How much is enough? The politics of capitalism and wealth

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

David Thomson, who according to Canadian Business, has a family net worth of more than $41 Billion.

Many of us who work at The Advocate spend a lot of time thinking about how life could be better for people in our Kawartha Lakes community, and for all Canadians. That is, how do we achieve a more equitable society, within a capitalism framework, where there isn’t such a great chasm between the wealthiest and the poorest?

When we consider these questions we refer to the kind of wealth that defies all sense of decency. As of June 8 last year, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

As I wrote in a feature story in last month’s Advocate, too many of us from all political stripes seem to believe that the ‘free market’ needs to be left alone to do its thing to make lives better for people. It is the ‘trickle down’ lie that has been perpetuated for decades, all the while inequality continues to increase.

Advocate Publisher Roderick Benns.

We let politicians talk about the market, as if our economic system was a thing onto its own, instead of a rigged game, written by people who wield power.

At the Advocate we think about these things, not because we are anti-capitalist, but because we are not happy with the current rule book which has entrenched inequality at the expense of lower and middle income Canadians.

The late Robert Hielbroner, one of the world’s great economic historians, discusses the reality of capitalism in his CBC Massey Lecture presentation on ‘Twenty-First Century Capitalism.’

There is only one answer to the problems that plague capitalism, Hielbroner said.

“The problems must be addressed by the assertion of political will. In one form or another…the undesired dynamics of the economic sphere must be contained, redressed, or redirected by the only agency capable of asserting a counterforce to that of the economic sphere. It is the government.”

Of course we should add ‘the people’ can also be a force to Hielbroner’s comment, but that is perhaps implicit in his comment about government. But citizens can still summon a counterforce beyond electing their government every four years or so simply by speaking up. (Contributing Editor Trevor Hutchinson reminds us of that in his analysis of the proposed merger between Ross Memorial Hospital and Peterborough Regional Health Centre. We all love the Ross in our community and we want to ensure it remains a great community health centre.)

But from mergers to mega-corporations and the concentration of assets at the corporate level, we just don’t believe this improves society. We believe it improves the bottom line for a small minority. We must speak out for people, not the rigged economic game that too many politicians bow down for.


  1. Jim McIntosh says:

    Mr. Benns writes, “… too many of us from all political stripes seem to believe that the ‘free market’ needs to be left alone to do its thing to make lives better for people.” If those of Liberal and Conservative stripes believe in free markets, why do they continue to pass legislation and regulations restricting markets (i.e. making them un-free)?

    And he talks about our economic system being a “rigged game, written by people who wield power.” Exactly what kind of “power” is he referring to? The kind of power that comes from providing the best product or service at the best price? or the kind of power that comes from legislation, which involves the power to help companies like Bell and Telus keep companies like Wind Mobile from competing with them. Either we have government deciding who we can do business with via government regulation, or we let customers choose who should get their hard earned cash, i.e. “Customer Regulation.”

    Mr, Benns is concerned about the increasing inequality of outcomes; some get rich while others don’t. The real problem is inequality of ambition, fear of competition and failure. Some are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, to develop a product that meets a need at a price customers are willing to pay. We can see it happening all around us if we take the time to look. Mr. Benns should be celebrating these entrepreneurs who will only succeed in a truly free market. The free market is not the cause of inequality. More likely it is the 380,000 or more regulations put in place by the politicians, the people who hold the real power and think they know what’s best for all of us.

  2. Jim McIntosh says:

    “The Politics of Capitalism” – I suspect most people equate capitalism with corporations, but capitalism isn’t just for corporations. Anyone who watches Dragons Den or Shark Tank has seen lots of small entrepreneurs looking for capital, hoping to get it from someone who started small, too. This is true capitalism. Many have borrowed capital from family and friends, or have used their own savings as their starting capital. I don’t see any politics involved in this sort of capitalism.

    On the pother hand, corporations need approval from government in order to limit their exposure to liability. And since government can pass laws that either harm or help corporations, said corporations are going to do their best to convince politicians to pass the former and not the latter, in other words, to use the power of law to help their company and hurt the competition. Maybe this is what Mr. Benns should be concerned about. Maybe politicians shouldn’t be giving out favours to their business friends.

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