Focus on economic growth and the Millennials will be alright

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Appeared in National Newswatch, October 28, 2020
Focus on economic growth and the Millennials will be alright

Much ink has been spilled on the narrative that Millennials and other future generations of Canadians may experience lower living standards than preceding generations. A recent study on wealth inequality, however, challenges this narrative.

In reality, from 2010 to 2019, Millennials have enjoyed greater increases in wealth than other generations of Canadians. Which raises the question—why do the Trudeau Liberals (and their governing partner, the NDP) want a wealth tax?

In Does Canada Need a Wealth Tax?, Philip Cross, former chief analyst at Statistics Canada, finds that “wealth inequality” in Canada has diminished over the past decade. That is, the share of wealth (assets minus liabilities) held by lower-income groups has increased while the share held by upper-income groups has decreased.

Specifically, from 2010 to 2019, among the five Canadian household income groups, wealth increased by 77 per cent for the lowest income group, 89 per cent for the second-lowest, 91 per cent for the third-lowest, 68 per cent for the second-highest and 66 per cent for the highest income group. As a result, the share of wealth held by the lower three income groups has increased from 27 per cent in 2010 to 29.5 per cent in 2019.

Now, some may argue that because lower-income groups have less wealth a higher percentage gain is not as meaningful. And yes, most of us would rather have more wealth (and a smaller percentage of wealth growth) than low wealth and a high percentage of growth.

But the wealth story doesn’t end here.

Age of course has a large impact on income and wealth. People in the earlier stages of life and in their careers (e.g. Millennials) typically have lower incomes and have not yet accumulated significant wealth. Over time, with a robust economy, good job prospects and upward income mobility, that changes.

Consider these facts based on Statistics Canada data. Between 2010 and 2019, the total wealth of the baby boomers increased by 65 per cent (to $5.8 trillion) compared to 189 per cent (to $3.2 trillion) for generation Xers and 464 per cent (to $1.0 trillion) for Millennials.

In other words, Millennials already have a trillion dollars in wealth, equal to roughly 17 per cent of the wealth of boomers.

Of course, most Millennials would rather have wealth equal to the boomers, but with a strong economy, they will get there. If anything, the data reveal great prospects for Millennials. They’re not doomed, like so many falsely claim.

What they need, and what our government should focus on, is the right economic environment—one that leads to higher rates of economic growth. Indeed, more growth with more opportunities and higher wages for young Canadians is the surest way to a more prosperous future. It’s not by penalizing wealth through increased taxes.

As the Cross study spotlights, wealth taxes have many adverse effects including discouraging savings, investment, entrepreneurship and therefore stunting long-term economic growth.

Historically, wealth taxes also provide little government revenue—they tend to exclude most taxpayers and the rate can’t be too high otherwise wealthy households simply shift their wealth to other jurisdictions. And wealth taxes are also expensive for governments to collect (lots of bureaucrats and tax collectors).

Finally, many countries have experimented with taxing wealth, with disappointing results. “France recently eliminated its wealth tax,” writes Cross, “after concluding its three-decade experiment had mostly resulted in an exodus of wealthy people from the country.”

In Canada, housing and pension assets comprise the largest sources of household wealth. That’s why it’s so concerning that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a Crown corporation, gave the University of British Columbia $250,000 to “research solutions to housing, wealth, and inequality” including research on a federal home equity tax.

Rather than promoting economic growth, the Trudeau government seems distracted by a false notion of wealth inequality in Canada. Unfortunately, the government’s mix of higher taxes, more government involvement in the economy and indebtedness has not produced a robust economy (pre-COVID) as promised. GDP and income growth have slowed, business investment has collapsed, and there are worrying signs for entrepreneurship. Changing course will help create the conditions for a more robust economy that will provide young Canadians with opportunities and higher wages. Do so and they will continue to save and indeed become wealthier.

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