There was always skepticism about claims that, as the rich became richer, income would "trickle down" to others. What wasn't perhaps foreseen was that the trickling would actually be in the other direction, and that it would be more of a torrent than a trickle.
But the evidence is now clear. Over the last three decades, the tables of the rich have overflowed, with barely any scraps falling off. On the contrary, there's been a massive transfer of income and wealth from Canada's middle and lower class to the rich.
The result is that Canada has become a highly unequal society.
Related rabble.ca story:
Call it Unequal Canada -- the national tour. British professor and epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson has packed his first visit to Canada with public meetings, and private sessions with senior government officials and community leaders. His message is powerful, yet simple: Greater equality is better for everyone.
"It's not just the poor, but everyone is worse off in unequal societies," said Canadian statesman Ed Broadbent as he introduced Wilkinson for his sold-out Toronto presentation on Dec. 10. "More equality, not more growth, matters."
Almost 40 years ago, Ottawa quietly cancelled Canada's estate tax.
Few Canadians even knew about the tax. Those who did mostly belonged to a small number of wealthy families who were rich enough to pay it. With its cancellation in 1972, this tiny crowd was suddenly a lot richer.
U of T economist John Bossons calculated that ending the tax amounted to a windfall of about $12 billion ($62 billion in today's dollars) for Canada's wealthiest families.
The removal of the estate tax, which remains an obscure event in Canadian history, had momentous implications, depriving Ottawa of revenue and putting Canada on a path toward greater inequality.
Since the early 1980s, Canadian economic policy has consisted of introducing market-friendly policies. The stated goal was to increase productivity, defined as output per person-hour worked. Reliance on markets has not produced the expected results.
Speaking to the Ottawa Economics Association this spring, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney put a pointed question to Canadian business leaders. Given all the measures put in place by successive governments to promote productivity, why is business failing to invest?
"Imagine if we did something different."
Those were just seven words out of close to 7,000 that President Barack Obama spoke during his State of the Union address. He was addressing both houses of Congress, which are controlled by his bitter foes. Most importantly, though, he was addressing the country. Obama employed characteristically soaring rhetoric to deliver his message of bipartisanship. "The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong," he assured us.
From whose lives has the shadow of crisis passed? And for whom is this Union strong?