Recently, we heard two things in the news. First the economy has grown by 3.7 per cent, which is the best recovery in the Group of Seven industrialized nations. We also heard that the amount of debt carried by average Canadians is so high that many risk losing everything. All it would take is a little downturn in the job market, or a tiny rise in interest rates, and a whole bunch of us would be in big trouble.

If our economy is doing well, why are so many Canadians in such trouble?

The fact is that government and industry want us to take on as much debt as we can bear. The reason is this: if you save your money rather than spend it, governments cannot tax it. And if a lot of people . have a lot of debt, they have to work really hard and without complaint.. Government gets to claim taxes and industry gets a quiet workforce. They win, and we work.

It wasn’t always this way. We were once a nation of farmers and business owners who had time to raise our own children and enjoy our lives. Every neighbourhood had a butcher, a baker, a dress shop, a tailor and milk was delivered to the door. These were mostly family-run operations. Most people didn’t get rich, but they paid their taxes and the profits circulated around the neighbourhood instead of being siphoned away by banks and foreign shareholders. Over the decades, government policy helped large corporations squeeze those small businesses out, all in the name of “the free market”. Now, most of us work for somebody else, eat lousy corporate food and clothes made by people even worse off in Bangladesh and Malaysia.

We are now a nation of wage slaves who feel lucky to work for someone else just so we can pay our bills. We demand that our politicians create jobs instead of small business opportunities. The family farm is a romantic memory and the countryside is emptying. The media–owned mostly by large corporations–doesn’t cover this story. The tell us that what is good for corporations is good for us, and that “the market” will fix everything.

Here is an interesting bit of history: prior to the 14th century, most Europeans used to be able to live so easily and happily on their own little bits of land, and from commonly-owned forests, that they simply refused to work for a wage. Working for a wage was considered just a bit better than slavery. But the “nobility” — a class of people that barely existed before then — wanted cheap labour to enrich themselves and so took peasant land by force, consolidating social and economic power into their own hands. It took over two centuries of violence to suppress these “peasant uprisings”, but the rich did it, with the help of government. This is the same process that continues today except that governments and industry no longer have to use force: they just blab nonsense about the economy and hope we don’t get mad enough to demand change.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Democracy is designed to give everybody equal power and opportunity. All we have to do is elect a government that is willing to stand up to corporations and stick up for us.