report called Mind the Gap: Income Inequality Growing, notes there is greater income inequality in Canada than in most nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Referring to a December 2011 study by the OECD, the report shows Canada ranking 26th (with the number-one rank having the least disparity) out of 34 member countries. The U.S. ranked 31.

Based on data from 2008, the report states the average income of the top 10 per cent of Canadians was 10 times higher than the bottom 10 per cent. In 2007, the richest one per cent of Canadians earned 13.3 per cent of total income in the country.

The report is also critical of Canada’s redistribution programs such as employment insurance and income assistance, which have seen a 40-per-cent drop since the mid-1990s. It is suggested this has to do with tax cuts that reduce coverage for such programs. It is also noted that tax cuts tend to benefit the affluent more than low-income earners.

Along with creating more well-paying jobs and providing more education opportunities, the OECD study also recommends that tax and benefit policies be reformed in order to increase redistribution.

It’s likely the last point wouldn’t sit well with our current Conservative government, which has an affinity for tax cuts, as well as creating tax breaks and incentives that benefit most those who are least in need.

In a recent speech in the House, our own MP, Colin Mayes, made his perspective known on the matter. While reporting on his recent attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast in the U.S., Mayes said, “Public policy, military strength or redistribution of wealth is not the recipe for peace in the world. Only the divine spirit of love will overcome oppression, hate and aggression.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, but a bit hypocritical given the government’s record-high military spending. And  it is not entirely grounded in reality. Certainly, there are many among the 99 per centers who have the divine spirit of love, but whose lives could still benefit from a paradigm shift where the human condition takes precedence over, say, lobbying for private oil interests.

The B.C. report  concludes there will always be some degree of disparity; the challenge is figuring out what’s acceptable and, “given the size and the vehemence of the Occupy protests, one would suspect that the current income gap is too large.” No kidding.

Stateside, Biafra is still arguing for a maximum wage, although these days he’s willing to compromise – seven figures and it’s payback time.

“After you’ve made your first million, you’ve got enough money to live, it’s all just a game after that, wealth addiction…,” says Biafra. “Put the wealth addicts into rehab with a maximum wage, and start tilting things back where people can live with human dignity again.”