Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Bourassa.
It is a real honour and a pleasure to be talking about this subject here in this House today. Rising income inequality is one of the most striking and most important new characteristics of the 21st century economy. It is a way the world economy and, particularly, the economies of the western industrialized countries have changed.
For all of us here in this House grappling with that transformation, it should be our absolute priority to understand it and work on ways to make this new economy work for all Canadians.
I would like to start with some data points. According to the IMF, since 1980, the richest 1% increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries. That is a really significant data point, because very often debates about income inequality happen in a national context, as our debate is happening here, and we lose sight of the fact that this particular story is a global story.
Of course there are national aspects, but overall the shape of what is happening is something that is happening particularly across the western industrialized countries. We must understand that in order to really understand what is going on.
This is happening in Canada as well. In 1980, the top 1% collected $8 out of every $100 earned in Canada. By 2010, that had surged 50% to $12 out of every $100. In the meantime, middle class incomes in this country have been stagnating.
In 1980, middle class families reported income of $57,000, and 30 years later they were still at $57,000. This growing income divide—and as I said, an income divide that we are seeing growing across the western industrialized countries—is also translating into a growing wealth gap.
I would like to cite one figure. This is based on some very important research that Oxfam has done, which is really important and something for us to all focus on. Oxfam calculated that if we took the richest 85 people in the world, their wealth is equal to the wealth of the bottom 50% of the whole world, 35 billion people. That is just 85 people, which is a lot fewer than it would take to fill this House. It would fill maybe a quarter of my side of the House. Let us think for one moment about what that says about our world today and about how the world economy is working.
It is important when we are talking about this, and particularly when our conversation moves to talking about political solutions, to really reflect on and acknowledge the fact that this is a new phenomenon. The world economy today is working differently from the way it did, particularly in the post-war era, when I think many of our conceptions of how the world economy works, and certainly many of our political ideas, were formed.
In the post-war era, we had a Goldilocks economy. It was a time when there was very strong economic growth across the western industrialized world, and at the same time income inequality was actually decreasing.
Starting about 30 years ago, that changed. Even as the economy grew, we started to see income inequality surging: a growing share of the income going to the very top and incomes in the middle either stagnating or actually declining, depending on which measure and which timeframe.
There is a lot of debate about what is driving this phenomenon. Inevitably that debate becomes politically tinged. All of us who approach honestly what is happening will have to agree that there are three primary drivers. One of them is in fact political.
The 30 years in which we have seen this surging income inequality across the west also coincided with the rise of neo-liberalism, what we might want to call the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. We saw a combination of weaker protections for trade unions, a culture that accepted higher compensation, particularly for executives—higher CEO compensation—a new philosophy of shareholder value in companies, lower taxes at the top, and crucially, deregulation of many industries.
Therefore there was this political element, and again that political element had national features, of course, but it was also something that happened across countries, particularly because we are living in an age when so many businesses operate internationally and there has been, in many cases, particularly on the taxation front, competition across jurisdictions.
However, there are also two other factors that are really important drivers of what is going on, and those are globalization and the technology revolution. For me, those two factors are the ones on which it is really important to focus; and it is important for all of us, particularly those who see rising income inequality as a huge problem, to acknowledge that these two drivers of rising income inequality are also very positive. That is the paradoxical nature of what is going on.
The technology revolution, bringing us so many pluses, is also a driver of increasing income inequality. The same is true of globalization. If we are blind to that paradoxical nature of what is happening, we are not going to be able to come up with good solutions. Particularly when it comes to the technology revolution, it is important for us to understand something. I will refer to one of my favourite books on the subject, The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They argue that there is no law in economics that provides that the technology revolution will lead to more jobs or evenly distributed rewards. That is really important to bear in mind. Changes in the economy, which are good in aggregate, may not be good for individuals, and it is going to be our job as legislators to find ways to strike that balance.
What can we do about this? I have talked about something that is big, that is new, and that is global. How can we cope with it? I would like to quickly talk about five ways in which we can approach it. The first is to do no harm, and that is why we in the Liberal Party are absolutely opposed to income splitting. At a time when there are powerful economic forces, many of them good, which are driving up income inequality, introducing changes to our own legislation, rather than pushing back against them, and increasing income inequality is absolute political and democratic malpractice.
The second absolutely important thing is to focus on equality of opportunity. A terrific Canadian economist, Miles Corak, has identified something that has been dubbed by his admirers The Great Gatsby curve, which shows that rising income inequality correlates with declining social mobility. We have to push back against that, particularly with investment in schools, families, and early childhood education.
A third area that is absolutely essential is to be open to innovation, particularly innovation for people who might not have the opportunities and networks. One thing we are seeing is that old businesses are dying. That is part of the technology revolution and of globalization. We have to be the country where it is easiest for someone with a great idea to start a new business.
Finally, and this is really crucial, we have to understand that we operate in a globally connected economy. We are living at a time when capital is global, but politics and legislation very often are not. If we want to capture the wealth that is being accumulated in the world, we are going to have to come up with some global answers. I am going to quote Larry Summers, the former U.S. secretary of the treasury, and then Pope Francis. Larry Summers stated:
The share of corporate profits taken by tax authorities around the world is probably a little more than half of what it was 40 years ago. And the reason is a basic process of competition, a basic ability to move business activity or to use accounting tricks to move income to low-tax jurisdictions.
Therefore, we are going to have to work together to push against that trend.
In conclusion, I would like to cite a higher authority on why this is so much of an issue and that is, as threatened, Pope Francis himself. He has said that increasing income inequality is the root of social evil. I really believe that. I hope that together in the House we can identify this as a major problem and work together to try to fix it for Canadians.