Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Inherent Vice of the Alberta Advantage

Churchill once said "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Well...we understand capitalism in Alberta. Our economy, fine-tuned after 44 years of "progressive" conservative rule, has led to a greatly unequal sharing of blessings.
Jim Prentice's $71,000 T-Bird
For the wealthy, our booming economy has provided riches far beyond the dreams of most people in the world. Second and third homes that are far more elegant than most people's houses, luxury vacations, club memberships, sky-boxes at hockey games, designer clothes, garages full of vehicles, including "classic cars" that are just owned for show...truly, "the best of everything" as Premier Prentice says. A pervasive "winner take all" attitude with its subliminal message - if you don't have "the best of everything" somehow you didn't work hard enough to get it. You with your median income of $68,000- you don't deserve it. But because we want to be winners, we want to be those people with the T-birds and the clothes from Haven and Holts and the condo in the Grand Caymans, we need to think like those winners do. All Albertans should vote the way they vote.

In a capitalist economy, it's expected that blessings will be unequally shared, and inequality in Alberta is the highest in Canada. In fact, it's higher than it is in the United States. According to Statistics Canada, the top 10% of Alberta's taxfilers make 50% of all the money. Statistics further show that the oil boom in Alberta has really only served to benefit the rich. Wealth has not trickled down to the average Albertan. 1 in 10 Albertan children live in poverty, and half of those have working parents. Food bank use rising, spectacularly. Minimum wage is still the lowest of any Canadian province.

We understand capitalism in this province. Socialism? Not so much. Our brand of socialism is unlike that described by Churchill, in which all share in the "miseries" by contributing equitably to public services that benefit all. Our political leaders do not quite grasp the idea that universal social programmes were set up so that some people can get further ahead by acting in their own self-interest, but no one will be left too far behind. A social safety net  established through our desire for the collective good. Here in Alberta somehow we agreed to a kind of socialism that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor, rather than the other way around. 
Hope Mission, Edmonton 
So not only do we celebrate the unequal sharing of wealth, we also enjoy the unequal sharing of miseries. While all Albertans theoretically benefit from public services, they are not equally delivered. Urban Albertans, with with more doctors and greater access to timely services, receive better healthcare than those in rural Alberta. Southern Albertans have a higher life expectancy than northerners. The wealthy live longer than the poor. Wealthy Albertans, unprepared to wait for surgery or stand in line for 70 plus hours with everyone else in the emergency room, flee to the U.S. for care. Students of the wealthy fare better in school, or their parents pull them out to exclusive private schools. And then these parents send their children to increasingly expensive post-secondaries and the cycle continues. In reality, all Albertans do not receive equal public services.

Nor do we pay for these services equally. A provincial flat tax of 10% hits the working poor and middle class much harder than the extremely wealthy. Jim Prentice's announced "healthcare levy" will hurt the poor much more than it will the wealthy, and as Sandra Azocar of Friends of Medicare says, "Albertans do not need to be taxed, fined or punished for years of PC mismanagement." Low corporate taxes and low oil royalties mean that Albertans are essentially giving away their resources to multinational corporations, both foreign and Canadian owned.

The inherent vice of our political and economic system in Alberta today is that neither miseries nor blessings are equally shared.