The myth of the noble entrepreneur, the hard-working engine of job creation, dies hard.
The news is just in: It’s time to tax the rich in Ontario. In exchange for a promise to abstain from voting against the Liberals’ budget, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath got Premier Dalton McGuinty to include a provision to increase the basic tax rate for those who make more than $500,000 by two per cent.
Much noise is being made by the newly impoverished one per cent in the mass media. A money manager told Rita Celli on CBC Radio that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that a Nazi takeover is in the wings. He also warned listeners that the sort of money he manages is quite mobile, and will take flight to Alberta if things don’t get better soon. The clean mountain air of Canmore beckons, with or without the scent of wild roses.
This, despite the fact that polls tell us that 90 per cent of Ontarians support higher taxes on those making more than $500,000 per year, and that most Ontarians voted for either the Liberals or NDP in the most recent provincial election. That’s called democracy, by the way – a system of government where the majority rules, with some constitutional restrictions for what they can do with that rule. And last time I checked, the NDP was a social-democratic party. So is it any surprise that it pursues social-democratic policies?
Yet, the rich only believe in democracy when the right or fiscally conservative liberals win. When the left wins, they hear the howls of demagogues and masses of brownshirts marching just around the corner, ready to burn the provincial Reichstag and put the plutocrats in concentration camps, depriving them of their precious wine collections, limousines, and trips to exotic locales.
What this incident tells us – besides the fact that Karl Marx was right when he said that public political ideology is little more than the reflection of private class interests – is that our society as a whole, including much of the mass media, is in the grip of a series of conservative myths.
First and foremost is the “myth of the noble entrepreneur”: A man starts out poor, struggling to make a living. He works hard, either coming up with a brilliant new idea or simply using an old one better than his competitors. He builds up a business with his sleeves rolled up, and with sweat dripping down his brow. By middle age, he’s a millionaire, having “created” a series of jobs that didn’t exist before his noble efforts. Then along comes the taxman, dressed in a black cloak and twirling his moustache. “Time to pay up, Mr. Millionaire. There are poor people who want to buy beer and lottery tickets!” he whispers, determined to undermine our economy. The noble entrepreneur sobs, his money stolen by this dark-clad villain.
What utter nonsense. Sure, there are noble entrepreneurs out there. But for the most part, the ultra-wealthy power elite in Canada is made up not of noble entrepreneurs, but of people who have inherited fortunes and hired the right people to manage that money so they avoid losing it. Even those who have risen into wealth often come from privileged middle-class backgrounds and were given elite educations from their infancy on. Most haven’t put in a day of hard physical labour in their lives, unless you count phoning their stockbrokers during lunch breaks. The people who work for them have created their wealth, not them. Who serves all those coffees in Starbucks? Who stitches all those Nike shoes in Indonesia? It is certainly not the presidents of these companies, even if they had a clever idea or two decades ago.
Second, there’s the myth that the wealth that the rich supposedly “creates” is produced in a vacuum, free from any state or public support. Leaving aside the obvious fact that in some cases governments directly fund corporations through loans, direct subsidies, or generous tax breaks (witness the bailouts of GM and Chrysler over the last few years), no entrepreneurship takes place within a taxation or political vacuum.
Asking the self-interested capitalist a series of simple questions provides evidence enough to explode this myth. “How did you drive to work today?” On roads paid for with taxes. “Why are you able to walk down Main Street most days without being assaulted?” Because the police protect us. “Why don’t all those people you laid off last month turn into an unruly mob and pillage your mansion?” Because they’re collecting employment insurance. “Where did those water, gas, and electricity lines powering your business mysteriously come from?” Public utilities built them. And so forth. If anything, entrepreneurs owe the public a debt for creating the material and social infrastructure that allows them to get rich in the first place, even if that same public demands a few more scraps from their well-provisioned tables.
Third, there’s the threat – part myth, part reality – that if we tax the rich too much they will take their money and run to another political jurisdiction, like children throwing a tantrum in a playground when their playmates become too rough. Capital flight is a serious problem, especially when governments play the “let’s see who can promise the biggest tax cuts to make the capitalists happy” game. Yet, surely the loss of a few thousand dollars in taxes will not cause a mass exodus from the caverns of Bay Street to the badlands of Alberta or the tropical jungles of some Third World gangsterocracy. Life in Canada’s Mega-City One is just too damned comfortable.
The disparity in wealth in North America has steadily widened since the days of Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan. The economic collapse of 2008 proved that we can’t trust money managers and financial speculators to create a stable capitalist economy. We can trust them to line their own pockets, and to complain loudly when some of this lining is removed to pay for basic infrastructure and social programs. Yet even in the U.S., some of the ultra-wealthy, like Warren Buffett, are realizing the injustice of the tax regimes in place across the continent, asking to be taxed more, not less.
In short, it’s about time we taxed the rich. Thank you, Ms. Horwath, for breaking the political mould of mass deception we see in political campaigns and actually putting into effect a policy that your party stands for. Truth in politics? This could become a dangerous trend.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.