Seen and Heard: John Stapleton, the Janeiro Donelson Perez Lecture on Inequality

Natalia Segal

John Stapleton is a writer, instructor and Innovations Fellow with the Metcalf Foundation. He has worked for the Ontario Government for 28 years in the areas of social assistance policy and operations, and was Research Director for the Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults in Toronto. On November 15, 2012, John spoke at the School of Public Policy and Governance as part of the Janerio Donelson Perez Lecture on Inequality.

“Inequality is a negative abstraction,” John argues. “People think of proportionality between groups. How do we work out that proportionality and how do we put meaning to it?”

“It might have been better to call this lecture ‘equality,’ or ‘working toward equality,’” John says. Framing this issue as a positive or neutral – ‘working toward equality’ – instead of a negative – ‘inequality’ – is a better way to mobilize movement toward change. People often don’t feel an urge to move toward change when the situation is framed in the negatives; it feels like “a done deal.”

John speaks of equality of outcomes and equality of opportunity: to assist all towards their preferred outcomes and to make opportunity available to all.

“The answer is not to make everything equal. The answer is to reduce inequality – but how much is correct, that’s the question. The new owner of Apple earns the same amount per year as the sum of the yearly incomes of 47,000 welfare recipients combined. “

“Do you think it’s wrong for one person to earn that much money?” a woman from the audience asks John.

“Yes,” John answers. “I do think it’s wrong, I do.”

When it comes to dealing with the issue, John argues that we need to “get the baby boomers to vote right.” As such a significant political force, this demographic group needs to be part of the solution if we hope to address inequality. John does acknowledge that this would not be the most fundamental shift—“if you have other ideas, great.” John’s main argument of what we should do to increase equality is to convince the boomer generation to vote for leaders who support equality; this, somewhat anticlimactic, conclusion left me hungry for further options.

Seniors run the show now. The baby boomers have run the show practically from conception. Youth might vote if they felt included, but unfortunately the majority don’t and won’t, at least not until we create innovative voting methods, push through electoral reform, make campaigns youth-friendly and produce promises that fit with youth objectives.

John Stapleton’s slides from the Janerio Donelson Perez lecture can be found here.

Natasha Segal is a 2014 MPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She also holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, a Bachelor Honours in Professional Communications and a Diploma in Social Services. Her interests include social policy, women’s rights, LGTB rights, creative non-fiction prose and photography.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Where you say “working towards inequality”, I think you may have meant to say ‘working towards equality” which would turn the negative to positive even though still an abstraction because we have few metrics if any that would tell us when we had created an acceptable level of equality. Tim Cook runs Apple but does not own it. Nevertheless, he has enough dough to own several smaller companies. Of course, it’s way too much money that he makes. Just think: if you earned a salary of $378,000 a year (more by half or so than what McGuinty makes), would you not think that getting a thousand times that is a bit on the high side?
    I rechecked Frank Graves slides, the same slides where he invents the term ‘gerontocracy” and he notes that under 25’s vote in numbers six times fewer than those 65+.
    The issue is not getting people to vote differently – it’s to get them to vote at all. What I mean is that if under 25’s simply voted in the same way proportionally and 6 times more, the NDP would not have a majority government.
    The solution of talking to seniors is anti-climactic and I warned during the lecture that it’s a bit of a letdown. The point is that seniors think they had it tougher than today’s young people and they are just flat-out wrong. It would help to let them know they are wrong especially when it comes to economic prospects.
    Finally, let’s get young people out to vote and forget about who they vote for. We know for certain they won’t vote en bloc for Harper Hudak and Ford. Voting is a right. Remember the old bumper sticker: “Ignore your rights and they Will go away”.

    1. PPGR says:

      Admission of error: That typo (meant to read “working towards equality”) was made during the editing process. Apologies.

  2. My own typo: the NDP would NOW have a majority government.

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