Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 18, 2006
Wealth no prerequisite for justice
In his vision statement for how he would act as prime minister published in the Sept. 4 issue of Macleans, Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff gives a brief summation for his approach to social and environmental issues:
"We cannot reduce child poverty, gaps in Aboriginal health and education, clean up our lakes and rivers, generate jobs in Canada's regions, unless we create more wealth by making our economy more competitive. Greater wealth alone, of course, will not solve our problems. However, without greater wealth, we have no chance of making ourselves a fairer and more decent society."
In other words, to become more morally upright, Canada must first become wealthier.
Ignatieff is likely far from alone among political leaders and prospective leaders who share this assumption. Indeed, the politician who argued Canada does not need to increase its wealth, but that we should devote more of the wealth we already possess to social and environmental causes, would likely be doomed to crushing electoral defeat.
Even so, people are most likely to support giving to others when they are aware of their misery, not necessarily when they become richer. Where you stand determines what you see. Our nation is plagued more and more by the isolation of people from each other and especially of the wealthy and middle class from the poor. If we do not see the poor in our own communities, it becomes so much easier to make harsh judgments of them and to refuse to help them.
So often, it is the poor who help the poor. They do so because they have experienced misery themselves and also because they are in daily contact with the misery of others. Where they stand determines their vision.
In Canada, our government welfare programs, Unemployment Insurance and Old Age Security were created not in boom times, but in the midst of the Depression. We were without wealth - and many feared our country would never be wealthy again - and yet we strove to make ours "a fairer and more decent society."
Alberta today has Canada's highest average incomes and its lowest minimum wage. We have abysmally low social assistance rates in the face of a skyrocketing cost of living. Our solution to poverty has been to buy welfare recipients bus tickets so that they can live in other provinces and be someone else's burden.
Surely, Ignatieff would not accept this as his model of a fair and decent society.
Greater wealth does not buy greater fairness. Indeed, it may even be the opposite. Prosperity can lead to hardness of heart. The truth of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was that Scrooge's quest for wealth isolated him from others and made him calloused toward those who had less than he did. It was only when he was forced to see where his hardness of heart was leading him that he began to give freely to others and experience the joy that comes with giving.
If we want "a fairer and more decent society," it is not greater prosperity we need, but more love. We have a love crisis in Canadian society. Our problems so often stem from children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents. We think if we have bigger houses and smaller families, we have achieved something. But so often large families in small houses, while chaotic, brought children to recognize their own wants do not supersede the needs of others. They learned to get along with and respect others.
The irony is that politicians have the vast resources of government at their command and they are able to help set the economic direction of the country, but they cannot give us the one thing we need. We need those who can inspire us and lead us to love because love is the one thing that has lasting value. Love can best be learned from those to whom the passing allurements of the world mean nothing.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 10/02/06
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