Bringing it all back home

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Does “rising wealth inequality” mean anything to you? Does it mean anything to us in the Pontiac, where “the super wealthy” are a rare breed? 

Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Does “rising wealth inequality” mean anything to you? Does it mean anything to us in the Pontiac, where “the super wealthy” are a rare breed? 
Inequality is a concept economists use, and now politicians, after Oxfam International released a study by bank Credit Suisse last week detailing the huge rise of wealth in the hands of the super-rich, the 1%. In brief, the richest 1% will – within a year—own more than half of the entire wealth of the planet, and the rest of us, the 99%, will hold what’s left. Credit Suisse says this trend is increasing, not slowing down. What it means is “the ultra-rich keep getting richer, while the rest of us are getting poorer.” One example: real wages in Canada have not increased – since the 1970s. 
My first reaction to Oxfam was the classic Canadian shrug – what’s this got to do with me? Or you? Or my neighbours? 
The report is shocking. This isn’t what we expect our system to create for Canadians. But I still felt the topic was slightly off-target, here, where just having a paying job is a prize.
Then a friend called to tell me of an incident in her small Hull apartment building. A young couple had moved in a few weeks ago from northern Quebec,
pursuing jobs an aunt had offered to help them find. The jobs didn’t materialize, thanks to cuts by both provincial and federal
governments, and their
relationship took the stress on its chin. My friend called the police to break up a domestic assault.
Only one day later, another friend called to tell us that after her husband had lost his job last month and couldn’t find another, they face losing their home, since they’ve now defaulted on their mortgage twice in a row. She was in tears, and I could hear her young son and daughter playing in the background – as they were about to lose their home.
Another couple told my wife they are splitting after twelve years together.  “All we do is argue about money, every day. Our credit cards are maxed; we’ve cut everything to the bone and all we get are more arguments with each other.” Two kids, both under ten.
Suddenly, I knew exactly what “rising wealth inequality” means. It has been right in my face even though I don’t know a single member of the ultra-wealthy.
These are the class who “earn” more per hour than the rest of us earn in our life-times, no exaggeration. The studies show that these people have inherited most of their wealth, and continue adding to it by their investment “earnings”. Many “earn” more than a million dollars – per hour. And most do not work.
We do, and our bills are piling up.
That’s what rising wealth inequality means. And, I see now, it should be a big issue. It should be part of the coming federal election. It does affect all of us, even in the Pontiac.
This is not about the very-rich, certainly not about hating them. It’s about the millions of families who are bankrupt and falling apart, the millions of kids heading into life from broken families, with little chance of university or training. About seniors working in Tim Horton’s. About immigrants with dashed dreams. It’s about us. It’s about what we haven’t learned from history. It’s about what creates social upheaval – from revolution to riots and rightwing attacks on minorities. “I won’t take it any more!” is a social threshold our world is approaching.
This is what caused the Russian Revolution, not the Communists, but the super rich feeding on top of an impoverished nation. So if we feel we are not impoverished, then all is right here?
It isn’t. Are we waiting for hell to break loose? Aren’t we supposed to be smart, good planners? Keeping a system and a government run by those who benefit from this wealth inequality is suicidal. Our suicide.
. . .  This is what occupied me, driving up the 148 to home, one of a long line of commuters making the ride to the city for a job, every day. No, I told myself, we’re a long way from Russian serfs.