This week, David Macdonald at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a new report documenting that the wealthiest 87 families in Canada control roughly as much money as three-quarters of the Atlantic provinces combined. (Atlantic Canada™ is a proud subsidiary of Crosbie-Irving-McCain.)
The report also highlighted the fact that the gap between us mere mortals and the rich was growing dramatically, and most of this exorbitant wealth was inherited (up to seven generations in some cases; shoutout to the people in Upper Canada still literally living off the proceeds of chattel slavery), rather than “self-made” by a first-generation bourgeois. (The idea of “self-made riches” is a total fiction. All economic activity is social activity; billionaires hoard the lion’s share of our collective, socially-produced power because the capitalist legal system privileges the rights of property owners over the lives of those who actually work those properties. Labour is the font of all wealth!)
This shouldn’t be earth-shattering news for anyone. French economist Thomas Piketty confirmed in 2013’s Capital In The Twenty-First Century that the intensive concentration of wealth brought about by late 20th century neoliberal reforms a) existed and b) was probably bad for democracy. (That this extremely basic observation caused a sensation in the West half a decade ago says as much about Obama-era liberal Stockholm Syndrome as it does the plutocracy it describes.)
But what was a little shocking was the paper’s revelation that Canada is the only G7 nation that doesn’t have an inheritance tax on the mega-rich. Shocking, but also par for the course: this country was founded on a role-play fetish for the British aristocracy, and the dream was always to one day sprout our very own. More Money = Better Than.
It got me thinking. We spend so much time here fretting about petty cultural clashes and the rapid degeneration of our public life into a reactionary wasteland that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture: the hyper-wealthy are vampires who must be destroyed before they devour us all.
It’s important to qualify who we’re talking about here. Leaving aside the question of Canada’s position in the American imperial hierarchy, domestically, the 0.1 percent are a tiny fraction of people. The suburban middle class might be the social base of proto-fascism and the small-time millionaires scrambling up the bottom of the greasy pole are usually the ones most directly involved in fucking up your life at work and/or flooding all the good parts of your city with big ugly houses full of gaudy home decor from Pottery Barn, but that shit is all small potatoes. The rich—the real rich—live up in the stratosphere.
One of the things alien archaeologists will laugh about as they sort our irradiated bones into boxes is that in the last days of capitalism, the rich were all living as communists. Canada’s 87 wealthiest families (and their stupid-rich comrades in every nation around the world) have passed a magic threshold where money effectively no longer exists because the sums involved are so astronomical as to be meaningless. Anything you want appears on demand. You have more or less free movement all around the globe at the drop of a dime. All the powers of Nature and the full arsenal of Leviathan are at your beck and call. All the institutions of the state exist to ease your journey from the cradle to the grave. All social distinctions vanish in the world of the billionaires and each one can exist as a true individual unburdened by the economic and social constraints of the crumbling Enlightenment edifices bearing down on the rest of us. The only limit to human action is the limit of the human mind.
You know—fully automated luxury space communism. All the Godlike marvels achieved by the collected efforts of human civilization, thrumming in concert for the good of its masters. Limitless freedom, but only if you can pay the cover price. And as the rest of us start going mad in the summer heat, the club only gets more exclusive.
Once upon a time, there were some social conventions about how to manage the tendency of vast wealth to concentrate into bourgeois dynasties threatening to warp Canada’s training-wheel democracy. The working class was militant, union membership was widespread, and the spectre of Soviet Union haunted the peripheral vision of the ruling class, warning what could happen if the demands of labourers were not soothed with some kind of welfare-state noblesse oblige.
Things are very different now; our overlords openly fantasize about escaping the planet and leaving us to die. They have lost their holy terror of the people.
We don’t actually have to let the monstrously wealthy walk all over us. For instance: we could institute the bog-standard G7 inheritance tax of 45 percent on estates valued above $5 million. Again, it is insane that Canada doesn’t do this. It would also be lovely if we could recover some of the billions of dollars in taxes robbed from the public coffers and stashed in offshore bank accounts. You could fund a lot of social services with that kind of cash! Or buy a few pipelines, if that’s your thing.
Honestly, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal if most of the wealth involved wasn’t expropriated from members of the dispossessed and working classes at literally every stage of the transnational production process from the figurative-and-sometimes-literal slave labour in the global South to the tertiary processors and service workers here at the imperial fringe. It’s a little bullshit that we put up with billionaires at all, to be honest. By rights we should be wheeling guillotines up and down Bay Street until they return what is ours.
Kidding! We’re not unreasonable. We just want you to pay a tax for the privilege of dying peacefully instead of before a revolutionary tribunal. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.
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