Columnists

Linda McQuaig
Kevin O'Leary's extremism logical addition to Canada's Conservative Party

| January 22, 2016
Image: Facebook

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Rather than some strange deviation, Kevin O'Leary seems like a logical addition to the recent pack of extremists leading Canada's political right.

What perhaps distinguishes O'Leary from Rob Ford, Stephen Harper and Tim Hudak is the sheer openness with which he advocates greed and making Canada safe for billionaires.

Ironically, if O'Leary enters the federal Conservative leadership race, his candidacy could shine light on inequality and the emergence of a class of billionaires in Canada -- although not likely in the way the bombastic businessman wants.

Most Canadians would probably be dissatisfied to learn that, while their own incomes have stagnated in recent years, the extremely rich have grown vastly richer.

In 1999, Canadian Business magazine reported 31 billionaires in Canada (in inflation-adjusted dollars). By 2015, only a decade and a half later, the number of billionaires here had almost tripled to 89, according to the magazine.

South of the border, U.S. Democratic contender Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls as he denounces the wealth and power of billionaires. Meanwhile, in Canada, the subject of concentrated wealth and excessive corporate power is rarely mentioned in political debate.

Certainly there's no talk of taxing it or reining it in.

Yes, the Trudeau government has just added a marginal tax rate on incomes above $200,000, but it has ruled out new taxes aimed at the very rich or big corporations. These folks are off-limits.

This could be fertile ground for the NDP. In last fall's federal election, the NDP promised to raise corporate taxes by $3 billion a year -- a small step toward restoring corporate taxes that have been deeply slashed since 2000.

With corporations now sitting on tens of billions of dollars of "dead money," there's reason to be bolder in pushing for higher corporate taxes, and insisting that fabulously rich individuals contribute more to the public purse.

Canada could certainly use the extra revenue. The right argues that raising taxes on the very rich wouldn't make much of a difference. But it would. Even the $3 billion extra in corporate taxes advocated by the NDP would have gone a long way toward paying for a national child-care program or reducing homelessness across the country.

Just as important, higher taxes would help curb the political power of the corporate elite, which effectively holds veto power over our economic policies, undermining our democracy.

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted: "We can have democracy...or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both."

That's particularly true in the U.S. But it's also true in Canada, despite our tougher electoral financing laws. That's because the corporate elite exerts enormous influence not just through elections, but also by lobbying governments and shaping public attitudes through control of the media and think tanks.

The elite also gets support from prominent conservative advocates like McGill University economist William Watson whose new book, The Inequality Trap, is aimed at convincing us that today's vast concentrations of wealth are morally justified.

Watson says there is "bad inequality," resulting from law-breaking, coercion or special privilege. But he insists that the rest, no matter how extreme, is neutral or "good inequality" and we shouldn't worry about it. He points to the billions acquired by the late U.S. computer innovator Steve Jobs as an example of "good inequality."

However, all technological advances are part of an evolutionary process where each new innovation is made possible by the knowledge accumulated from past innovations, all the way back to the invention of the wheel. The contribution of any one person -- no matter how brilliant -- is ultimately marginal.

Clearly, Jobs should be compensated for his contribution, but should he also be compensated for the contributions of all the other innovators throughout history?

Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon noted that our technological inheritance is our main source of wealth today, accounting for about 90 per cent of national income.

The tax system provides a vehicle for ensuring there is meaningful compensation to society as a whole -- including descendants of all knowledge contributors throughout history.

The question becomes: with today's low taxes on wealth and high incomes, is society capturing enough of the huge rewards that result from our common knowledge inheritance?

O'Leary and Watson want us to accept extreme inequality. But by raising the issue, they may arouse Canadians to question the morality of so much wealth concentrated in so few hands.

This article originally appeared in The Toronto Star.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.