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Haves and Have Nots

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Over the holidays a couple of interesting reports were released. One put out by Ipsos Reid on January 2 was on a poll taken of 22,000 people in 22 different major economies. It asked about how people felt about the influence of large companies on government. Seventy-four percent said that large companies have too much. In Canada the number was eighty percent, in the US eighty-two.

Despite the fact that more Americans thought that large companies were too influential, only sixty-seven percent of them thought that government should be more aggressive with its regulations as opposed to seventy-seven percent of Canadians who thought so. Go figure.

The good news about this survey is that apparently the world is waking up more to the dangers presented by corporations and the concentration of power in private hands. Along with the environmental nightmares that the corporate economy has brought us, the past few decades have seen a change in social development from a more equitable society to a more inequitable one. The growing inequity between a few wealthy people and the rest of us no doubt plays a role in how the public is beginning to view the big corporations.

On the same day as the IPSOS poll the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released a report on CEO pay and the disparity between the top earners in the country and everyone else. The average annual wage in Canada is $38,998. The top 100 CEOs average slightly more than that every ten hours. They make as much in four hours as a full-time full-year minimum wage worker.

This is a problem that is getting worse. In 1976 the richest ten percent of Canadians raising children earned thirty-onetimes more than the poorest ten percent. By 2004 they were earning eighty-two times more. The biggest share of economic growth in Canada is being taken by only about ten percent of the population. The other eighty-percent get to divide the crumbs, and many are losing ground, even though they are working more than they use to. As a result savings are down and personal debt is increasing.

If we look at the trend in the US over the past century we see that in 1928 just before the Depression hit the top one percent of the population was taking over twenty-three percent of the income. Then it dropped and bottomed out in the 1970s when the top one percent was down to just over eight percent of the total income. With the rise of conservative governments in the US in the 1980s the trend reversed as policies were enacted to shift wealth back to the rich. By 2005 the top one percent were now taking almost twenty-two percent of the income.

Politics for the most part is about distribution of wealth, about how we cut the pie that is there to support all of us. Conservative politicians exist to serve the interests of the wealthy. When in power they do all that they can to see that private interests, and not the public, control as much of the wealth as possible. They talk about free markets but what they really mean is free booting, creating a friendly environment where wealth can be accumulated in fewer and fewer hands at the expense of overall social well being.

Given the trend in economic development the past thirty years it is no wonder that people are starting to question the power of corporations. A wide gap is opening between the few who control the world with their accumulated wealth and the vast majority of us who are losing ground. And in their pursuit of wealth accumulation with their policy of continual growth and consolidation the rich are not only taking a larger and larger share of the economic pie, their methods are destroying the environment that we all depend on for our survival.

As has happened before in history, something will have to give, the environment may collapse to the point that it can no longer sustain many of us, the resentment and desperation of the expanding poor may explode into cataclysmic violence, or we may be smart enough to use the power of our numbers to force political changes to reverse the trend and more fairly distribute the resources among us. In a democracy we have the power if we can think beyond the sound bytes and sloganeering and consider the long view. If we don't, well then we get what we vote for.
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Jerry West grew up on a farm in California and is currently Editor and Publisher of THE RECORD newspaper in Gold River, BC. Graduate with Honors and graduate school, UC Berkeley. Member, Phi Beta Kappa. Vietnam veteran and Former Sgt. USMC
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