Last night at the Burrard SkyTrain station, I witnessed a crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings dressed entirely in white for the annual Dîner en Blanc soirée, which was held near Science World.
Nobody's allowed to attend without an invitation, even though it takes place on public land. The exclusivity of the affair rubs some the wrong way.
Keep in mind that many attendees relied on public transit to get to the event, rather than limos. This suggests that some partygoers likely aren't as wealthy as their critics might think.
I can't imagine Canaccord honorary chairman and founder Peter Brown or Future Shop founder Hassan Khosrowshahi schlepping it on the SkyTrain to go to one of their fancy bashes.
Herein lies the real issue: the people who attend Diner en Blanc create an impressive facade—a Potemkin village, if I may say so—that hides the truth for most people of their age.
On the same night that Dîner en Blanc was held, CBC Doc Zone re-aired Sharon Bartlett and Maria LeRose's marvellous Generation Jobless. It focused on a lost generation of Canadian young people whose unemployment rate is double the national average.
Today's youth are being dealt out of the economy because of a scorched-earth approach by the baby boomers. That's according to Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who appears in Generation Jobless.
Yalnizyan wrote a report in 2010 chronicling the rise of the richest one percent of Canadians, who took in a third of the growth in incomes from 1997 to 2007. Very few are among the millennials or Generation X.
(For more on this topic, I recommend Anya Kamenetz's 2006 book Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, No Benefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers—and How to Fight Back. It focuses on America, but many of her points also apply to Canada.)
Growing income inequality was also covered extensively by authors Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks in in their brilliant 2010 book, The Trouble With Billionaires. The losers in this economy are disproportionately the young, who are forced to live at home with their parents into their 20s and sometimes into their 30s.
They and author Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor, have chronicled how government policies parallel what happened in the roaring '20s, creating investment and housing bubbles that burst.
That, in turn, led to the Great Depression.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that The Great Gatsby, which chronicled the wealthy of that era, came back this year as a popular movie.
Similarly, the Dîner en Blanc event is a way for some young people to enjoy the feeling of being rich, notwithstanding all the economic gloom in their midst.
But this one-night affair in no way suggests they'll ever attain the wealth of people like Brown and Khosrowshahi.
Go easy on them. They're probably working their butts off during the day just to tread water in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
If they want to grab onto a little bit of glamour at night by dressing in white, where's the harm in that?