This item was first published in 2010, shortly before Premier Campbell resigned to open the way for an even more incompetent and corrupt regime, the one led by Christy Clark. I offer this again because we’ve continued further down a dangerous road.
Nearly four decades ago, TIME Magazine published a special report: Poor vs Rich: A New Global Conflict. It examined potential struggles between rich and poor nations and predicted the developing world would inevitably claim a greater share of world resources. TIME supposed that radical poor nations might one day blackmail the rich by threatening nuclear holocaust and the magazine warned of more certain risk that lesser conflicts could destroy the economic system on which world stability depends.
In many ways, the world economy has changed since the 1975 report in TIME. China is probably now the second most powerful economy. Brazil, Russia and India are poised to move past Canada in GDP rankings with Korea, Mexico and South Korea likely to advance similarly within a decade. (Note: By 2016, Brazil and India had passed Canada.) But there is another element of income distribution with potential to encourage strife, in North America and elsewhere.
In the same way that economic factors have contributed to international warfare throughout history, matters of wealth distribution within a country have been integral to domestic disputes and civil wars. Whereas there is a shuffling of nations deemed to be among the developed elite, vast majorities in rising economies continue to live in dire poverty. That has always been a root of unrest and the greater the disparity between elites and average citizens, the greater the potential for conflict.
Throughout time, elites have commanded portions of national economies that are disproportionate to their numbers within the populations. Of course, that is an inevitable result of different capabilities, opportunities, risk tolerance, dedication and fortune. The distribution of wealth and influence will never be equal but if the imbalance grows too large, particularly if opportunities are class-restricted, a civil society will not function. The elites may hold dominance for a period through force but history demonstrates that order will disintegrate in a society of severe inequality.
Disparity has been a dilemma always. In 1832, seventh US President Andrew Jackson acted against the only nationwide chartered bank because the private institution exercised unmatched economic power for the benefit of elite commercial interests and the detriment of most citizens. The prescient words in Jackson’s veto message remain meaningful:
It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society–the farmers, mechanics, and laborers–who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.
In British Columbia, the Liberal Government has accelerated the granting of privileges to make the already potent more powerful. Consider the billions of dollars to be stripped from consumers under the insane take-or-pay private power contracts that force premium cost electricity on BC Hydro without regard for flatline domestic and export markets. Or, compare the billions spent in the lower mainland for Olympic facilities, the Whistler highway, convention and stadium facilities, mass transit, bridges and roadworks while the hinterlands are decimated by declining fishing, forestry, tourism, coal mining and gas extraction.
Worse than the imbalance of spending between the lower mainland and the interior is the Liberal policy that eliminated open tendering of large contracts. Instead, exclusive arrangements are made by negotiations conducted behind closed doors with pre-qualified consortia that routinely add and delete participants without requalification. Browse through Laila Yuile’s website for many of these stories and ask yourself why secret negotiations have replaced open bidding.
Essayist Paul Graham has written intelligently about inequality and connections between wealth and power:
The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. . . We don’t need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power. And there has been progress on that front. . . But what’s changed is not variation in wealth. What’s changed is the ability to translate wealth into power.
How do you break the connection between wealth and power? Demand transparency. Watch closely how power is exercised, and demand an account of how decisions are made. Why aren’t all police interrogations videotaped? . . . Why don’t government officials disclose more about their finances, and why only during their term of office?
A friend of mine who knows a lot about computer security says the single most important step is to log everything. Back when he was a kid trying to break into computers, what worried him most was the idea of leaving a trail. He was more inconvenienced by the need to avoid that than by any obstacle deliberately put in his path.
Like all illicit connections, the connection between wealth and power flourishes in secret. Expose all transactions, and you will greatly reduce it. Log everything. That’s a strategy that . . . doesn’t have the side effect of making your whole country poor.
Before Gordon Campbell formed government, he promised accountability and transparency. He said his government would be the best ever on this count. Perhaps Campbell’s was a false promise from the beginning. Perhaps his views quickly evolved, corrupted by his greed and enjoyment of power and the ability to reward friends. Nevertheless, accountability is non-existent, secret administration has become the manner of public business in British Columbia. Citizens are routinely deceived, legislators are demeaned by exclusion and influence is exercised by the Premier’s coterie and a handful of lobbyist associates. The BC Liberal Party has become expert in graft, exchanging privileges for cash and allowing a favored few to move unimpeded between government and business, often double dipping, triple dipping and worse.
Almost two thirds of British Columbians have concluded that corruption is rife in Campbell’s government. The remaining third is blind by ignorance or design. Those riding the gravy train simply want it to continue unimpeded.