Denounced in media, taxing the super-rich turns out to be popular with Canadians

Graffiti art depicting millionaire character from Monopoly game. Image: Sean Davis/Flickr

The Onion magazine once sardonically described the gap between rich and poor as the Eighth Wonder of the World — “a tremendous, millennia-old expanse that fills us with both wonder and humility… the most colossal and enduring of mankind’s creations.”

Another aspect of the rich-poor gap that fills me with wonder is the way the rich manage to keep it off the political agenda, although that may be changing.

Prominent U.S. Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are campaigning on taxing the super-rich, with Warren calling for a two per cent annual tax on wealth above $50 million, rising to three per cent on billionaires.

In Canada, where politicians have shied away from even putting their toe in the water when it comes to taxing the rich, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has taken a bold plunge, calling for a version of Warren’s tax — an annual one per cent tax on wealth over $20 million.

This is an excellent idea, and is apparently popular. A new Abacus poll shows that 67 per cent of Canadians support (or somewhat support) a wealth tax, along the lines proposed by Warren, and that even a majority of Conservative voters support it. That’s probably about the same percentage of Canadians who support (or somewhat support) Mother’s Day.

Yet the wealth tax has received little media coverage — beyond denunciations in the National Post, which surely has nothing to do with the fact the media is largely owned by billionaires.

One Post columnist posed the bizarre question: what is the problem to which creating a wealth tax is a solution?

Fortunately, the brilliant French economist Thomas Piketty answered that question at length in his celebrated international best-seller, Capital in the 21st Century, where he made the case for wealth taxes.

Without them, he argued with extensive data, wealth will become ever more concentrated, allowing the mega-rich to swallow up an ever-larger share of the world’s resources.

Given that 26 individuals now have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity (3.8 billion people), one wonders at what point conservative commentators might consider this a problem. What if one individual had as much as the rest of humanity — or if she had all the world’s wealth? Would that cause alarm at the Post?

Let’s not forget that the super-rich typically made their fortunes by selling products built by employees we all paid to educate, and shipping those products on roads we all paid to build.

A wealth tax would redirect a tiny fraction of those fortunes back to the community to help ordinary Canadians. I’d call that a good solution to the problem of millions of Canadians working really hard but still struggling to get by.

A wealth tax would also help curb the enormous political power of the super-rich. Fossil fuel billionaires, for instance, have effectively managed to block global efforts against climate change.

Billionaires and their defenders maintain the super-rich would find ways to hide their money from tax authorities. But then why do billionaires resist such taxes? Because they know they would actually pay more — just as they did in the early postwar years, when taxes on the rich were much higher.

Piketty notes that Warren’s wealth tax is in line with historically high U.S. tax rates on the rich. He maintains those higher rates were key to the strong economic growth from 1940 to 1980 — before Republicans gutted taxes on the rich, slowing down growth and swelling family fortunes.

The Canadian tax system also helps perpetuate dynastic fortunes. Canada is the only G7 country without an inheritance tax.

According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, between 2012 and 2016, the net worth of Canada’s wealthiest 87 families grew by more than $800 million — per family.

The study also found that inheritance is growing in importance. Among the wealthiest Canadian families, 45 per cent had passed down wealth at least one generation in 1999, compared to 53 per cent in 2016.

So much for the argument that the super-rich are increasingly self-made entrepreneurs.

Turns out that Canada’s billionaires are mostly winners in what Warren Buffett calls the “ovarian lottery.” They just think they hit a triple. SOURCE

Ottawa, B.C. to push electrification of gas industry to cut carbon emissions


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen prior to making an announcement at BC Hydro Trades Training Centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August, 29, 2019. Photo by The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward

As part of an agreement announced Thursday, the two governments and BC Hydro are forming a committee to push projects that increase power transmission.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the agreement is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the natural gas industry, which produces about 18 per cent of the carbon pollution in the province.

“We’re taking another major step forward in the fight against climate change,” he said, adding that electrification will also create jobs.

B.C. Premier John Horgan joined Trudeau in making the announcement at a BC Hydro training centre in Surrey, saying the two governments are working to make the economy more environmentally sustainable.

Horgan said the agreement also takes advantage of BC Hydro’s ability to provide clean energy for industry in the province.

“Our governments are working collaboratively to electrify industries and reduce emissions as we put B.C. on a path to a cleaner, better future,” he said in a statement.

Environmental groups have criticized Horgan’s NDP government for its backing of the liquefied natural gas industry in B.C., arguing changes to the province’s tax structure and subsidies are helping a sector that increases carbon pollution.

The federal and provincial governments have boosted LNG Canada’s plans for a $40-billion project in Kitimat, which is expected to create 10,000 construction jobs and up to 950 permanent positions in the processing terminal on the coast of B.C.

Trudeau said Thursday’s agreement builds on that project.

The three-page agreement says $680 million in “near-term” electrification projects are being considered for possible funding.

B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the deal and the province’s financial commitment to it is a further subsidization of fossil fuel development, including for projects that have not yet been built.

“The NDP government is not only providing more subsidies for the growth of the fossil fuel sector but are also neglecting their responsibility to this province to be making the investments for an alternative future,” he said in a news release.

Weaver said he supports the electrification of industry, but it must go beyond providing help for the gas sector. MORE

Anitra Paris: Climate action across Cascadia—an op-ed on electrification in a time of crisis

On August 29, Justin Trudeau visited a B.C. Hydro facility in Surrey to make a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan about electrification initiatives in the extraction, processing, and liquefaction of natural gas.
On August 29, Justin Trudeau visited a B.C. Hydro facility in Surrey to make a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan about electrification initiatives in the extraction, processing, and liquefaction of natural gas.JUSTIN TRUDEAU

In 2019, there has been a global uprising of youth concerned about climate change. Examples like Extinction Rebellion hosting die-ins, a nonviolent protest that brings attention to the unprecedented mass extinction with one million species facing extinction. And, Greta Thunberg raising her voice and leaving an impression on many of her peers.

Many may also be familiar with the IPCC report stating that there are 12 years left to act. Now one year later, there are 11 years to mobilize and make change. There is a unified voice calling urgently for change.

Most of the headlines from our neighbours to the south are disheartening, ranging from tragic mass shootings to the myriad of atrocious Trump stories. However, there are some positive newsworthy stories spattered throughout. Certain states are pulling ahead and leading the way in decarbonization and fighting the climate crisis. I have been repeatedly impressed with two states: Washington and California.

Washington 

Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee has been paving the way and taking some serious climate action. The state is poised for carbon neutral electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2025. In March 2019, it went as far as banning hydraulic fracking for natural gas exploration.

California 

California is another state that has been taking climate action in strides. It is host to many innovative renewable energy, clean tech and storage companies. For example, Tesla and its recently developed utility-scale storage solution Megapack. The City of Berkeley recently banned natural gas in new buildings, becoming the first city in North America to embrace this clear step toward building electrification.

B.C.’s successes in electrification?

In British Columbia, our electricity generation is relatively low-carbon. However, one-third of our energy consumption still relies on fossil fuels. We need to permeate our energy consumption with clean electricity and stop using fossil fuels for transportation, the built environment, and industrial processes. This idea was echoed in the province’s CleanBC plan, released in December 2018. MORE

Bolsonaro and ecocide in the Amazon – some questions answered

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We’ve received a lot of panicked emails over the last few days from many people asking similar questions… so here are a few answers.

Can the adoption of ecocide law be speeded up?

An amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Court must be proposed by a Head of State more than 3 months prior to the Assembly of States Parties in December making next year (2020) the earliest possible opportunity to do this. We are well aware that the time is ripe.

Can you prosecute Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

We can’t, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, (unlike in civil litigation) individuals and organisations don’t prosecute crimes, states do – or in this case the international community via the ICC, which must have a detailed communication submitted for preliminary examination in order to commence the process. This is not something that can be put together overnight.

Secondly, although we absolutely support the broadening of existing law to include ecological and climate concerns, we are not a practising law firm but a legally focussed non-profit campaign, working to practically progress the adoption of future law. Our mission is ultimately a diplomatic one and we do not take on specific cases or represent clients in court.

The Amazon situation highlights that ecocide is MISSING from the list of prosecutable offences at the ICC. It’s why our organisation exists, and why the ICC is at present powerless (with some wartime exceptions) to directly prosecute ecological destruction, however massive.

But what about Crimes Against Humanity?

We are aware that there are possibilities for including environmental crimes under some existing provisions of Crimes Against Humanity and we are conducting studies to examine this, but we are not in an evidential position to apply it to Bolsonaro ourselves (see also previous answer). Others may be. MORE

RELATED:

France’s Macron says real ‘ecocide’ going on in Amazon

Let’s talk about socialism: The term has largely lost its power to scare, and that’s a good thing

Let’s talk about socialism: The term has largely lost its power to scare, and that’s a good thing
A Medicaid office employee works on reports at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

The term socialism is getting tossed around loosely these days, usually as an epithet intended to demonize or ridicule mainstream Democratic politicians. But with more and more people expressing curiosity about the term, it’s time to move beyond name-calling.

“America will never be a socialist country,” President Trump vowed in his last State of the Union address, a line he has repeated to crowds at his rallies. The sentiment has been echoed by other conservative politicians, who often frame the choice as “socialism vs. freedom.”

That old-fashioned red-baiting approach, familiar to those of us who lived through the Cold War, doesn’t seem to be working these days. A Harris poll from earlier this year found 40% of Americans claiming they would rather live in a socialist country than a capitalist one, which echoes a Pew poll in which 42% of Americans (including 65% of black Americans and 52% of Latinos) said they have a “positive impression” of socialism.

The level of interest in socialism represents deep skepticism that our current, consumer-fueled capitalist system is equipped to tackle big questions like climate change, crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate health care and the stunning levels of economic inequality that have left so many families homeless, broke, bankrupt or under-employed.

To put it another way: How bad has economic inequality become in America? Bad enough that four out of 10 people are willing to at least consider an entirely new way of organizing society.

“I became a socialist first by having a sense that so much of this world is the result of accidents of birth,” is how Bhaskar Sunkara put it. He’s the editor of Jacobin, a Brooklyn-based magazine and website, and the author of a new book, “The Socialist Manifesto” (our full discussion is the latest episode of my podcast, “You Decide”).

“We take for granted that someone born in New Rochelle or White Plains or Pleasantville is going to have a radically different life outcome than someone born 20 miles south in the Bronx,” says Sunkara. “We take that completely for granted, even within neighborhoods in the city — and in other countries, that’s just not the case, because they provide a bedrock of social rights.”

At a minimum, says Sunkara, government ought to provide basic services like public transportation, good schools and free healthcare. MORE

“Kochland”: How David Koch Helped Build an Empire to Shape U.S. Politics & Thwart Climate Action

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SEE THE VIDEO
Billionaire conservative donor David Koch died Friday at the age of 79 from prostate cancer. David Koch — who was worth some $42 billion — and his brother Charles poured massive amounts of money into funding climate change denial through conservative think tanks and politicians. The Koch brothers founded the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity in 2004, which is credited with turning the “tea party” into a full-fledged political movement. They also backed “right-to-work” efforts, which aim to weaken labor rights and quash union membership. The brothers made their fortune running Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States. We speak with the business journalist Christopher Leonard, who just last week published a major new book examining the business dealings of the Koch brothers. It’s titled “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.”….

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t we start there, with your — it wasn’t really a synopsis of the book in any way, because this is a tome. Congratulations on writing it, Chris.

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: But “David Koch Was the Ultimate Climate Change Denier.” Now, if he is one individual, that’s his own business. But this affected the entire country. Explain what Kochland is and how he and his brother had such a massive effect on the issue of climate change and denialism in this country.

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD: Yes, I will. And maybe to start, we could back up and look at the corporate empire that made David and Charles Koch the richest — some of the richest people in America. They’ve owned this privately held firm in Wichita, Kansas, for decades, Koch Industries. And as we said earlier, Koch Industries is one of the largest corporations in America. Its annual sales are bigger than Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined.

And the thing about Koch Industries is that it specializes in the kinds of businesses that underpin civilization. You couldn’t boycott Koch Industries if you wanted to. The company makes the fuel people use to drive to work. It makes the building materials in their office building, from the windows to the carpet. It makes the material in our clothing, like Lycra, spandex, nylon, the stuff in diapers and exercise clothing. It makes nitrogen fertilizer, which is one of these products that most people don’t think they even use, but it really is the bedrock of our modern food system. So what you see is that this corporation is sort of quietly working the gears and levers that make modern society work. And the results have been tremendously profitable for David and Charles Koch as they’ve owned this company. Together, the brothers owned 80% of the firm before David Koch passed away last week.

So, the important thing that you asked me about is climate denial and the political impact of this empire. And it traces back to the fact that Charles and David Koch, for decades, have been patiently working to reshape American politics. The brothers, the best term you could probably use for them is “libertarian.” They hold a very vehement anti-government view. They truly believe that society needs to be organized as a marketplace, with only privately run roads, hospitals, insurance. They don’t believe in Social Security. They don’t believe in Medicare. So they’ve been steadily pushing back government regulations and programs like that.

But of primary concern to them is any effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, because Koch Industries is deeply involved in the fossil fuels business. It owns oil refineries, pipelines. It trades global energy supplies around the world. And decades ago, this company realized that if the government regulates greenhouse gas emissions or even puts a price on emitting carbon into the sky, it could really hurt Koch’s profits for decades to come. So the company has been, I think, unique and vitally important in derailing any action on climate change, going back to the early 1990s. MORE

See also Part 2:

“Kochland”: Christopher Leonard on the Secret History of Koch Industries & U.S. Corporate Power

Extinction Rebellion: Our Demands

Extinction Rebellion is an international apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency. 

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We have three demands in the UK:

1. Tell the truth

Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2. Act Now

Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

3. Beyond Politics

Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

WHAT IS A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY?

A citizens’ assembly brings people together to learn, deliberate and make recommendations on an issue of public concern. Similar to jury service, members are randomly selected from the population by a process called sortition. Quotas are used to ensure that the assembly is representative in terms of key characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level and geography. Assembly members learn about critical thinking before they hear balanced information from experts and stakeholders. The members spend time deliberating in small, facilitated groups and then they draft and vote on recommendations. Citizens’ assemblies are conducted by non-partisan organisations under independent oversight. They are transparent, inclusive and effective.

The UK Parliament already uses deliberative democracy processes, such as citizens’ assemblies, for example the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care worked with House of Commons Select Committees and there are three deliberative democracy projects currently running as part of the Innovation in Democracy project. Citizens’ assemblies around the world – for example in IrelandCanadaAustraliaBelgium and Poland – have demonstrated that the general public can understand complex information, deliberate on options, and make fair and impartial choices.

Citizens’ assemblies are often used to address issues that are deemed too controversial and difficult for politicians to deal with successfully by themselves. In recent years, Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly has broken the deadlock on two controversial issues: legalising same-sex marriage and the repeal of the ban on abortion. The recommendations of the citizens’ assembly informed public debate and emboldened politicians to advocate for change regarding these issues. The recommendations of their citizens’ assembly on Making Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change is currently being incorporated into the Government’s action plan.

Why is Extinction Rebellion demanding a citizens’ assembly?

This is an emergency. The challenges are big, wide-ranging and complex. And solutions are needed urgently.

Extinction Rebellion believes that part of the problem is the way our parliamentary democracy operates:

    • In the UK’s form of parliamentary democracy, power is in the hands of a few representatives (MPs) who are elected by the public. Over the last 40 years, this form of government has proved itself incapable of making the long-term policy decisions needed to deal effectively with the climate and ecological emergency. The five-year electoral cycle in the representative system of democracy discourages governments attending to long-term issues like climate change.
    • Democratic representatives are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential media and public reactions, as measured by opinion polls. This means politicians often feel unable to propose the bold changes necessary to address the emergency.
    • Opinion polls often gather knee-jerk reactions to loaded questions, and they do not inform the respondent or enable them to explore the implications of different options with others. For an issue as complex as the climate emergency, opinion polling is of limited value.

Here is how a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice can break the deadlock:

      • A citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice will break this deadlock by giving politicians access to public judgements that have been reached in a fair and informed way. This will help politicians to commit to a transformative programme of action justified by the mandate they receive from the citizens’ assembly, reducing the potential public backlash at the ballot-box.
      • Citizens’ assemblies are fair and transparent. Assembly members have an equal chance of being heard and information regarding experts, stakeholders and the materials given to assembly members is shared publicly. This produces informed and democratically legitimate judgements.
      • Citizens’ assemblies can be used when difficult trade-offs are necessary. For example, experts might propose policies on how to meet a 2025 target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and the assembly would then decide which one they prefer. For example, they might consider how to mitigate the effects of any changes in economic policies for those in society on low incomes.

You can find out much more on our citizens’ assembly page.

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