Growing demand on need to tackle income inequality
So, what’s a fair wage ratio between the highest paid employee and the lowest?
A version of this commentary appeared in the Vancouver Province, iPolitics.ca and the Saskatchewan Star Phoenix
A disturbing but fleeting fact graced the news of the day onJanuary second this year. As of 1:11 PM on January 2nd, topCEO compensation had exceeded what the average Canadianworker would earn all year. That average Canadian earned justunder $47,000 in 2012. It took the top 100 CEOs of Canada justover a day and a half to earn the same amount.This gross inequality merits a brief mention, but tends to beforgotten as quickly as a New Year’s resolution. It’s hard toimagine anyone thinking this situation is fair, that the work of aCEO is over 200 times more important than that of other Canadians. Indeed, a 2012 poll showing over 70% of Canadiansbelieving that income inequality, now growing faster in Canadathan the United States, presents a serious problem that undermines Canadian values.One thing growing inequality certainly undermines is our health.Greater levels of income inequality lead to worse health outcomes. This is most true for those who, as Pope Francissaid in his recent letter, “must be content with the crumbs.” People living in poverty suffer from far higher levels of illness, often having life expectancies 20 or more years less than the wealthiest members of society.The ill health effects of inequality don’t rest entirely with the poor, however. As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickettpointed out so well in their 2009 book,
The Spirit Level
, there’s something about living in a country that is less equalthat harms the physical and mental health of everyone in society, even those at or near the top of the socioeconomicscale.Whether it’s higher levels of crime, a greater burden on social structures, or simply the toxic stress of constantcompetition, there’s something about high levels of inequality that damages us all.U.S. President Obama has called inequality, now reaching levels in his country not seen since just before the GreatDepression, the “defining challenge of our time.” Even Canada’s Federal Finance Committee has released a reportraising concerns about this issue and calling for some (albeit minor) changes to our income tax and benefit system tohelp offset inequality.However much attention this issue merits, there is an inconvenient truth that few in the realm of politics are willing todiscuss. To deal with income inequality, and thus prevent the economic and social harms it causes, some peoplehave to be paid less than they’re currently earning and some people more. The incomes of those at the top of thescale and those at the bottom aren’t going to magically gravitate toward one another.There needs to be a conscious decision, before or after taxes, to increase equality.Perhaps this uncomfortable fact explains the fleeting attention paid to the whopping salaries of the top earnersrelative to the rest of us. Despite the growing chorus of concern, governments have been loath to legislate increased