Many of B.C.'s top political commentators are highly critical of new BC NDP leader Adrian Dix, portraying him as an old school radical who doesn't understand the workings of the global economy. Michael Smyth (Vancouver Province) calls him a "dour Stalinist," while Tom Fletcher (Black Press) tells us his "rhetoric about state-imposed wealth redistribution seems not so much alarming as quaint."
Are these critics right in criticizing Adrian Dix? Are his proposals outdated, better suited for another era? Is he wrong to say that inequality is a growing problem responsible for many of our social ills?
I don't think so. Most of B.C.'s top political observers appear totally unaware of the facts. Inequality in B.C. (and in Canada and North America) has now reached levels not seen since the Wall Street crash of 1929, with the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us widening.
We always hear people complain that "the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer." Well, it's true. Except that working and middle class families are being left behind as well. In B.C., income has become increasingly concentrated among the richest families. Over the last 30 years, the bottom 60 per cent of families with children have seen an 11 per cent drop in their average after-tax incomes while the richest 10 percent have seen an 18 per cent increase. For the bottom 60 per cent, this has meant a $5,065 decrease in their incomes. For the richest 10 per cent, it has meant a $23,665 increase. (All figures inflation-adjusted).
With the prices of food and gas being as high as they are, my family sure could use an extra $5,000 this year. I'm sure many other families in the bottom 60 per cent feel the same.
The gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us has gotten so bad that the richest 10 per cent of B.C. families now earn more than the bottom 50 per cent combined. This was not the case 30 years ago. And this is not the case today in many other advanced industrialized countries, where government has taken steps to protect working and middle class families.
The harmful effects of inequality are well documented. Many of the most respected researchers in this field conclude that health and social problems tend to be much worse in wealthy societies with high levels of inequality.
Community life and social relations are typically weaker, mental illness and drug addiction more common, physical health poorer and life expectancy lower, obesity widespread, educational performance lagging, teenage births more frequent, violent crime a common occurrence, rates of imprisonment and punishment much higher, and social mobility far more difficult.
What I find surprising is that many of the same political commentators who criticize Adrian Dix for his "rhetoric about state-imposed wealth redistribution" were very supportive of such policies under the Gordon Campbell government, which included implementing the HST, doing away with the corporation capital tax on banks and financial institutions, lowering corporate income taxes, and raising MSP premiums and long-term care fees. The big difference is that the Campbell government was effectively redistributing wealth from B.C.'s working and middle classes to the wealthiest and most privileged families. Apparently there is nothing radical about that.
It's about time B.C.'s political observers stopped ridiculing Adrian Dix for bringing up the issue of inequality and faced the fact that the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us can only hurt our society.
Robert Douglas Cowichan Bay
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