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.
Parliament is back this week, and its focus this fall will be on what to do about the economy. The first order of business should be reducing unemployment, but the Conservatives are more interested in reducing the deficit.
Want to reduce the government deficit? Raise business investment? Improve the standard of living? Moving to full employment -- a job for everyone who wants one -- is the way to go. Putting more Canadians back to work will ensure the economy improves.
We've become regrettably disconnected from one another here in the Maritime provinces. For example, in Nova Scotia the only thing we seem to know about New Brunswick these days is that prices are cheaper over the border, causing embarrassment for the Nova Scotia government.
Gas stations and other businesses are wobbling and closing in the Amherst area because people are flocking to New Brunswick to gas up and buy stuff. Business people complain, with the accusation that Nova Scotia's taxes are too high.
The 2010 federal budget stuck predictably to the Conservative dogma that there is no need for a fundamental change of course. One we get past the temporary hiccup of global and national recession, we must return to a world of ever-smaller government to be achieved through continued tax reductions and deep spending cuts.
Despite the fact that unemployment is and will remain very high -- forecast in the budget itself to average 8.5 per cent this year and 7.9 per cent next year -- temporary extensions of EI benefits will expire in September of this year and some 500,000 unemployment claims filed during the Great Recession will be exhausted before claimants can find a new job.
The good news is that there are still some tickets left for the Fraser Institute's 35th anniversary gala dinner next Monday night in Vancouver. The bad news is that the tickets -- including tables for 10 at $7,000 -- will probably all eventually be sold.
And that means yet more money flowing into the amply filled coffers of an organization that for 3 1/2 decades has worked tirelessly to cut taxes for the rich, undermine public health care, destroy confidence in public education and prevent Canada from joining the global climate change battle.
One of my all-time favourite comments by an economist goes like this:
"If two people claim to have seen a UFO, with one person claiming that it was large and the other person claiming that it was small, should we assume that the UFO was medium-sized?"
This great comment -- actually by two economists, Brian MacLean and Mark Setterfield -- reminds us of a basic, often-neglected law of economics: The fact that people assert something to be true doesn't mean that it is.