Politi­cians band­ing about class is­sues for all the wrong rea­sons

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT -

DIS­CUS­SION OF CLASS – the mid­dle one, in par­tic­u­lar – is a large part of the fed­eral govern­ment’s at­tempts to wrest more tax dol­lars from Cana­di­ans. They’re fo­cus­ing on loop­holes that in­volve in­cor­po­ra­tion to lower the tax bur­den, an is­sue that par­tic­u­larly ran­kles the likes of pro­fes­sion­als such as doc­tors.

PM Justin Trudeau, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau and the rest of the cau­cus sent out to de­fend the changes all talk about tax fair­ness and the plight of the mid­dle class, never men­tion­ing their own profli­gacy and how the tax bur­den in­creases on the very mid­dle class they claim to be de­fend­ing.

Of course, the whole idea of a mid­dle class re­mains mud­dled. Politi­cians and bu­reau­crats care­fully avoid defin­ing it, know­ing many peo­ple see them­selves as mid­dle class de­spite their pay­cheques be­ing lower than the me­dian fam­ily in­come of $70,000. Many of us are more as­pi­ra­tional than ac­tual mid­dle class earn­ers.

In­stead, they pre­fer to main­tain the fic­tion that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble will ben­e­fit in an “us” ver­sus “them” sce­nario when in­vok­ing class.

There’s lip ser­vice to pop­ulism mak­ing the wealthy and cor­po­ra­tions the tar­get of the fail­ing mid­dle-class and grow­ing un­der­class, the kind of thing that gave rise to Don­ald Trump in the U.S., where the class dis­tinc­tions are more pro­nounced, cou­pled with more than a touch of racial is­sues.

What we’re see­ing, how­ever, is more faux pop­ulism.

What the U.S. – and in­deed much of the West, in­clud­ing Canada – needs is more class warfare. Oh, not in the sense of the ri­ots we’ve seen in Greece, Bri­tain and France in re­cent years, but in the sense that we rec­og­nize the sys­tem is not as ad­ver­tised. As with Trudeau’s Lib­er­als, gov­ern­ments at­tempt to sell us on the idea that they’re pro­tect­ing our in­ter­ests when they’re sim­ply sell­ing them­selves for the next elec­tion – ap­pear to be do­ing some­thing to gar­ner votes, while ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit­ing those of the more el­e­vated classes.

That re­al­ity is pre­cisely what’s miss­ing from po­lit­i­cal de­bate, here as as­suredly as in the U.S. Today, the frame­work is based on aus­ter­ity mea­sures: how much to cut from so­cial spend­ing in or­der to bal­ance the bud­get. But that’s re­ally just a dis­trac­tion from the big­ger is­sue, namely the frame­work of our civil so­ci­ety. That has more to do with reg­u­la­tory mat­ters than it does with par­tic­u­lar spend­ing choices.

In short, it’s about who ben­e­fits from the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tems we’ve cre­ated – and let’s be clear: they are man­made, not pre-or­dained. For much of the post­war era, it was a large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. For more than 30 years, how­ever, the num­ber of ben­e­fi­cia­ries has grown smaller, in­creas­ingly in favour of the wealthy and cor­po­rate classes. Every­body con­tin­ues to pay, but fewer and fewer profit.

Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments, funded by those who’ve seen the most ben­e­fits, have cer­tainly led the charge against the types of ad­vances that came out of the De­pres­sion/Sec­ond World War ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing min­i­mum wages, work­ing con­di­tions, the en­vi­ron­ment, cor­po­rate own­er­ship and fi­nan­cial ser­vices, to name a few. But they’ve been joined by their ma­jor op­po­nents here (Lib­er­als), in the U.S. (Democrats) and the UK (Labour) as money in­flu­ences the de­bate.

De­ci­sion after de­ci­sion that has been harm­ful to the mid­dle class has been couched in just the op­po­site terms – sup­port­ers know­ing full well you can’t sell poli­cies by say­ing a hand­ful will make out like ban­dits at ev­ery­one else’s ex­pense. From fi­nan­cial dereg­u­la­tion to free trade, from out­sourc­ing to cor­po­rate wel­fare, we’re told the changes will make us all bet­ter off. Or, if that doesn’t work, we’re told the sky will fall if we don’t go along with the pre­scribed course of ac­tion. For the lat­ter, look no far­ther than the bil­lions of dol­lars fun­nelled into cor­po­rate hands in the form of bailouts fol­low­ing the 2008 col­lapse, of­ten paid to those re­spon­si­ble for the cri­sis in the first place. Large sums of that cash were paid out in bonuses, with banks and in­vest­ment com­pa­nies quickly re­turn­ing to prof­itabil­ity while tax­pay­ers were on the hook for the money, all the while suf­fer­ing from un­em­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment.

The cen­tral myth re­volves around the free mar­ket, which typ­i­cally boils down to privatizing prof­its and so­cial­iz­ing losses, wit­nessed time and time again.

In Trump’s Amer­ica, there’s an­other re­course to trickle-down eco­nomics.

Such voodoo eco­nomics – the la­bel of for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush – is what we’ve been liv­ing with for more than three decades. It’s founded on the be­lief that what’s good for the wealth­i­est classes is good for ev­ery­one. Bank prof­its are at an all-time high, fi­nan­cial ser­vices are rak­ing in bil­lions and cor­po­ra­tions have re­bounded nicely. Un­em­ploy­ment re­mains high in much of the West, per­sonal debt lev­els soar and the stan­dard of liv­ing falls. But it’s the lat­ter group that gets to pay for the aus­ter­ity mea­sures we’re told we need in or­der to pay for the prof­its of the for­mer.

“When Barack Obama was pres­i­dent, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were deficit hawks. They op­posed al­most ev­ery­thing Obama wanted to do by ar­gu­ing it would in­crease the fed­eral bud­get deficit,” notes for­mer Clin­ton labour sec­re­tary Robert Re­ich in a blog post this week. “But now that Repub­li­cans are plan­ning gi­ant tax cuts for cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy, they’ve stopped wor­ry­ing about deficits.”

He notes a Trump bud­get will have dif­fi­culty rec­on­cil­ing in­creased mil­i­tary spend­ing, mas­sive amounts of post-hur­ri­cane re­build­ing and a pledge for

in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments with tax cuts for top earn­ers.

“So how do Repub­li­cans pro­pose to pay for any of this, and a big tax cut for cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy – with­out ex­plod­ing the fed­eral deficit? Easy. Just pre­tend the tax cuts will cause the econ­omy to grow so fast ... that they’ll pay for them­selves, and the ben­e­fits will trickle down to ev­ery­one else.”

It’s a take on eco­nomics that dif­fers in ap­proach from, say, Canada’s, but not in terms of un­sus­tain­able spend­ing and false prom­ises to the fuzzy mid­dle of the class sys­tem.

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