Winners and losers in the Ovarian Lottery


When you start rereading your books for the fourth or fifth time you know it’s time to recharge the home library. So we drove to Saint John last week and slapped down a hundred bucks for three new books.

The first one was “The Trouble with Billionaires” written by Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig and her associate Neil Brooks, a tax adviser. It’s a good read. McQuaig and Brooks are on to the biggest financial trend of the last three decades—the enormous transfer of wealth from the North American middle class to the wealthiest 0.1 percent of the population, and the rise of the Asian economy.

This has all happened, as we all know, as a result of deregulation and globalization. Corporate executives started actively embedding themselves into the U.S. political system in the Nixon era, and from the Reagan years to the present day have managed to reduce government oversight and taxation of “high net worth” individuals to an all time low.

Meanwhile, they began transferring their assets off shore, including factories to Asia and cash to hidden bank accounts in places like the Cayman Islands. All this was based on the theory that we were migrating toward a "post-industrial" economy, and the lost manufacturing jobs would be replaced by new, better innovation and service sector jobs.

This, of course, was dead wrong. Those new innovation jobs also migrated elsewhere, as did the service jobs. Which is why most of the cool new tech toys we buy—like laptop computers and iPods—come from China and a lot of our banking and tech support calls now come from India.

It also turns out, no surprise, that the migration of wealth to the top and the loss of high quality jobs isn’t good for the rest of us. And not just economically. It’s literally bad for our health—to the point of shortening our lives and even making us shorter! Just 75 years ago the average U.S. male was the tallest in the world. Today, the average American male at 5-foot-9 is relatively shorter. The average Dutch male now stands at just over 6 feet tall. The Netherlands offers one of the most egalitarian lifestyles on the planet, as do the Danes, Scandinavians and Germans. They’re all tall, live longer—and even work fewer hours—than the average American.

The last chapter of McQuaig’s and Brooks’s book is titled “Revamping the Ovarian Lottery.” This is a notion that should be close to a New Brunswicker’s heart. Moncton, with its more equal complement of businesses, has arguably become a healthier place to live than either Saint John, dominated by the Irvings, or Fredericton, dominated by the McCains and government movers and shakers.

While we can appreciate the energy of K.C. Irving and the original McCain brothers, we should resist worshipping their children and grandchildren who may be very fine people, but who got a very big leg up over the rest of New Brunswick citizens. This should not be seen as envy. These lucky few are benefiting greatly from our oceans, forests and soil, not to mention the talents of our people. Along with their large fortunes they also inherited unearned access to our collective “commons.” The gratitude should be all theirs, and so should a public share of their enormous income as well.

Instead, our governments are still competing for a “race to the bottom” offering tax breaks and incentives to keep or attract businesses. Governments have been taught that most large corporations are now footloose and can invest anywhere. So be it. However, governments can also invest in homegrown small to medium sized enterprises, or SMEs, which bring can bring even more local innovation and diversity to the marketplace.

Governments that toady to the wealthy create a hothouse environment for discontent and economic collapse, as we are now beginning to witness across the border.

Undistributed wealth is like rigor mortis setting in to a society. It has a calcifying or ossifying effect. When decisions and opportunities are only available at the top innovation stalls. This is further compounded when big money loses its geographic connection. It becomes harder to empathize with the fate of local businesses when most of one’s money comes from Class A shareholder earnings or foreign investments.

The downside of reinforcing—rather than reducing—the “ovarian lottery” is multi-generational crime and poverty. And here we return to the tale of two towns. One town is regularly featured in the Court News reports—a revolving door of ongoing petty crime related to drugs, family violence, sexual abuse and last names with a history. The other town is featured in the entertainment page—a season of classical concerts, philanthropic garden parties, art openings and last names with a very different history.

The answer, of course, is rebuilding the entrepreneurial and working middle class across the region. We need fewer low-end jobs and contract positions and more real jobs, including unionized jobs, that offer lasting benefits, pension plans and job security. And we need a government that understands how to foster that kind of environment without pandering only to those who’ve already won the ovarian lottery.


  1. Hi Ms E. Thanks for dropping in. I checked out your two blogs and especially enjoyed your writing about eccentric characters. There are too few of them left in the world! Cheers and hope to hear more from you...

  2. In the event I was forced to declare myself an economic and political refugee from the United States of Dormant Fascism and seek asylum elsewhere, I was hoping Canada might be one of my options. It saddens me to learn that you have your Kochroaches too.


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