21 March 2007

Forget productivity, the challenge is distribution

In an article in the March issue of the CCPA Monitor, editor Ed Finn illustrates that from 1970 to 2005 Canada's GDP per capita almost precisely doubled, in constant dollars. As someone old enough to remember 1970, I can vouch for the fact we were quite capable at that time of providing a comfortable standard of living for each and every Canadian. Now that we are twice as rich, we are capable of providing a comfortable standard of living for each and every Canadian at least twice over.

Yet all we hear from business and the daily press (perhaps I should say business including the daily press) are concerns about a lack of productivity. Never enough wealth, it seems. But to what end? Just to fill our homes with ever more stuff? We can appreciate the business focus on making money, it's what business is all about -- the more sales, the more profit, the more market share, the more successful the business -- but this hardly seems sufficient measure of success for a healthy society. I suspect that for most progressives a fair distribution of wealth is at least as important as producing more, certainly at least when we have at least twice as much as we need to provide the material comforts.

Canadians, it seems, would agree. A recent survey commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV indicated over 2 1/2 times as many of us would prefer to see the federal government increase its spending on social programs as would like to see it reduce taxes.

The challenge of creating enough wealth for this country's material welfare was met and dealt with long ago.
On the other hand, we still have a lot of work to do to create a relatively equitable society with a comfortable standard of living for all Canadians. Our poverty levels remain much higher than those in most northern European countries. Our native people are particularly badly off, shamefully so in a nation as rich as ours. And then of course there's the Third World, a universe of problems so big they seem overwhelming but which we can be instrumental in helping solve if we are prepared to commit the resources.

Both the magnitude and the ever-increasing nature of our GDP tell us the challenge is no longer how to create wealth but how to share it. This isn't a bad thing to keep in mind at a time when government budgets are so much in the pubic mind.

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