Thursday, November 02, 2006

Boo hoo, I'm rich...

This morning the front page of The Globe and Mail was concerned with the Tories renegging on a promise not to tax income trusts. The accompanying photo shows an old man who has, it says, lost $90,000 in investments as a result. The story goes on to tell the tale of another man, apparently already retired at 51, who has lost $100,000 as a result, which he claims to be 10% of his investment. He might have to look for a job, he says.

My first reaction was, wow... that's a lot of money.

But almost at once, it became... poor babies! We should all have such problems! I'm building an RRSP myself, and I expect I just lost some piece of it. But the Tories have pointed out that they did it because the projected income shortfall these shelters represent would have had to have been made up in increased income taxes.

The people affected by this change are pretty heavy-hitters on society. It's by and large the wealthiest who make the most and broadest use of society's infrastructure... multiple-vehicle families (often sporting the biggest and least fuel-efficient models) polluting the air, driving highways in constant need of repair on their way to and from cottages where they use public boat launches... or else use the airports to jet off to other countries (where they export cash at the same time), making sure they get back in plenty of time not to lose their medicare... Does it make sense to you that such people should be entitled to shelter large chunks of their wealth from paying for all that, when the corollary is that the people at the other end of the scale — people who often can't afford RRSPs and investment funds and income trusts — will have to pay more taxes, and in many cases to maintain infrastructure that they themselves never get to use? Is it fair that the wealthy and comfortable of our society should never have to compromise on their luxury, but that as a result the poorer among us should have to live lives that much meaner, that much further from even the hope of such luxuries as others take for granted? Does the upper-level manager who makes bonuses and perks really work harder than the waitress who's on her feet eight hours a day making minimum wage? Or is he just paid more? Does sitting around for forty years pushing beans really entitle you to hide more of your income from society than forty years of slinging hash, especially when the disparity is largely due to the fact your family could afford to send you to university in the first place and the waitress's couldn't?

Let's keep in mind that we, as individuals, owe nearly everything to the society in which we live. Without it, you're just some guy banging rocks together in the forest, listening to the wolves howl. 99.9% of everything any one of us has or achieves is based on the millions who came before us; when and where we happened to be born; who our parents were, what they already had, and the other advantages that had already accrued to them (which in turn were based on the same societal opportunities)... in short, virtually none of what any of us has or builds is based on some unique effort or personal virtue. Mostly, it's luck of the draw, and taking an advantage and running with it. If you're smart about it, you ought to benefit from it... but those benefits should not be absolute or infinite. The more you glean from your society, the more you owe back to it, both morally and materially. If you are in such a rarified position that you can lose $100,000 and still have a home, a car, and a future, please do not come crying foul to the society that made that possible when it requires you to contribute your fair share to maintain that same system now and into the future. You, above all, can afford to tighten your belt, where others cannot. There's a big, big difference between losing a pound of fat and losing a pound of bone. I give the Tories, of all people, full credit for acknowledging that fact, instead of ignoring it and putting the onus for action on some other party down the line.

1 comment:

Daniel wbc said...

99.9% of everything any one of us has or achieves is based on the millions who came before us

OMG ... THANK YOU for articulating what I've been thinking, which, of course, is heresy in the United States. I don't know if you follow much (and I would guess not, because why should you) the battles over the estate tax (deemed "death tax" by those clever Republicans) but this is the point that they miss entirely. Not only do they want to claim that everyone should "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" and to perpetuate the legend of the "self-made man," they want to make it hereditary AND THE IRONY ESCAPES THEM.

Thank goodness the voters in Washington State -- which has THE most regressive tax structure in the United States (and that's saying a lot and it's true) -- voted to keep our state's estate tax. For now.

God help this country. Sorry to rant on your blog. But I really appreciated this post, as it touched a sore spot. :-)