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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Classic Car-Fuffle

Over the weekend Alberta Premier Jim Prentice found himself a sweet ride at a car auction down in Arizona. In the face of sub-$50 oil and warnings of public service cuts, some progressive folks are arguing that this sends the wrong message to Albertans, that it shows Prentice is just another member of the privileged 1 percent and that his wealth insulates him from the sacrifices he may very shortly ask public sector workers to make.

I don't disagree. As a pretty left wing guy, it seems wrong that some can afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for fancy toys while others struggle to make ends meet.

But I also understand that I'm as guilty as Prentice, in a sense. After a couple of decades of hard work I'm not poor anymore (I never really was, compared to many), and over the years I, too have spent thousands of dollars on fancy toys - movies, books, Lego, computer games, board games. (On the other hand, I'm not in a position to impoverish others with drastic public spending cuts.)

My point is this: while progressives are free to criticize Prentice for spoiling himself while mulling over actions that could harm tens of thousands, that criticism is more likely to harm the progressive cause than help it. Because deep down, most people want to believe that they, too, might be in a position one day to spoil themselves. Even if you're not a fan of classic cars, nearly everyone has their own share of materialistic desires - the nice house, the rare postage stamp, the around-the-world vacation. Most of us have been programmed to sympathize with Prentice. I know for a fact that I have several family members who would have loved to buy the car Prentice purchased. They're not feeling envy - they're feeling "Good for him. He works hard, he can buy what he wants with his own money."

The amount of money counts, too. Given the exchange rate and taxes and fees, Prentice's purchase will probably only cost him around $75,000 dollars. That's only three times the amount Sylvia and I spent on our last new vehicle. It's a figure that's only just out of reach to a lot of folks in rich (yes, we're still rich) Alberta. Buying a car like this doesn't distance Prentice from ordinary Albertans, because a lot of ordinary Albertans are very well off.

When progressives chide Prentice for spending a few tens of thousands of dollars, we're the ones who seem out of touch. If we ever want to change the government in Alberta, we can't afford to appear petty or jealous. We're better off fighting to protect public institutions and holding the Conservatives accountable for their many years of mismanagement. 


Jeff Shyluk said...

I wouldn't consider Jim Prentice to be a "one percenter" as you suggest. In 2016, the world's top 1% most wealthy will own in aggregate more than the remaining 99%. The value of the entire world is up for debate, with figures ranging from $80 - $220 trillion USD, so it's not easy to pin down who owns exactly what. Most economic analysts consider a 1%er to have at least $50 million USD in assets. Consider that a 10%er has assets in excess of $100,000 USD, which counts you, me, and quite a number of people who follow your blog. So for every multimillionaire, there's ten of us, and for every one of us, there's ninety folk with even less money.

The true economic powerhouses comprise of the 29,000 people who are worth more than $100 million USD, the top 0.6% earners. These people are buying enormous amounts of property, resources, and infrastructure, even whole governments, and placing them within their private domain.

Somehow, a $54,000 T-bird seems to fall well short of what true financial power can do.

In the end, though, I agree with all the rest that you have said, well put as always. Premier Prentice remains responsible for his province, and he must balance ambition and egoism with the well-being of his constituents. If he does not respond to a moral authority, eventually, he will have to submit to a democratic one.

Earl J. Woods said...

Yes, I'm a little careless with my usage of the term - Prentice might be a two or three percenter. I saw that Oxfam report around the same time you did; it boggles the mind that a few thousand people have as much wealth as everyone else on the planet put together. No matter what your political stripe, I think any sensible person must see that the system is broken and unsustainable.