Following the great global recession of 2008-2009, the game plan of the Right was clear: repair the tattered flag of capitalism, fight any modest regulation of the banking system, and restore six-figure bonuses to all those 25-year-old millionaire hedge fund managers.
Oh, and vilify the Occupy kids.
The Occupy movement – much like the Tea Party movement, ironically – was anti-banker, anti-bailout and anti-bonuses. Its rallying cry, the 99 per cent versus the one per cent, attracted the support of the majority in every democratic nation.
Occupy was, most agree, the most successful populist progressive movement of the past Century. (In fact, it was probably the only populist progressive movement of the past Century.)
At the time, Frank Luntz, the conservative manipulator of words, confessed to a group of Republican legislators: “I am scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. They’re having an impact on what people think of capitalism!”
So, it therefore became necessary to destroy Occupy. Conservative governments used every means at their disposal to physically drive out the Occupiers – and conservative polemicists literally accused them of everything from rape to murder. It recalled what the Romans did to the Christians, except it was televised on FOX.
While the Occupiers may have faded away, the Occupy message did not. To many of us, Occupy was actually Christ-like: it argued that those who deserved Heavenly reward were those who had nothing (or next to nothing) while here on Earth. Not the aforementioned 25-year-olds driving pimped-out Hummers to private clubs to expense magnums of Cristal.
This week, the Canadian Occupy-haters found a statistical basis for their greed. Statistics Canada issued a report, and it seemingly suggested that the middle class is doing just fine. Income disparity, crowed the capitalist-fetishists, had been proven a myth! Stats Can is useful after all! Who knew?
Except the report didn’t say that. Sure, Statistics Canada dryly noted that the median worth of Canadian families had jumped some 44 per cent over the past seven years or so – from $168,700 to $243,800. And, yes, the mythical middle class increased its share of the country’s $8.07 trillion personal net worth by slightly less than two percentage points.
But, there’s this: had Stats Can asked Canadians if they felt life was getting in any way more affordable, they would have been laughed at. Most of us citizens, the citizens would say, are always about two paycheques away from the street. To average folks, the standard of living is getting worse, not better.
And, for those who examined the Statistics Canada report carefully, the rise of the putative middle class is a mirage. Or, at best, built on desert sand.
The report explicitly acknowledged two things, and passingly referenced another. One, much of the higher net worth of Canadians has been fueled by sky-high home prices. Two, pension fund gains have helped a lot, too. Three, we have among the highest per-capita household debt in the civilized world.
And that, as no less than Comrade Jim Flaherty and the Finance Department proletariat continually remind us, suggests that there is still plenty to worry about. Indeed, an overheated housing market, undercapitalized pension funds, and too much personal debt all suggest that much of the middle class “gain” could be swept away in the Biblical blink of an eye.
It was amusing to see the Right-wingers waving around a Stats Can report, like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai. But, like Moses, the Right-wingers aren’t going to see the promised land.
We’re not out of the desert, yet, folks. What Stats Can giveth, the bankers can (and will) take away.