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Progressives are right to worry about income inequality. But punitive policy isn’t the answer.



PRIVATE PROPERTY and, indeed, private wealth, are integral to any free society. They define a sphere of personal control over valuable tangible and intangible goods that is legally off-limits to the state. The prospect of acquiring more property fosters economic growth by encouraging individuals to innovate and produce. And, more subtly perhaps, private wealth — both small fortunes and, yes, large ones — fosters political liberty by helping to create a buffer between the individual and the authorities. Totalitarians of the right and left, by contrast, confiscate companies, houses and farms.

We review this basic political theory and history to make sure it does not get totally lost amid today’s arguments over the role private wealth plays in American society. In recent days, that debate has taken place directly between progressive populists such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the billionaires, such as money manager Leon Cooperman, who would pay stiff wealth taxes Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders propose. The senators insist that they do indeed appreciate the role of business, but are trying to keep it within proper boundaries; the billionaires counter, neither selflessly nor unreasonably, that the candidates are paying lip service to free enterprise — while the stifling impact of their taxes could extend well beyond its intended targets.

Our appreciation, though, does not keep us from believing that federal law should require the wealthy — and especially the superwealthy, such as our owner — to shoulder a greater share of the nation’s tax burden than they currently do. Progressives are right to worry about growing inequality. There were 607 billionaires in the United States in 2018, according to Forbes magazine, a 50 percent increase since 2010. The top 0.1 percent of U.S. households controls 15 percent to 20 percent of wealth (economists’ estimates vary), a degree of concentration not seen since before the Great Depression. Much of this enrichment derives from financial ma­nipu­la­tion and other rent-seeking activity. Certainly, the fact that WeWork’s hard-partying founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, can get $1.7 billion from investors in return for leaving that troubled company does not confirm the fairness and efficiency of 21st-century capitalism.

Nevertheless, every billionaire is not a policy failure, as a catchphrase on the left would have it. Not even close. Some billionaires, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates — and near-billionaires, such as “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — got rich off world-changing innovations that enhanced the lives of millions. Their fortunes are spectacular examples of the general rule that capitalism — debacles like WeWork notwithstanding — is the font of enormous, widely shared prosperity. Nor is this country becoming an oligarchy, another oft-made but exaggerated allegation. The “billionaire class,” as some call it, seems no more unified than the nation as a whole, with George Soros bankrolling causes and candidates on the left and Joe Ricketts on the right. One billionaire, Tom Steyer, may soon find himself competing with another, Michael Bloomberg, for the privilege of running as the Democratic nominee (against yet a third billionaire, President Trump). Both men, despite their essentially unlimited funds, are very long shots.

Obviously, money should not have undue influence over the political process, which is why campaign finance regulation is necessary. Equally obviously, the market economy’s legitimacy depends on equal opportunity, actual and perceived, which is why, contrary to small-government bromides of the political right, government must intervene to protect less-advantaged participants in the marketplace. Achieving some of these objectives calls for more financial sacrifice from the well-off than the federal tax code currently requires. We have repeatedly advocated such measures, such as a restoration of the estate tax, higher rates on capital gains and the elimination of loopholes that favor upper-income households.AD

No reform, however, necessitates punitive policy or generalized vilification. The future of American capitalism is one of the most crucial issues of the 2020 campaign. It must be debated vigorously — and not simplistically.

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How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires



As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.

Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.

Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church

In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire. 

Right outside of Halifax, N.S., the Tantallon wildfire destroyed 151 homes. More than 16,000 people evacuated the area due to the fire.

The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.

As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.

Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.

“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”

Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.

“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”

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Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?



Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.

Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?

Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.

“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”

Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
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The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises



UPDATE 07/18/2023: A coalition of groups arranged a bus to relocate refugees to temporarily stay at a North York church on Monday evening, according to CBC, CP24 and Toronto Star reports.

Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.

At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.

New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.

The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.

But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.

In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”

Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?

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