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Keep Up the Good Work! (Just don’t expect us to pay you for it.)

October 13, 2011

4-minute read

An Open Letter from the Top 1%.

We know it’s been a while since we talked; it’s not that we haven't wanted to, it’s just that things keep coming up. Plus we keep hearing how busy you are, working harder and longer, with less and less time for your families. So we understand that you can’t always make it down to the Embassy Club—even though it’s really the best time to catch us when we’re ready to kick back and relax over a few drinks and shoot the breeze about how to invest last year’s bonus.

Not to start this off on a sour note, but we have to say that the recent spate of articles and reports suggesting that we are less empathetic, less compassionate, and less pro-social than you really hurt.

However, in spite of this grossly unfair characterization, recent events have suggested to us that you may have felt a bit taken for granted. But you have to understand that this isn’t entirely our fault. It’s not so much that we’re incapable of showing compassion, but usually our executive assistants are the ones who take care of sending flowers and writing thank-you cards on our behalf. So, given that we’re a little out of practice, we hope you appreciate the time we have taken to send this personalized note expressing our gratitude for everything you do to make our lives easier—perhaps in ways you yourselves don’t even recognize.

For those of us in the top 1%, the last three decades have been good to us. Very, very good. For the rest of you, we understand it’s been a little rough. While your incomes have remained stagnant, or have even fallen if you make around $15K a year (how did that happen?), we’ve more than doubled our share of the national income pie. And you say we don’t give you enough credit—are you joking? We’re frankly bowled over at how some of you can make the equivalent of what we spend on a celebratory night out with friends last a whole year.

Speaking of credit (sorry, we can’t resist a good pun), we hear many of you are going into debt in the process of living off those stagnant salaries (though surely some of you could have made wiser purchasing decisions—we're looking at you, Ms. Sally Two-Ply Bathroom Tissue!). But perhaps it will make you feel better to hear that our investments took a bit of a beating this year too. Not a “how are we going to make the mortgage this year” beating—who are we kidding?—but you might be interested to hear that after looking at our investment portfolios some of us are seriously considering hiring new advisors.

What we mean is, we feel your pain. We’re all struggling, and in the midst of economic turmoil it’s important that you remember what we have in common, not how many times greater our incomes are than yours (155 times greater for the CEOs among us, but what’s a discrepancy like that between friends?).

And this is where we really do appreciate your sacrifice for the greater good (and by "greater", we mean, you know, us), and the fact that you rarely complain about those minor differences between our reality and yours. We’re quite sure the hissy fits some fringe elements are throwing in events across North America are cathartic anomalies. After all, if they were truly indicative of a sustained wave of discontent, would we see government after government elected based on the aggressiveness of their tax cut agenda?

Just look at the record: since 2000 Canadians have elected governments that have cut taxes and shrunk the federal treasury by $420 billion—and we know who’s really benefited from that (hands up if you make an average of $1.5 million!). Let’s face it; the biggest beneficiaries of those tax cuts that many of you keep voting for are those who make the most money. And no offence, but clearly that ain’t you, Mr.-and-Mrs. “pay the rent or feed the kids”! But your consistent support of economic policies that make our lives easier is touching. Way to take one for the team!

Admittedly, there are times when we’re amazed that so many of you find your annual share of the tax cut package—at most a few hundred dollars—enough compensation for your troubles. Especially when you do the math and see who the lion’s share of the tax cuts go to, while your public services are trimmed accordingly. (Of course, we don’t have to worry about that—our kids go to private schools where overcrowding and broken bathroom sinks are not issues, and we can save our fundraising efforts for a new Olympic-sized swimming pool.) But do you expect us to look a gift horse in the mouth? You’re making these sacrifices for the greater good and we appreciate it. Because in post-recession, belt-tightening, the-recovery-is-still-fragile Canada, the greater good means that we are now paying less tax overall as a portion of our income than the poorest 10% of you.

The whole “keep the market happy” argument has been good for a few laughs, though. When one of you puts together an articulate argument against rising inequality, someone on Kevin O’Leary’s speed-dial quickly reminds you how unwise it would be to do anything that would undermine the recovery, or promote market instability (which is pretty funny if you think about it, given recent market behaviour). And then we like to predict how long it takes before calls for investment in social and physical infrastructure or making the tax system more progressive or cracking down on CEO bonuses get lost in a debate about why corporate tax cuts are the safe, market friendly-choice.  Or why we need to keep our executives happily compensated rather than investing in pensions for...well, people like you.  One word about market volatility and all those niceties about “restoring the balance” scatter like ants. But we think this proves how the whole “Occupy Wall Street” thing is really just a phase—something to let off steam before you go back to being compassionate, empathetic team players and recognizing that we at the top of the heap have it pretty tough too.

When you think about it, the recession brought us closer together; you’ve done your bit to make sure that we economic trailblazers were compensated for our hardship. And it worked. Canada might not be in full recovery, but we certainly are. We’ll save you a seat for when you finally make it out of that whole stagnant-income rising-household-debt fix you’re mired in— but till then, take our word for it: the view is awesome from up here. And we can’t thank you enough for giving us that boost.

Very sincerely yours,

Blah blah blah

(PS. Sorry for the heel scuff marks we left on your shoulders. Our executive assistants tell us that a little champagne will get those stains out.)


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