Over the holidays a couple of interesting reports were released. One put out by Ipsos Reid on January 2 was on a poll taken of 22,000 people in 22 different major economies. It asked how people felt about the influence of large companies on government. Seventy-four per cent said that large companies have too much. In Canada the number was eighty per cent, in the U.S. eighty-two.
Despite the fact that more Americans thought that large companies weretoo influential, only sixty-seven per cent of them thought thatgovernment should be more aggressive with its regulations as opposedto seventy-seven per cent of Canadians who thought so. Go figure.
The good news about this survey is that apparently the world is wakingup more to the dangers presented by corporations and the concentrationof power in private hands. Along with the environmental nightmaresthat the corporate economy has brought us, the past few decades haveseen a change in social development from a more equitable society to amore inequitable one. The growing inequity between a few wealthypeople and the rest of us no doubt plays a role in how the public isbeginning to view the big corporations.
On the same day as the Ipsos poll the Canadian Centre for PolicyAlternatives (CCPA) released a report on CEO pay and the disparitybetween the top earners in the country and everyone else. The averageannual wage in Canada is $38,998. The top 100 CEOs average slightlymore than that every ten hours. They make as much in four hours as afull-time, full-year minimum wage worker.
This is a problem that is getting worse. In 1976 the richest ten per cent of Canadians raising children earned thirty-one times more than the poorest ten per cent. By 2004 they were earning eighty-two times more. The biggest share of economic growth in Canada is being taken by only about ten per cent of the population. The other eighty per cent get to divide the crumbs, and many are losing ground, even though they are working more than they use to. As a result savings are down andpersonal debt is increasing.
If we look at the trend in the U.S. over the past century we see that in 1928 just before the Depression hit the top one per cent of the population was taking over twenty-three per cent of the income. Then it dropped and bottomed out in the 1970s when the top one per cent was down to just over eight per cent of the total income. With the rise of conservative governments in the U.S. in the 1980s the trend reversed as policies were enacted to shift wealth back to the rich. By 2005 the top one per cent were now taking almost twenty-two per cent of the income.
Politics for the most part is about distribution of wealth, about how we cut the pie that is there to support all of us. Conservative politicians exist to serve the interests of the wealthy. When in power they do all that they can to see that private interests, and not the public, control as much of the wealth as possible. They talk about free markets but what they really mean is free booting, creating a friendly environment where wealth can be accumulated in fewer and fewer hands at the expense of overall social well being.
Given the trend in economic development the past thirty years it is nowonder that people are starting to question the power of corporations. A wide gap is opening between the few who control the world with theiraccumulated wealth and the vast majority of us who are losing ground.And in their pursuit of wealth accumulation with their policy of continual growth and consolidation the rich are not only taking a larger and larger share of the economic pie, their methods are destroying the environment that we all depend on for our survival.
As has happened before in history, something will have to give, theenvironment may collapse to the point that it can no longer sustainmany of us, the resentment and desperation of the expanding poor mayexplode into cataclysmic violence, or we may be smart enough to use thepower of our numbers to force political changes to reverse the trend and more fairly distribute the resources among us. In a democracy we have the power if we can think beyond the sound bytes and sloganeering and consider the long view. If we don’t, well then we get what we vote for.