Austerity amid incredible wealth — Yalnizyan

Economist Armine Yalnizyan reminds us that the present call for austerity is taking place amid a period of incredible wealth.

Speaking at a Students for Medicare Conference in Toronto March 31st, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative economist said this debate is taking place amid a backdrop of growing income inequality.

“We’re standing in the middle of the industrial revolution,” she said. “Global wealth is expanding exponentially. We have more access to stuff than ever before.”

Economist Armine Yalnizyan speaking at the Students for Medicare Conference March 31.

While the rich were also affected by the economic crisis of 2008, having lost on their investments, she says they have bounced back much faster than the rest of us.

There is a growing consensus among major institutions – including the Bank of Canada — that growing inequality is a major problem.

Yalnizyan says we often forget that health care is the biggest income redistributor among all social programs. Public health care essentially “takes from the healthy and wealthy to the poor and sick.”

The austerity movement is trying to supplant the Occupy movement culturally, trying to convince Canadians to accept austerity amid this incredible affluence.

“Caterpillar is the most in-your-face example,” she said.

She notes that profit margins are growing and corporations are sitting on reserves of cash they are not reinvesting in the economy.

The good news is “you can’t evict an idea,” she says. “People get what’s going on.”

The latest movement is organizations of professions organizing for tax fairness.

Just days after “Doctors for Tax Fairness” were formed, another profession responded by creating “Lawyers for Tax Fairness.” Now there is an “Accountants for Tax Fairness.”

These organizations insist a modest tax hike on the wealthy could make an incredible difference in funding services such as public health care and education.

Yalnizyan says we need to link these calls to specific initiatives to demonstrate the value of these contributions.

“If you target dollars for a particular thing, you can actually achieve something.”

Yalnizyan contrast the 2004 health accord with the present attitude of the Harper government, which has no interest in how the provinces spend the federal health transfers.

The 2004 accord actually was successful in bringing down wait times she said.

Equity is the key to how we talk about health care and the social determinants of health, says the economist. We have to tie it to the conversation every day.

The CCPA economist urged doctors in the room to recognize their power and “develop your bedside manner with politicians.”

By establishing a relationship with politicians we can assess how open they are to change. It’s important to have a strategy that is aimed at lobbying politicians, bureaucrats and the public.

If we want to bring about change, we need to keep talking, she said.

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