Quill & Quire
The Trouble with Billionaires isn’t exclusively focused on exposing the problems caused by individuals with buckets of money. It is more concerned with how our culture, our government, and our economic system has allowed a handful of people to accumulate tremendous wealth and power while so many others languish in or near poverty. Linda McQuaig, the author of Shooting the Hippo and The Cult of Impotence, and Neil Brooks, an Osgoode Hall tax law professor, make a convincing case that economic inequality is one of the largest problems facing the U.S. and Canada, taking a serious toll on people’s health and well-being and skewing the balance of political power toward the wealthiest slice of society.
While the subject is undeniably crucial, some of the points the authors make are, by now, well known. For example, they draw comparisons between our current level of inequity and that of the 1920s just prior to the Great Depression. They also attempt to mix anecdote and hard data in Gladwellian fashion, but they are mostly unconvincing. This is especially true of a chapter that leans too heavily on baseball metaphors that don’t really translate to economic or political contexts.
The most compelling material, believe it or not, explains how the tax code and other state interventions in the market helped create so many billionaires, who frequently spend their considerable political and financial capital calling for even freer markets and even more advantageous regulations and tax breaks. Some of these details, like the explanation of how a couple of Canada’s richest families have been able to avoid major tax penalties, are truly revelatory.
The Trouble with Billionaires should raise the profile not only of these issues, but also of co-author Brooks. A LexisNexis search of The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star turned up his name only twice (once in an article about this book and once in a McQuaig column) in the last two years. Meanwhile, Kevin Gaudet, the director of the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation, appeared in more than 50 articles during the same period. It would be nice to have Brooks’s perspective and intelligence added to this debate.
About the Author
Neil Brooks is a professor of tax law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, where he is director of the graduate program in taxation.
Linda McQuaig is an op-ed columnist in the Toronto Star and author of seven national bestsellers, including It’s the Crude, Dude and Shooting the Hippo.