Why the rich don’t want to talk about inequality, and why the 99% do

Everything you need to know about why the rich don’t want to talk about inequality, and why the 99% do, is right here in this chart.

Average incomes and tax rates relative to 1982

The average income of those in the top 1% in Canada has about doubled since 1982, and for the top 0.1% it has increased by about two and a half to three-fold. But over this period the fraction of their income paid in taxes, their average tax rate, has remained about the same, and even a little lower.

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Three rules for good pundit behaviour, or if you like: how to obstruct the debate on inequality in three easy steps

Inequality is increasing in Canada. Or is it?

A short report on the topic released by a major Canadian bank includes the bold heading “Income inequality has been unchanged in Canada — say what?”. This apparently contrarian finding has been seized upon by at least one influential pundit in a way that only serves to obstruct constructive public policy discussion.

A debate is in order, not over whether inequality has increased—because it has—but why this is important, and what could, or for that matter should, be done about it.

But this sort of discussion requires the best of our public commentators, and in this post I offer three rules for good pundit behaviour. Economic statistics can be confusing and they can be used in confusing ways, purposely or not, and so these rules might also be a set of general guideposts for the average reader to help separate fact from fiction, since after all we can’t expect pundits to always follow them.

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#S17 is today, and reminds us of the price of inequality

The twitter hash tag is #S17, and using it will connect you to all those preparing for the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which of course is today, September 17th.

You will find tweets encouraging your participation: “If you feel that the world is on the right track, stay home. If you know things are bad, Join your local #OWS.”

Others will guide you on how to prepare, be it “Escaping from Zip Ties” or “How to pick your way out of handcuffs” (actually just the Smith and Weston model 100s).

But whatever your level of engagement, there is a message that this anniversary has for us all, a reminder of the real price of inequality.

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Understanding inequality and what to do about it

Inequality has been increasing in most countries, in part because top 1% are capturing a higher fraction of all earnings but also for other reasons. I made a presentation to the Occupied Ottawa conference “Take Back Democracy!” on June 2nd, 2012. The presentation explores three issues in search of intelligent conversation, and in order to accomplish something constructive: description, explanation, and prescription.

You can download it as a pdf here: Understanding inequality and what to do about it .

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“Canadian Inequality: Recent Development and Policy Options”

While inequality in Canada has increased over the course of the last three decades, the tax and transfer system can significantly reduce disparities in market incomes. But the political will to use the tax system may be limited, and public policy needs to address underlying labour market developments if it is to pursue an agenda of greater equality.

This is one of the major themes arising from a recently released discussion paper by a group of labour economists from the University of British Columbia: Nicole Fortin, David Green, Thomas Lemieux, Kevin Milligan, and Craig Riddell.

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Inequality and social mobility

[These are the opening remarks I made to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology of the Parliament of Canada. I appeared as a witness at the May 2nd meeting of the Committee dealing with Social inclusion and cohesion in Canada to address the topic of inequality. These remarks do not substitute for the official transcripts that will be produced by the Standing Committee.]

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