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The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canada’s 1%

by Lars Osberg

In The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canada’s 1%, Dalhousie University professor Lars Osberg employs an effective mixture of hard data, well-placed anecdotes, and solutions to create a thorough and multifaceted examination of the issue. After spending close to 200 pages explaining the scope and severity of the problem of income inequality in Canada, Osberg offers one of the most convincing policy prescriptions that I’ve read yet.

Osberg shows, using 2012 figures, that raising the tax rate to 65 per cent on Canada’s richest people – those who earned more than $205,000 per year – could have raised as much as $28 billion in new government revenues. “The total revenue of Canada’s universities and colleges from tuition and other fees was $8.1 billion in the same year,” Osberg notes by way of comparison.

One of the most important things Osberg does with this book is provide solid evidence to counter the commentators and politicians who make the case that income inequality is not as bad in Canada as it is in the U.S. – which is true – so it’s nothing to worry about – which is not true. By spending a lot of time looking at salaries in particular, Osberg shows that after relative equality in the post–Second World War era and the stagnant economy of the 1980s and the 1990s, only a tiny slice of Canadians got paid during the fossil fuel–powered growth in the early part of this century.

A graphic charting real market income with capital gains shows that the bottom three-quarters of Canadian taxpayers have seen no meaningful increase in annual incomes dating back to the early 1980s. The 99th percentile, however, has seen steady income growth, particularly in the last decade. The 2000s and early 2010s appear, quite literally, to be the payoff for decades of legislative, lobbying, and messaging groundwork laid by the country’s conservative politicians, think tanks, and activist groups calling for deregulation and lower taxes on the rich.

The Age of Increasing Inequality is not especially artful in its writing but is very readable and focused. The slight missteps – some underdeveloped passages connecting income inequality with discontent created by advertising for luxury goods – don’t detract from Osberg’s valuable contribution to this crucial issue.