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Brian Jones: Pizza and the decline of capitalism


Reader Lloyd Barrett suggests my column last week (“Tax the people who have the money”) displayed an “elementary approach to taxation.” Well, OK then. Let’s tax the people who don’t have the money. That should work out just swell.

Brian Jones

It is common these days to declare that ideas you disagree with are “elementary” or, even better, “simplistic.” This immediately implies your own ideas are sophisticated and therefore true.

But it ignores the fact that most solutions to social problems are, in fact, quite simple and straightforward. It is the excuses about why they can’t be done that are complicated. (See: minimum wage, increase to.)

“It seems that Mr. Jones loves the idea of taxing the so-called rich,” Barrett commented. “What Mr. Jones continually fails to mention is that those who on average earn more are also more likely to be the entrepreneurs that bring free enterprise and increased opportunity to us all.”

Related column:

Tax the people who have the money

Ah yes, the thoroughly discredited “trickle-down” theory of economics. Encourage the wealthy to feast unhindered at their ample table, and the crumbs that fall for those below will be ever larger and more plentiful.

Except that, in the real world, wages for average people have been stagnant for a generation. Consumer debt is at record levels in Canada and the U.S., and rises with each new report. Central bankers — being sophisticated — are not troubled by this because it feeds consumer demand, which keeps capitalism churning.

It would be elementary and simplistic, I suppose, to suggest it would be far better if consumer demand were driven by rising disposable income rather than by rising personal debt.

As for innovative, low-taxed entrepreneurs using their brilliance to benefit the masses, ask any of the millions of people who have been thrown out of work by automation whether that notion is sophisticated or simplistic.

Perhaps the best indication of the decline of capitalism as we know it is the development of “self-driving” vehicles.

Where some see high-tech innovation, others see nightmarish science fiction coming true.

It has been estimated that within a few decades, taxi drivers, bus drivers, truckers and even airline pilots will become unnecessary, redundant, laid off, needed no more.

Crass capitalists might declare, “They could still get jobs delivering pizza,” but no, they couldn’t. Automation will eventually kill those jobs, too (“Driverless delivery,” The Telegram, Aug. 30).

There is no plan in the capitalism playbook about how to deal with the millions of people who will soon be unemployed because of high-tech automation. There is much discussion about implementing a “guaranteed income.” This is a simple and obvious solution (see above). But there is a truckload of sophisticated excuses about why it can’t be done (see above).

The high-tech, automated economy will soon reach an impasse. If the wealthy are so adamantly opposed to paying their fair share of taxes, it is not likely they will agree to share their wealth with those who have been rendered unemployable.

Reader Christopher Chafe wonders, “Hey Brian, when are you going to announce you are running for the NDP in the next provincial election?”

For the record, again: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the NDP.

I am, however, a supporter of free enterprise. Taxing the wealthy is not anti-free enterprise. On the contrary, a more rigorously progressive income tax system — i.e., higher taxes on the wealthy — would improve the economy. A healthy free-enterprise system needs a massive base of middle-class consumers with good incomes who can afford to buy the things they need, rather than having to acquire them by accumulating more debt.

This is a basic economic tenet that somehow eludes the captains of industry at the St. John’s Board of Trade. Being either stunned or spineless, Newfoundland’s economic masters failed to defend consumer-driven free enterprise when they enthusiastically endorsed the impending disaster of the Muskrat Falls project.

But that’s simply a story for another day.

 

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

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