The values my parents instilled within me were about helping others, doing more than you were asked, lending a helping hand and where possible, helping those less fortunate.
Perhaps to my detriment, I often took those lessons literally. I never wanted anyone to think I was cheap, or unwilling to pay my share, so I generally had my hand in my pocket before others – always offering to pick up the bill, or at the very least pay my share. I was never driven by wanting to be wealthy – but rather to live a comfortable life, provide for my family and give back to society where I could.
If someone needed help, I was often one of the first to volunteer – and still do to this day. It is in my DNA and the way I was raised.
Where I grew up, those lessons were in abundance around me. People helped each other whether in need, or simply to be a good neighbour. Of course, in a village of 400 people, everyone knew everyone else and were cognizant of the struggles of others. Our family didn’t have a lot, but we had enough.
It wasn’t until I moved to Hamilton in 1973 that I discovered the harsh reality of living in the big city. Sharing an apartment with my friend Rudy Gheysen, we soon realized that there were more people in that apartment building than in the entire village of Vienna. We quickly learned that they didn’t give a damn about knowing us. You simply went about your business, keeping your head down and grunting hello from time to time. No one helps anyone. You are on your own.
My family was not invested in the stock market. We had enough to get by, but no extras to invest. The market was for rich people. Dad often said “it takes money to make money son.” At the time, we didn’t have the means to make our money work for us. “You will never get rich working for someone else”, was another pearl of wisdom.
It wasn’t until the late 70s that I remember hearing much about the stock market. Investments were often made in whole life insurance policies. They were considered safe and steady. Even though RRSPs were available as far back as 1957, they didn’t seem popular until much later. It seemed to my naive eyes, that the more popular they became, the more corporate profits, rather than corporate sharing became important.
It was common for corporations to provide investment plans to employees – contributing equally in many cases to the fund. Employees had a few dollars taken from their paycheck each pay cycle, matched by the company you were working for to maximize the contribution. There were “cost of living” increases yearly. Companies often gave bonuses at year end, to share the profits in a gesture recognizing that many people contributed to the overall success.
Then corporate greed seemed to kick in. CEO’s were recruited to slash and burn payroll, often leaving thousands without jobs in the spirit of jacking up corporate profits and shareholder returns. With the rapid growth of computers, it became in vogue to develop software programs that could do in seconds what it took a person to do in a week. Layoffs became the norm, as IT departments were tasked with “replacing bums in seats” with more and more computer programs. CEO’s got rich eliminating jobs while boosting corporate gains.
CEO’s had clauses built into their contracts that would pay them millions, if they were fired – while thousands of hard working employees were forced to rebuild their careers elsewhere.
How Much is ENOUGH?
In the last 40 years, the concentration of wealth in Canada has funneled to the top 1%. How unrealistic is it for the majority to even dream about fitting into the chart below?
- What is Required by Age to make it into the Top 1% of Wealth in Canada:
- Age 25 $417,909 CDN – Total wealth to make it into the top 1%
- Age 35 $1,671,633 CDN – Total wealth to make it into the top 1%
- Age 45 $3,761,174 CDN – Total wealth to make it into the top 1%
- Age 55 $6,686,531 CDN – Total wealth to make it into the top 1%
- Age 65 $10,029,797 CDN – Total wealth to make it into the top 1%
What about the other 99%?
- 27% of Canadians are considered financially healthy
- 15% of Canadians are considered financially vulnerable
- 54% of Canadians spent more than their income in the prior 12 months
- 31% of Canadians indicated that they have more debt than they are comfortable holding
- 32% of Canadians are unable to pay all of their invoices on time
- 12% of Canadians live in poverty (3.2 million) – a family of 4 living on $37,542.00 or less.
|Group||Number in poverty||Poverty rate|
|Unattached individuals (18 to 64 years old)||1,428,000||34.6% (males)
|People in sole-caregiver families||417,000||28.6% (female-led)
|Recent immigrants||445,000||26.0% (0 to 4 years in Canada)
14.4% (5 to 9 years in Canada)
|Indigenous people living off reserve||153,000||19.5%|
|Persons with disabilities||1,364,000||16.6%|
|Children (0 to 17 years)||748,000||10.8%|
Housing has become unaffordable for many. Wages have been relatively stagnant in many sectors for decades, while costs have risen dramatically. Rent has become so high, that there is no extra room to save for a home, let alone pay rent. Many are having to decide between heat and groceries.
The pandemic has seemingly given corporations cover to collect record profits, simply because they can. We have so little competition in Canada, that a few corporations dominate critical sectors. Grocery chains (Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys), Telecom Companies (Bell, Rogers, Telus), Banks (RBC, CIBC, ScotiaBank), Gas Companies and others. Profits soar, while the those that are struggling to keep up suffer.
Lobbyists control government decisions and more often than not side with the corporations over the people they serve. Prices among these companies are manipulated – when one company raises prices, they all do. When one falls, they all do.
How Much IS Enough?
When gas stations first started offering self serve options, it was purportedly to offer the public cheaper gas if you were willing to pump yourself. That didn’t last long! HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Banks offered ATM’s as a way to eliminate jobs, reduce costs to the consumer and allow you to do your own banking on our own time. At the same time charging fees to access your own money. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Insurance companies threaten to cut you off if you make one claim – even though you have been paying for a service you seldom, if ever, used previously. Rates go up almost annually. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Grocery stores are making record profits, yet continue to raise prices. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Telephone companies are conspiring to keep cell rates at record highs. We pay some of the highest rates in the world. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Gas companies claiming that when the price of oil goes up, gas must follow. But when oil goes down, gas stays up. Different rules to drive corporate profits. HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Markets are manipulated, sometimes on what seems like a whim. “In today’s news, markets dropped ominously on the discovery of 2 frozen flies found fornicating in a forest near the French Riviera on the fourth of July. Gas prices soar. In other news, oil dropped 3 dollars a barrel.”
The Lost Generation
John D. Rockefeller, the world’s first billionaire, answered the question, “How much is enough?” with “Just a little bit more!” He, unknowingly, made a profound statement about the human condition.
Conversely, I would argue for the good of society, how much IS enough? How much wealth does one need? Is one billion enough? Two? Three?
What seems to have been lost in translation over time, is that with wealth comes power – and power frequently corrupts. It has never been so apparent as in US politics today. The top 1% seem to be doing all they can to prevent having to share their wealth or develop solutions that will help the rest of society. They seem to think that simply by working harder, those below the poverty line can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and join the 1%. If it were only this easy!
Rather than help the less fortunate, billionaires and their friend are spending millions to take a 10 minute trip into space. WTF! How many people could that money help?
I’m not much of a gambler and seldom buy tickets but – Instead of paying $70 million to one lottery winner, why don’t we pay $500,000 to 140 winners – or even better, pay $100000 to 700 winners or $50000 to 1400 winners! How much would that help? In the case of the US Powerball at almost 1 billion dollars, how many people could that help if it was spread out??
My heart breaks for those that are just getting started in their professional lives. Mortgage, rent, day care, gas, hydro, insurance, banking fees, groceries and more. Many feel hopeless – even despondent – that they will never have what their parents have had access to.
It is crushing.
Some days I long for simpler times.