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We've Broken Faith with the Poor

The gap, to our shame, is widening.

By Rafe Mair 19 Nov 2007 |

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair. To register for free to hear Rafe Live, Mair's new webcast, visit

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Time to herd fat cats.

There's not much we can really do about Iran, George W. Bush or the sabre rattling of North Korea but surely that doesn't absolve us from the obligation our poet placed upon our shoulders. Perfection is always the enemy of improvement and so it is here. For we should look at our own society and see the people with whom, in John McCrae's words, we've broken faith.

Why is anyone impoverished in a country as rich as we are? I suppose that's because we refuse to break the faith with an uncontrolled capitalism which promises and never delivers help to the poor and the lame.

Margaret Thatcher, in supporting little regulated capitalism because it would supposedly make the money needed to look after the disadvantaged, said: "No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions; he had money as well." No doubt that's true. But what else is true is that he in fact gave up some of that money to help another.

The rich in their stratosphere

How can we tolerate the persistence of poverty in our society when sports figures make seven figure incomes and corporate chief executives make eight figures?

Is it so wrong to tax heavily those who make huge incomes?

Can a hockey player making a couple of million a year not afford a special tax?

Can a CEO not get by on, say, a million dollars a year?

It's said that jocks and executives get what the marketplace says is the right figure. Let's examine that in the context of the athlete. His marketplace is fed by individuals who can afford for tickets what most don't make in a year. It's true that if you simply legislated lower salaries the owners would pocket the money. If their earnings are outrageous, sic the tax man on them.

The CEOs also live in a fixed market. Are we to believe that if everything over a million was taxed at 75 per cent that corporations would shrivel up and be blown away?

Call to 'war'

Ah, but this is socialism! We'll have none of that, thank you very much!

But let's look back to wars again. Capitalist countries imposed surtaxes and excess taxes on the rich so the war could be fought. But shouldn't we understand that we are in a war with poverty in all its forms? Didn't John McCrae mean that the torch he was handing us was not only to "take up arms against the foe" in a military context but to make a better world? To prove that the huge losses were not in vain?

Our motto seems to be "because we cannot have a perfect society, there's nothing we need to do." If that is our motto, we're saying that it's not a good idea to do a hell of a lot more than we do now, for, as Jesus said, "the poor will always be with us."

Such a banal, sterile philosophy, while not necessarily representing how we all think, has become what governments practice in our names.

The mentally ill could be off the streets, everyone could be fed, everyone could have shelter. If, as the evidence indicates, we will only, as a society, help those in need inadequately and grudgingly, that day, to our shame, will never arrive.

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