Death, taxes… and meaningful societal change?

We’ve all heard that time tested line before. It’s a classic quote, the kind of “$h*! my dad says” that seems to never get old, no matter what the context. Usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, turns out this saying can be traced as far back as 1716 to a man named Christopher Bullock. Approaching its 300 year anniversary, this famous line has stood the test of time and continues to resonate with people today as it did centuries ago. However, there’s a third word that belongs in that phrase, but it’s a word that doesn’t get to share the spotlight as much.

That third word is change.

Michael Silicz
Be the Change – Michael Silicz

It’s a word that often goes neglected without mention but not without impact. As a concept, change has always been part of human life and history. Change, as a concept and state of existence, has actually been around even longer than taxes!
So, what’s the deal with change, and what’s it got to do with death and taxes?

I often meet with and hear from Millennials, young families and entrepreneurs as they go about their lives from paycheque to paycheque, asking if they’re on the right path towards their goals. In the course of my career, whether practicing law, implementing public policy, or investing in markets, tax has always been a reoccurring theme no matter what my role. More specifically, taxes being “too high,” “poorly spent” and “too hard to understand” are phrases I hear often (much more than phrases about death, thankfully). Those conversations usually end with the other person repeating that same ole jaded, overused line noted above.

This month, I argue that Winnipeggers and beyond, instead of focusing on the negativity of taxes, should instead focus on the positive change and the opportunities it can bring. While it may sound hokey at first, think about it: if there are two certainties in life (death being one), doesn’t it make more sense that change be the other?

It is that change that I am excited about, because I can see the change coming. That’s the big deal with change – it affects us all, but often happens slowly.

Again, many of the Millennials, young families and entrepreneurs I meet with are discouraged. They’re frustrated with their inability to afford housing like in previous generations. They’re bitter about working so hard to accomplish great things through post-secondary education, only to find themselves underemployed with student debt. Most of all they’re legitimately concerned that they will not be able to provide their kids with the same standard of living and lifestyle that they have had, despite their damndest efforts. Sounds $h*!y indeed, to quote dads everywhere.

But believe me when I tell you this – times are beginning to change, and for the better! You likely cannot see it yet, but I am telling you – it’s coming. And how can I be so sure?

The answer lies in the interpretation of market trends, and following the money. Those people with lots of it (or more correctly, corporations, pensions, endowment funds and major institutional investors) are the ones leading the way. They’re beginning to demand that corporations and governments have higher environmental standards. They’re advocating to fair, equitable and honest governance standards, including female board representation and the elimination of the gender pay gap. These major players are arguing for higher corporate standards too, ones that place an importance on treating employees as partners to be worked with, and not just labour to be exploited. And it’s through these mechanisms that change, as it has come before, will come again.

It’s happening more and more. The Canadian Medical Association divesting fossil fuel holdings. Religious groups moving out of oil investments. Universities, including the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg are demanding ethical investments. Change is coming, if you look hard enough – just follow the money. In Canada’s case, the flow of capital to responsible investments has increased by 68 per cent to over a trillion dollars over the past couple of years. Over the next few years, you will hear more and more of this change. It’s my hope that one day, this positive change towards an environmentally sustainable, age and gender equal, and financially solvent world with less casino capitalism will be the norm, not the exception. That’s why I’m hopeful, positive and excited for the future.

The way things have been done, the way the world has been run, and the post-WWII paradigms that have got us here are being transformed slowly by the investment markets, if you know where to look. While many still struggle for the time being, keep your eyes open to see how the world is changing and maybe, just maybe, we will all be able to enjoy it together in the not-so-far future.

Michael Silicz, B.A. (Hons.), M.A., LL.B., M.P.Adm., helps people separate the signal from the noise in financial markets. Prior to working in the investment industry, Michael was a Lawyer and Policy Analyst with the Government of Manitoba.

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