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(Sergey Kishan/iStockphoto)
(Sergey Kishan/iStockphoto)

Earlier discussion

Is income inequality just business as usual? Add to ...

Armine Yalnizyan: Hi John. I guess the issue that engages the most people, rich and poor, is how you see the future unfolding for the next generation, whether they are your children or not. Put another way - this generation of Canadian boomers have enjoyed the very best life any nation has ever provided any group of citizens. We've lived like queens and kings of yesteryear and more of us had opportunities to fulfil our own personal potential than any previous generation. Can we assure the same thing for the next generation? Can we excuse ourselves if we can't?

Comment From Allison: Does income inequality have any additional impacts on children, over and above the effects of living in poverty? If so, how can those be mitigated?

Armine Yalnizyan: Richard Wilkinson's presentation last week was very evocative in connecting the dots between income inequality and how we are, essentially, primates - a species that is biologically dependent on one another and picks up behavioural queues from one another, for better or worse. He points out how you are raised in the early years sets off a life-cycle of behavioural patterns and physiological (possibly epigenetic) triggers. For example, if you are raised in a highly unequal society you might expect greater recklessness on the part of those at the bottom of the income spectrum, as more unequal societies are also shown in his data to offer less social mobility. Reckless behaviour has an impact on the individual being reckless, but also on those around them. It may make sense to take risks if there is, essentially, no cost to taking those risks and perhaps lots of gains, but it does make the world a more stressful place. How can such an environment be offset? Reducing inequality, partly by making the lived experience of children more equal - access to the same high quality education, health, recreation, time with parents (or someone who can provide real care), etc. Pretty simple stuff, really.

Natalie Stechyson: We're running out of time. I have a final question. We've discussed the problem - I'm interested in hearing what you think the solutions may be. How do we begin to solve income inequality?

Armine Yalnizyan: We begin to solve any problem when we agree there is a problem to solve. There are so many ways to redress income inequality, and its related inequalities, that it's not an issue of what policy/solution is best. It's simply an issue of when we get to a critical mass that says yes it's important to fix this problem. We can raise our kids more equitably - but it will take more taxes. We can have less of a winner take all society - but it will require some people at the top to trim their expectations. We can beat this in small ways, but we also need leaders to express the way forward. In the US they have Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and politicians leading the way. We're waiting for more people like Ed Clarke, the CEO of TD Bank, to weigh in on how to make Canada fairer (his suggestion is higher taxes on the rich). It's just a question of time.

Natalie Stechyson: Thank you for joining us today on globeandmail.com. That’s all the time we have. Thank you to our guest, Armine Yalnizyan. And thanks to everyone for contributing their comments and questions. Please join us tomorrow for the next discussion in our series.

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