Inequality: for the 10th grader in you
Hi my name is Z… and I am in 10th grade, I have a history project relating to economic inequality and social justice. I found your blog on economic inequality online and I was wondering if you could answer my interview questions, the questions are — What has happened to make economic inequality relevant in Canadian history? and To what degree has a commitment to social justice been significant in creating Canada today?
thank you for thinking of me and for the opportunity to address your questions. There is probably no single answer to these questions, but I will try to answer briefly from the perspective of economics.
1. What has happened to make economic inequality relevant in Canadian history?
Inequality has changed tremendously in Canada, and in other countries during say the last 100 years.
In the 1920s and 1930s 1% of the population made about 15 to 20% of all the earnings in Canada and the United States. This high level of inequality was in part the cause of the great depression during the late 1920s and 1930s when unemployment was very high and many people could not provide the necessities of a good life for themselves and their children.
During World War II and afterward Canadian governments introduced many important social programs, like unemployment insurance, and a progressive taxation system that were designed to promote more equality. Also the economy was much stronger and of greater benefit to the average working person. Inequality fell, and by the 1970s the top 1% only made about 8% of all the money in the economy. The average family benefited from prosperity and was able to provide for themselves and for their children. There was a sense of optimism in the future.
But since the 1980s this has again changed, and now the top 1% are making much more, close to 14 or 15% of all the money in Canada. This happened because of globalization and the rise of computers in the work place. These forces led some people to lose their jobs, and others to make a lot more money. But the average person is not making any more money than they made 3 decades ago. This is relevant because it means that people are not experiencing progress, and they are less optimistic about the future for themselves and their children.
Inequality is relevant in understanding Canadian history because it reflects how our economy works, and because it has changed so much over the last 100 years.
2. To what degree has a commitment to social justice been significant in creating Canada today?
Some people say that a commitment to social justice is a commitment to more equal economic outcomes, and also to more equality of opportunities so that anyone—regardless of which family they were born into—can succeed in life if they are talented and work hard.
Some people also feel that this commitment is also responsible for important Canadian government programs like: the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, which offer pensions for retired people, and reduced poverty among the elderly; the Canadian education system which is of very high quality and has helped develop and encourage the talents of young people whether they come from poor or rich families; and the Canadian health care system, which is based upon the principle of equal access regardless of where you live and how rich you are.
Some people feel that these social programs are a very important aspect of what it means to be Canadian, and this would imply that a commitment to social justice is an important part of creating the Canada of today.
I hope this is of some help to you, and wish you the best of luck with your project.
all the best,
Professor of Economics
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
University of Ottawa / l’Université d’Ottawa