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Photo illustration by Mico Mazza

Why we need a little class struggle in our lives

THE OCCUPY PROTESTS are in their third week in Canadian cities. Fuelled by people upset with the practices of banking institutions and the economic divide between the wealthy and everyone else, “We are the 99 per cent!” has become their rallying cry.

But it is not our poorest that are out protesting. In fact, the poorest 20 per cent have seen a reasonable increase in income—20 per cent for the poorest Canadians—in the past 20 years. I guess “We are the 30 per cent!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There have been protesters who have voiced their anger at the lack of jobs in Canada—a reasonable thing to protest amongst all classes, as the job market has not completely rebounded from the economic recession of 2008.

However, the bulk of Occupy protesters worldwide are not offended by the lack of job creation. They are protesting the system that allows for both multi-billionaires and the penniless. They are protesting the divide in income, and are demanding equalization. They are protesting capitalism.

It is true that, in a capitalist system, it is difficult for the poor to change their economic circumstances, but they still have the opportunity to do so. In Canada, unlike our neighbours to the South, we have comprehensive social welfare assistance designed to help people realize their full potential.

Our school systems are globally recognized as top tier, our banking institutions provide comparatively affordable student loans, and we have a strong network of scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education at both the federal and provincial level. Our system provides for those who want to better their lot in life, and who fight to do so by getting a quality education and thus a quality job.

The onus is on the individual to improve his or her own circumstances. People must work for success and, in our country, they are given equal opportunity to do so. But no government is responsible for buying you an iPod, purchasing you a larger house, or ensuring you can keep up with the Joneses.

On the other end of the spectrum, those born into wealthy backgrounds are met with the criticism of an unfair advantage. When did being able to provide for one’s family stop being a marker of success?

That a family has managed to maintain and grow its wealth for generations in a capitalist system should draw the greatest respect, not disdain for not sharing with the undeserving.

There is equality in capitalism: Everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or economic background, in a capitalist system we are all able to make money. Our economy cannot be predicated on equalization amongst individuals. To do so would punish success, and worse, foster complacency.

In recent days there have been calls to curb “excessive inequality.” What exactly constitutes excessive? How much richer or more successful is someone allowed to be? Occupy may have begun as a protest about fairness, but it has become one about jealousy.

We are born equal. We die equal. Everything in between is competition. That is capitalism. That is democracy. That is life.

—Ryan Mallough