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Brian Jones: Lean times for most, but bankers pig out

This week it was reported Canadians’ collective household debt, including mortgages, has gone up yet again, hitting another record high — $1.8 trillion.
This week it was reported Canadians’ collective household debt, including mortgages, has gone up yet again, hitting another record high — $1.8 trillion. - Submitted

The annual spring rite of arguing about the seal hunt will soon be upon us, accompanied by the usual European whining about cruelty and animal-rights groups’ begging for donations.

Meanwhile, in the cultured Old World where they have supposedly evolved beyond such brutal behaviour, a different but far worse slaughter is ongoing, day after day, year after year.

An item circulated by The Associated Press earlier this month updated the pig population in the European Union’s (EU) 28 member countries. There are 150 million pigs in the EU’s agriculture industry, almost one for every three humans.

In Denmark, pigs outnumber people, “with 215 pigs to every 100 residents,” the AP reported.

Unfortunately, the short item didn’t mention abattoirs or the loving treatment animals receive on factory farms, or how many of the 150 million pigs meet the knife every year. It did, however, say Denmark is “known in Europe for its quality bacon.”

Speaking of pigs and hypocrisy, Canadian consumers must have been overjoyed this week to hear that the Big 5 banks continue to bank, as it were, record profits.

In 2017, the Big 5 — Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce — pulled in a total of $40.3 billion in net income, The Canadian Press reported.

That was a 13 per cent increase over the previous year, a considerable amount, but dwarfed by the whopping 35 per cent raise recently enjoyed by minimum wage earners in Ontario.

By an amazing coincidence, it was also reported this week that Canadians’ collective household debt, including mortgages, has gone up yet again, hitting another record high — $1.8 trillion.

Some people — such as, say, bankers and conservative politicians — will argue that bank profits and household debt are as unrelated as pigs and seals. Sure. And bankers have wings.

Related story:

Higher public debt has helped slow build-up of household debt: Bank of Canada

It is slowly and gradually dawning on a lot of people — although not on aforementioned conservative politicians — that massive and growing inequality of wealth is detrimental to the free market economy.

Conservatives used to brag, and some still do, that capitalism’s perfection is proven by the riches — and the rich — it produces.

Evidence for the fallacy of this notion can be found almost weekly on the news pages. Canadians’ collective debt rose six per cent in the past year. Per-person debt in Canada now averages $22,837, excluding mortgages. Although most people manage to stay afloat, more than one-third of Canadians’ debt is rising, as they financially sink.

In the executive suites of the banks, the CEOs of the Big 5 earned an average salary of $10.7 million in 2017, CP reports. The lowest-paid among them took in $8.9 million.

Debt and inequality will destroy the free market system if change doesn’t come. It is an immense irony that the ultra-conservatives who for three decades or more have expounded the virtues of greed have pushed their beloved economic system to the brink of collapse.

Don’t take my word for it, although it’s OK with me if you do. In a Canadian Press news story, an outfit called the Bank for International Settlements states that personal-debt levels in Canada “have surpassed critical thresholds.”

That phrase is a combination of jargon and euphemism. We can surmise it really means, “will cause a recession.”

Typically and not surprisingly, the various and sundry chambers of commerce and boards of trade are unconcerned. As long as Statistics Canada says the economy is growing, everything is good in their backyards.

In Holland, the populace and even the politicians are not as docile as Canadians. Dutch bank ING cancelled a 50 per cent raise for its CEO due to public outrage, the AP reports. And his salary is a pittance by Canadian standards — a mere $2 million.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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