Is it just me, or are the size of these dollar figures starting to make your head spin? $700 billion to a trillion dollars for the U.S. banks. $50 billion in corporate tax cuts here at home. A billion here, a billion there.

Ever wondered what a billion is? It’s a lot really. A billion is a thousand million. Like – nine zeros in a billion. 12 zeros in a trillion.

But in the alternate political universe we’ve entered into, all those zeros are reasonable so long as the dollars are headed to corporate coffers.

Here’s a good one. At $1.5 trillion, the revenue of the top five U.S. oil companies last year was larger than the entire G.D.P. of Canada.

Of course, that’s peanuts compared to the $3 trillion cost of the Iraq war calculated by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes.

All those bucks for corporations and war have been getting me to thinking about the grinding poverty of the billions who live in the global south. Didn’t Canada join other developed countries decades ago in making a promise to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid? Wasn’t that reiterated at the U.N. Millenium Summit? How’s that going anyways?

The 2008 federal Conservative Budget promised to double current spending on foreign aid to $5 billion a year by 2010-11. Even if the government reaches that target, Canada will still be spending only 0.3% of our gross national income on foreign aid. In other words, not even halfway towards the 0.7% promise that’s been out there for decades.

There’s a good election issue. A $13 billion surplus from last year’s budget. A $2.9 billion surplus in the first four months of this year. $50 billion in tax cuts. Still only 0.3% of national income for foreign aid and development.

Sure is a lot of zeros.


Blair Redlin

Blair Redlin is a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, based in Burnaby. In addition to bargaining support for CUPE’s municipal sector in B.C., his research priorities include...