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OpEd: Canada should tax the wealthy to give to the poor

Maclean’s magazine says Canada has a dirty secret: just how much money is made by our super rich and how little by the Average Joe.
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Nevil Hunt, August 18, 2013 2:48:12 PM

A cover story in an upcoming issue of Maclean’s magazine shines a spotlight on paycheques in Canada.

While facts and figures about showbiz types and sports stars might be titillating, the 15-page report is grim reading for those of us who’d like to see the gap between the super rich and the Average Joe closed up a little. Instead, we’re seeing people in many occupations living on paycheques that don’t seem to be getting much bigger while celebrities and pro athletes rake in more money than most of us can imagine.

The most difficult thing to accept is that the job effort required of some of the rich folks is no greater than – or possibly much less than – a hard worker in another field.

Justin Bieber is the top grossing Canadian, making $55 million a year, and another singer, Michael Buble is second with an annual income of $37 million. The average taxi driver in Vancouver brings in $25,332.

Who works harder: a singer or a taxi driver?

Now Bieber, Buble and athletes such as Jose Bautista ($14 million) and Sidney Crosby ($12 million), create a lot of wealth, and if they didn’t get a sizeable cut, all that money would go to the suits who own recording companies and sports teams. What’s missing from the equation is a taxation policy that shares more of that money with more Canadians.

Singers, hockey players and baseball stars should have a comfortable life if they create wealth but we need not watch them buy six villas, five Ferraris and two yachts.

In a perfect world, the filthy rich would see that their moneybags are of diminishing value the higher they are stacked, and would then give away every penny they don’t need for a cushy, yet reasonable lifestyle until the day they die.

But the rich don’t always act as benevolently as all that, and taxation is a way to make sure that taxi driver in Vancouver can feed a family, keep shoes on his kids and maybe enjoy a vacation each year. And there are plenty of Canadians – the ones dishing out Happy Meals come to mind – who can’t make ends meet.

The concept of a minimum income has been floated in Canada in the past, and it’s an idea we should consider.

The income disparity in this country isn’t as bad as that of the United States, but that’s nothing to brag about. By closing the gap through taxation – sharing the wealth – we can have more Canadians who are happy, healthy and comfortable, and may even see our economy benefit.

An American venture capitalist told the Christian Science Monitor that inequality is bad for the economy because a comfortable middle class spends its money.

“Steve Jobs didn’t launch the iPhone in Bangladesh or the Congo. The iPhone is nothing without millions of people who can afford to buy it,” said Nick Hanauer. “If you have a society where the people at the very tippy top accumulate all of the resources, you choke the economy to death.”

Rome didn’t do to well with an income gap that grew and grew. French royalty failed to deal with inequality and lost their money and their heads. America is headed that way. Do we want to follow or find a better way?

There should still be an opportunity to get rich in this country, so there is an incentive to work hard and find new ways to make money, but no one needs to live a life of wretched excess while others are left behind.

There is obviously enough money in our economy in total to share around and help low income earners advance. And that’s to everyone’s benefit.

Image credit: Getty Images

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Nevil Hunt

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