The Wage Gap Game

Although we like to believe that money can’t buy happiness, I’ve often found that misery can be made more bearable with a little extra green.

Although we like to believe that money can’t buy happiness, I’ve often found that misery can be made more bearable with a little extra green — or blue or purple or red or even the Royal Canadian Mint’s new plastic $100 bills — to throw around.

To that end, our lowest scale workers are celebrating the government’s recent decision to thaw a decade-long freeze and increase our province’s minimum wage to $10.25 an hour from $8 by May 2012. Unfortunately, the happy news was short-lived as BC Transit — the transportation choice of most minimum-wage workers — announced the second of three planned annual fare increases. This, of course, comes on the heels of BC Ferries April 1 bump in the cost of leaving the Island, and the price of gas is enough to make you think twice about the friendly share-a-penny dish at the cash register.

And if you’re depending on tourist tips, the recent record highs of our Canadian dollar versus the American greenback just turned that smile upside down.

Frustrated by the ever-widening gap in wealth among our citizenry, this week I received 21 hand-signed letters to the editor from a group seeking answers to this age-old dilemma. In their letters, the writers claim that recent research shows a whole host of social problems — ranging from mental illness through drug use, to loss of trust and excessive consumption — are worse in societies with a large inequality between rich and poor.

As an example, they cite that the median income of Canadians today is approximately $40,000, while the average annual income of our best-paid CEOs is $6.6 million.

A huge chasm to be sure, and I can certainly understand the letter writers’ frustration, but I’m not sure that I’m the right person to fix it.

a) I have no clue how.

b) I have never been in a position of incredible wealth, so it’s far too easy for me to quip that someone doesn’t need that much money. After all, when was the last time I had my Jaguar XKS Convertible detailed, while I licked Beluga caviar from the bellybutton of a Victoria’s Secret model?

Far too long, let me tell you.

The reality is that capitalism is a blood sport that was designed to inject us in the nether regions with an unquenchable lust for success. We’re supposed to look up to those CEOs and instead of griping that they make too much money, we’re meant to calculate plans to climb up the ranks beside them. Once there, naturally, we’re to push them off the penthouse balcony and take their place — just like Shakespeare and history have taught us.

It’s a game meant for warriors — the best of whom embody the true clinical definition of psycopath.

The trouble is, too many of us regular folk can’t bury our empathy, and as such wouldn’t survive the climb.

But if we ever did make it to the top spot with our conscience intact and our soul unscorched, I wonder if we would have the guts and moral purpose to do anything different? Microsoft founder Bill Gates did. He’s made a fortune so large that Scrooge McDuck and Richie Rich are jealous, but now spends his early retirement giving it all away in a noble effort to make the world a better place.

But I’m curious. If every multi-millionaire CEO was forced (by taxes or government wage caps) to follow Gates’ lead, would it kill our capitalist incentive for success or rejuvenate it?

Song stuck in my head

“Undiscovered” by James Morrison.

This is my go-to song for those days when the writing process is going rough and I’m feeling blue. Morrison’s soulful voice and biting lyrics always seem to restore my energy and lift my spirits. M

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