Saturday, December 25, 2010


I don't know about you, but while I like Christmas, I have little tolerance for the hypocrisy of the charitable sector and the upper middle class and some wealthy families in our country. Many of these people are quite active in "adopt a-family" campaigns, "give a child a Christmas: and "Christmas hamper" programs that they forget that the other 364 days of the year, these same people bash the same people who they just sponsored for these Christmas charities as "leeches", "lazy", "failures", etc. While I don't think ill is begotten by these campaigns, but little thought is given to the targets of them, how they feel about being adopted, pitied, awash with charity and fake neighbourly love, while at the same time, other days of the year, punished for their very position and circumstances.

This does not include all people of upper middle class or wealthy sectors, but a good amount of them. This also applies to "back to school". Newspapers are awash with media poornography dealing with how "wonderful" some company or organization has been to raise so many dollars from all of their "fortunate" (therefore, respectable and heroic) members to donate to all those "poor, pathetic, down-on-their luck failures" in our society. While they would never identify such persons as failures, an alarming number of people that give to charities consider those that receive from the same to be failures. Surveys have been done of staff in the charitable sector, and it was found they are just as likely to hold prejudicial views of those that approach them for help that members of the general public do.

For example, it is believed by these people that people are poor because they do not manage their money well, that they were wrongfully discharged from psychiatric or penal institutions, that they have no skills or lack a high school education. This is becoming less and less the norm; in fact, the norm of those that turn to charities are people who are really no different than members of the general public. Poor bashing originates from the necessity to create "otherness" in the population of the poor and homeless. People that donate to charities think they still have their jobs because they possess a work ethic and "work hard". Research originating from Jones and Harris blames the "fundamental attribution error" for this way of thinking, where if something horrible happens to somebody, that that person is somehow to blame for their circumstances and if something good happens, that person somehow did something to deserve it. This attribution error has self-serving properties, as it assuages those of us that are not falling on hard times that it will not happen to us, as we lack the internal qualities we attribute to those that these things happen to (e.g. lazy, mentally ill, a criminal). I shown readers in an earlier blog that laziness does not only reside in some of the jobless, but many wealthy and working people too. Wealth today is less likely to be earned as it might have been decades in the past.

In the recent Toronto municipal election, people elected Rob Ford because he appeared to be "an ordinary guy". People like Rob Ford and his brother, Doug Ford, both ran and won in the past municipal election. Both grew up as and remain to this day to be multi-millionaires. They own a company that was handed down to them by parents and likely grandparents that started it and made it successful. One only need see that if either Ford has enough time to be full-time councilor and Mayor, respectively, they are obviously not "working hard" in their business that they seem to be so responsible for. Being a member of a corporate board of directors or an owner of a large company is really not that much work. You just pay other people to run it for you and stop by once in awhile to make sure they are doing a good job. It is likely other people, perhaps, other members of the Ford family or perhaps, even hired management is doing the real work in this company. While I am not saying the Fords are doing anything wrong or their gains were ill-gotten, they cannot realistically portray themselves to be "ordinary guys". In my view, a single parent that works three part-time minimum wage jobs to keep her family's head above water works much harder than any CEO and nobody will convince me otherwise.

They, like most other wealthy people, won what is known as the Ovarian lottery. The "ovarian lottery" was named by Warren Buffet, one of the world's richest men, one of the few who will actually speak out about the nonsense of further tax cuts for the wealthy. Most wealth, high incomes and high level opportunities are inherited in some way - either by money given to them by living parents to complete their education, a business successorship, an inheritances after the parents or other close relatives die or similar circumstances. More about Buffet's analogy is written in Linda McQuaig and Meil Brooks' book entitled "The Trouble with Billionaires".

Before those of you reading this think this is a "left wing" commentary (which I don't understand as I don't relate well with the so-called left either), this book and its analysis was rated very positively by the managing editor of the National Post, typically a small-c conservative publication. There are others that are not as famous that also speak out about the wrong-headedness of further tax cuts for wealthy people. Tax cuts for corporations has never been proven to increase the salaries and benefit levels of those working for these companies, nor have they proven to distribute wealth or even opportunity equitably among the whole population. The founder of Wal-Mart, for example, was also one of the world's richest men, but we know people working at Wal-Mart earn very close to minimum wage. The same applies to the Weston family who still owns the largest stake in Loblaw's grocery stores and most workers in these stores are minimum wage and part-time.

Moreover, in their latest book, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everybody, comparisons among so called "rich" nations are made and various factors, such as infant mortality, incarceration rates, prevalence of certain kinds of health conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease), high school graduation rate, etc. were compared on the basis of a single independent variable: the gap of wealth and income within the nation's population. Wilkinson is an economic and a medical epidemiologist that is a full professor in London, England. His co-author, Kate Pickett, is also a professor of epidemiology and is a Career Scientist with the National Institutes of Health Research.

In Harper's Canada, the only real career path of the future will be as a police officer, a correctional services worker, a probation and parole officer, security consultant and other "criminal justice" type careers. Harper's current agenda of being "tough on crime" is going to prove itself to be not only a dismal failure, but a financially irresponsible one as well. Our crime rate has actually dropped over the past couple of decades, as an aging population is less likely to breed a new (and growing) generation of violent criminals. Further, research cited in Wilkinson and Pickett has shown that non-violent offenders entering the penal system are further away from being rehabilitated and are more likely to commit further and more violent crimes in the future. In this age of "zero tolerance", economic distress is increased among those caught up in it who can ill afford to adequately defend themselves. Even the Provincial Offences Act of Ontario has taken on a very heavy handed approach to many of its offences, making more of them "strict liability" (which means there is less flexibility in defending oneself as well as range of penalties available regardless of the defendant's circumstances). The goal here is to send more and more people to jail, more and more people to destitution and more and more people into circumstances where they can come out much more distressed and recalcitrant.

I don't care what proponents of tougher crime laws want. They have a false sense of security with tougher crime laws in place. They tell us, "if people just think before they commit the crime, then they won't get punished". That is easy to believe from a middle class, supportive familial context, where opportunities, money and resources are not a problem. Those of lesser circumstances are not necessarily more violent, but they can get caught up in things that will now can result in a penal sentence. This list includes failure to pay child support, failure to appear in court (e.g. sometimes it is hard to notify somebody of their court date when the defendant does not have a fixed address), driving under suspension, alcohol and drug related offenses, prostitution-related offenses and some property related offenses. Yes, these things can result in jail terms. They say there's no debtor's prison in Canada, but there are more than a few ways where unreconciled debts and fines can eventually put one in jail.

Persons with mental health issues can sometimes join a diversion program where they can participate in a treatment program instead of going through the penal system, and for this group of people, this has proven to be effective. However, most of the people who are caught in these cycles are not always involved in the mental health system, have few supports outside of the same people that got them in trouble in the first place, and very little money. A broader crime prevention and neighbourhood rehabilitation strategy would be much more effective than a "get tough" approach on crime. Open, supportive and non-traditional supports to persons living in disadvantaged situations can prevent people from going that direction in the first place, or get them to change their behaviour.

I am not opposed to tough sentences for child molesters, murderers, organized crime, etc. In fact, I would also like to see a "tough on crime" movement for corporate crimes, such as tax evasion by company executives, pilfering of pensions funds from employee trusts, embezzlement, contractor fraud, etc. by so-called "white collar criminals". These sorts of "white collar types" are least likely to go to jail in Canada, even though they destroy many lives and are often unrepentant for what they did and usually repeat their crimes many times before they finally get shut down. If they do go to jail, it is usually for short terms and usually in favourable conditions (e.g. minimum security, early release for "good behaviour").

It is so ironic that those that support continued and increased inequality in our society seem to believe that "welfare fraud" is a huge problem, while corporate fraud is not. It is in fact the other way around, especially given the government's own statistics, as cited by others. This information came up during the inquest into the death of Kimberley Rogers, who was convicted of "welfare fraud" for having the audacity to use OSAP to get her college diploma while trying to get by on a very reduced welfare cheque. Rogers ended up getting house arrest and being barred from receiving welfare as her penalty ... as a result, she fell very far behind in her rent and was basically a prisoner in a very overheated apartment lacking air conditioning during that hot summer. She died, while she was also pregnant with her first child. Welfare fraud was studied and was found to constitute less than 1% of all monies paid out to recipients. Income tax evasion or fraud is known to be much more common and involve greater amounts of money, but only rarely gets prosecuted. The reason for this is that those that subvert our income tax laws often have the resources of highly skilled accountants and tax lawyers and can afford to front a strong defense, if charged.

At the same time, the same people that endorse policies that lead to a more unequal society tend to give to charities that do nothing to advance the interests of the poor. I have yet to find a single person who was brought out of poverty as a result of seeking help from a food bank, a homeless shelter or any similar charity. After they get their nourishment this month, they will only be hungry again and in need of help the next month, all the while those giving and perpetuating these charities continue to benefit from charitable tax deductions and other ways to hide their wealth. To me, a business would do a hell of a lot more for the poor by hiring people off the welfare rolls, qualified to do the work of course and paying them decent wages. For those they cannot hire, they can sponsor scholarships and trust funds to allow low income people to get a post-secondary education and/or to develop their own assets.

Organizations like Social and Enterprise Development Innovations provide an alternative to perpetuating poverty among the poor and treating them so much like outsiders like we do now. There are programs they develop to assist low income people into developing their own businesses, setting up individual development accounts and furthering their education. The Metcalf Foundation of Toronto also sponsors research and programs that assist in change development as well, much of it through awareness of how current welfare programs serve to keep people in poverty. Social class mobility in Canada has substantially declined since the late 1980's, given the tightening of social program eligiblity and the softening of the labour market. To argue that everybody has equal opportunity may be true, but for many, that opportunity is very, very difficult to access when society continues to put barriers in place to those that need this access the most.

Your thoughts?