Two recent pieces of information give pause to claims that our economies are serving people well in North America and other countries. Jim Wallis, the American evangelical who has long been involved with a group called Sojourners, writes about an “un-economy” that is “unfair, unsustainable, unstable, and is making many people unhappy.”
Elephant in the room
Wallis says that for years growing inequality has been the “elephant in the room” that political and business leaders have not wanted to name. “Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began,” Wallis writes, “the talk about inequality has been greater than I can remember it being for a very long time.”
The increasing profits flowing to the financial sector, he writes, have created a new class of super-rich financial traders. “And now, when their risk taking, greed, and selfishness created a mess for so many others, we bailed them out and left everyone else to suffer in the economic wilderness of unemployment, home foreclosures, pension losses, deep middle-class insecurity, and rising poverty rates.”
Index of Wellbeing
These comments by Wallis coincided with the release of information from a group called the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is located at the University of Waterloo. The Index collects 64 indicators to measure progress on how Canadians are faring in areas such as community spirit, education, health, environment, leisure and democratic engagement. One journalist describes the Index as the “alter ego” to the Gross Domestic Product, “measuring the quality of life in society in ways GDP does not.”
Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow is chair of the Wellbeing advisory board and he says that a generation of economic growth, as measured by a rising GDP, has meant little in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. Between 1994 and 2008 investment and corporate activity was brisk, but the Index shows that quality of life actually deteriorated over that time in areas such as the environment, leisure and culture, and time use. The researchers found, for example, that species abundance had declined while greenhouse-gas emissions rose dramatically over those years.
Middle class eroding
Romanow says the Index suggests that the middle class is eroding and he warns of coming social unrest unless changes are made. “I think if we continue on this trajectory we’re going to have bigger and bigger disparities,” Romanow says in an interview with Canadian Press, “You can never build a solid political, social and economic community with wide disparities.”
In Canada, as in the U.S. those disparities have been growing for a long time. Family incomes for the vast majority of people in Canada have been stagnant since the 1970s, while most increases in income gains have gone to the richest one per cent of Canadians. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in 2009 Canada’s top 100 CEOs had incomes 155 times higher than that of the average worker.
The people, many of them young, who have been occupying the financial districts in Canadian and American cities, are angry about the continuing unfairness that exists in our societies. Support, or at least sympathy for their goals has come from some surprising quarters, including Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of Canada. On the other hand, Kevin O’Leary, who appears regularly on CBC Television, has been scalding in his criticisms of the protests. O’Leary, who has become the Don Cherry among economic pundits, is frequently seen promoting his show in a CBC video clip where he says “Greed is good.”
Jim Wallis, who visited the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, would beg to differ, albeit from a point of view that O’Leary and others may never have considered. “It’s time to put our faith values forward in the midst of what could become a new global conversation about what a fair, sustainable, stable, and happy economy might look like,” he writes.
Wallis urges people in his Christian circle to take a potluck meal out to the protestors, then to sit, meet and listen to them. I have seen or heard little to indicate that this is happening among churches – in the U.S. or in Canada. I would be interested to hear what you might know on that score. You can leave a Comment below.