How do you know when you're rich?
I've been thinking about this for a few years now, ever since a friend of mine suggested that the current generation of Canadians was the richest ever.
I thought that was so wrong that I almost sputtered trying to articulate why I felt that way.
His argument was that we have so much more stuff than our parents or grandparents. Even relatively poor people have TVs, phones, fridges, microwave ovens, and video game systems.
That is perfectly true. It wasn't that long ago that those items were far from common in most households earning a median income.
My father, born at the tail end of the Great Depression, grew up in a home without electricity, much less a TV. Rural life in Saskatchewan involved a lot of salted food, because that was still the only way to preserve meat until electrification spread to small towns in the 1940s and 1950s.
I've never known a day without electricity, barring the odd windstorm and power failure.
We're richer in other ways that we don't often think about.
A half a century ago, most children with cancer died, relatively quickly and painfully. The survival rate for childhood cancer in Canada is now more than 80 per cent and climbing. (If you'd like to make it climb faster, may I suggest donating something to this year's Cops for Cancer Tour de Valley team. Check them out through www.cancer. ca/british columbia-yukon. aspx.)
How wealthy is a society - in knowledge, skill, and resources - if it can give more life?
We also have access to vastly more information than those two or three generations ago. Not only through the internet, but even improvements in libraries - the ability to look up titles on a computer is a big improvement on the card catalogues that I used as a kid.
But in other areas, we are getting less wealthy.
When I think of wealth, I don't just think about electronic goodies, or about cash coming in at the moment. I think about stability.
To me, someone with their own business making $50,000 a year is richer than someone who earns a wage of $60,000. The business owner has more control over their destiny, and they're building equity in something. One of the most disturbing trends over the past few years was the ever-increasing amount of debt people were accepting to buy a home. In most cases, less home than their parents owned.
Remember the 40-year mortgage that the federal government had to actually ban? Good thing they did; now you can be in debt to your bank for 35 years!
Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and poor in Canada is widening. And what that really means is that the rich are exploiting - and re-making - the rules set by government to extract more and more money, leaving less for the rest of us. Supposedly, when the economy grows, everyone can benefit. But while the pie is getting bigger, most of us are getting a smaller slice, year after year.
We're also piling on more debt, enough that the government is telling us to tighten our belts. But they won't actually intervene to make things easier.
We measure things badly. We assume that how much we pay for something is a good metric for what it's worth. We accept less for more money, in many cases. Too many of us live paycheque to paycheque, or pay off one credit card with another.
If wealthy is stability, we're a poorer generation than the one that came before us. I don't think it's going to get better any time soon.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter at the Langley Advance.