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Posted: March 8, 2014

Forbes list reveals a tale of two life styles

Gerry WarnerPerceptions by Gerry Warner

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor – rich is better.” – Sophie Tucker 1884 – 1966.

Clever lady that Sophie Tucker. Never been rich myself, but I think I catch her drift. There may be something romantic about belonging to the lumpenproletariat or being a starving artist in an upstairs garret, but at the end of the day you’re still poor. If you’re rich, you can buy romance. Hard to beat that.

Maybe that’s why there are so many more rich people these days as we find from the latest edition of Forbes Magazine listing the 400 richest people in the world. In case you’re wondering, Bill Gates is back on top with a fortune estimated at US $76 billion. Gates is comfortably ahead of Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim with $72 billion, Spanish fashion purveyor Amancia Ortega with $64 billion and US investment guru Warren Buffett with $58.2 billion. Two Wal-Mart family members also make the top 10 list as do the Koch brothers, the ultra- right wing, financial backers of the Tea Party in the U.S.

In all, there are 1,645 billionaires in the world with 452 coming from the U.S., the citadel of world capitalism, 152 from China, home to the most low-wage, sweat shops in the world and 111 from the Russian Federation, where ex-communist, oligarchs hold sway under Vladimir Putin – a rogues’ gallery if there ever was one!

In case you’re wondering, 172 women made the 2014 Forbes list, around 10 per cent of the total, with Oprah near the bottom while Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling ranked 23rd – well behind the world’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, with a fortune of $30 billion. However, it’s important to note that almost all the women near the top of the Forbes list inherited their billions while Rowling and Oprah made it on their own. And I’m sure it will warm the hearts of all the feminists reading this that the richest woman in the world inherited her money from the industry dedicated to making women more attractive to men.

There’s no way I’m going there!

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone who’s made a fortune through hard work, sweat, smarts and effort. More power to them. And I can’t help but notice that the world’s richest man has spent most of the past decade giving his money away through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many billionaires in the past have done the same. However, I also can’t help but notice that the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider every year, both around the world, and right here in Canada where the middle class is being torn asunder by the vagaries of the business cycle with few, a very few in fact, managing to rise to the ranks of the wealthy while the great majority are in danger of sliding into the ranks of the working poor, endangering their stability and the stability of the country as a whole.

You don’t think so? Well consider this. In a recent CBC business news report, it was pointed out that the top 10 per cent of Canadians earn 10 times as much as the bottom 10 per cent with the former earning an average income of $103,500 and the latter $10,260. Try living on that for a year! The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the richest one per cent of Canadians takes in 8.1 per cent of all the income in the country and blames federal tax policy for the situation pointing out that Canada’s top marginal tax rate dropped from 43 per cent in 1981 to 29 per cent in 2010.

Yes, Virginia, the rich are indeed getting richer while the rest of us tighten our belts.

“The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries,” says OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, adding the trickle-down theory of the poor benefiting from the crumbs falling from the rich man’s table is no longer valid, if it ever was. Look around our own town and what do you see? Unrented office spaces, falling house prices – and if you look hard enough – homeless people. Not as bad as Vancouver certainly, but they are there. Thank God for Street Angels!

Fortunately, we’re also a very generous town with many organizations and individuals working hard to help our disadvantaged, the ones that will never rub shoulders with the glitzy members of the Forbes list, not that they’d ever want to.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a Cranbrook City Councillor. His opinions are his own.

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