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Greed is the problem, not workers

Of course, The Australian republished Andy Kessler’s ridiculous Wall Street Journal column, “The decline of work in a spoiled society.” Those News Corp bedfellows continue to miss that they are at the core of the problem.

The pandemic drew back the curtain for the workers of the West, casting a glaring spotlight on the fact that they were cogs in a machine churning profit for the power brokers. Billionaires took off on joyrides to space, in rockets built of the workers’ stolen wages. Emergency workers received mere thanks for dying in excessive numbers to keep the upper echelons safely serviced in their beach home escapes. Nurses saw that their dedication had been exploited for unfair pay as their shifts ballooned. Teachers learnt they were actually childminders to allow capitalism untrammelled access to parent workers.

This edifying revelation only built on the growing crisis of 2008’s financial crash. Taxpayers’ money was demanded to refund the financial sector that had gambled away its wealth. In the US, 10 million Americans lost their homes, mostly left sitting empty. In the UK, bankers got their bonuses back as austerity policy savaged the lives and communities of the taxpayers who’d funded their bailouts.

Over the Cold War, a combination of factors kept the gap between rich and poor narrow. Partly the financial circumstances of the era; partly a society that required a large educated and healthy workforce to maintain mass-employing sectors. Partly, though, it was the bowel-clenching fear of the rich and powerful that their own masses could revolt to seize the means of production.

The resultant conditions meant that unionised workers could support their families with some spending money on the side. After capitalism’s collapse in the Great Depression and the nightmare of two World Wars, the bargain seemed worthy.

In the wake of the Cold War, neoliberal ideologues and extremists won the battle for understanding how the economy should operate. Milton Friedman’s diktat that the shareholder was the corporation’s only responsibility became the operating principle. Maggie Thatcher killed “society.” The workers were to be recognised as inanimate parts of the machine. The threat of starvation would keep them obediently clocking in, clocking out, clocking in.

Meanwhile, the Cold War reticence about ostentatiously displaying wealth with the prospect of revolution to chill the peacock urge, was replaced by reality TV where everyone could see just how stupid and venal the wealthy actually can be.

In America, the social contract is broken. The poorest workers slog between several jobs, often on poorly maintained public transport, without healthcare. Teachers drive Uber after hours to pay the rent. In the UK, private school alumni threw the country’s well-being off the Cliffs of Dover in pursuit of defunct imperial grandeur. Both countries’ discontent was channelled against people with a different skin colour, seeking safety. The “revolution” to date has taken the form of electing populist-nativist clowns who made all their problems worse.

Liz Truss was the final straw in this revelation of the cold calculations underlying neoliberalism. There would be unaffordable tax cuts for the rich and further austerity for the rest.

In Australia, the crisis of worker investment is different. Rising prices creating rising profits eat into the wages of those previously getting by. The Reserve Bank is driving up interest rates, again eating into survival funds, instead of begging profiteers to cap their greed. Policy promoting property as an investment rather than a necessity is robbing the next generation of the chance to join in that mode of securing their future. Landlords increase rent because that is “the market,” and renters become desperate.

Australia’s workers are, on the whole, better paid than our American parallels but the same pressures that the neoliberal ideologues have imposed on that nation are grinding away at the readiness of workers to give over most of their working hours to employers.

Signs of poverty are becoming more overt in Australia. The recent story about a mother wanting to keep a pot of yoghurt as a Christmas treat went viral, shocking to a complacent population.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has taken some steps in his election promises to address the implications of these factors. One that drew howls of outrage from the Murdoch Dog Line was the promise to make menstrual products available in places where people might not be able to afford them. To any person willing to take a moment, it is clear that being forced to choose between food and sanitary products is a crippling decision.

To the Murdoch commentators, Andrews’ decision was an outrage. Regular Murdoch columnist Gemma Tognini fulminated that the promise was, bizarrely, “sexist” as well as “shallow, populist, cosmetic and desperate.” Then again, she is the columnist that equated accepting Dan Andrews to Chamberlain “attempting to appease a monster.”

In the worldview of the News Corp columnist, and their ultra-free market ideology, anyone not working hard enough is choosing to be unable to afford menstrual products. Pandering to this laziness encourages the slacker life.

Andy Kessler argued that what workers get from the ever-more poisonous bargain is “human capital” which he decodes “as what workers learn on the job is theirs to keep.” But too many jobs now, like the grinding immiseration of Amazon warehouse workers, grant little in the way of skills or satisfaction.

He demanded the American government “please stop paying people not to work.” At a moment in employment history where too many people are working in jobs that barely pay survival salaries because human labour remains cheaper or more precise than automation, the only way to get people to work at all is to starve them thoroughly rather than slowly.

A better option might be to abandon ultra-free market ideology as the destroyer of systems it has proven to be. Clearly, workers need to be and feel valued to sign over their lives to the awful jobs we need done. America’s extremes illustrate the utter failure of their neoliberal religion.

Removing obscene profits for executives and shareholders as the driving force of corporations would be a start. A fairer division of the spoils is necessary to keep society functioning. This might need to be achieved by higher taxes on the top tier, since they don’t seem to understand the crisis their never-sated greed has created.

This was originally published at Pearls and Irritations as Greed and a spoiled society: workers are not the problem

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16 comments

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  1. Keitha Granville

    Excellent article.
    The owners, emplyers, CEOs and shareholders have what they have BECAUSE of the workers. Not unlike a beehive.
    It’s time for the top of the tree to stop amassing wealth and for those at the bottom of the pile to receive their share.
    No more excessive CEO salaries and bonuses, no more tax cuts for the wealthy, no more incentives and benefits to business owners,
    no more to those who have the most. Decent wages for teachers, nurses, policemen, aged care staff, child carers, hospitality workers,
    ALL those who keep the world turning.

    It’s time ! It’s their turn.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Owners, hoarders, accumulators, controllers, manipulators, managers, of MONEY, now more than ever, apply the forces available to secure wilful and greedy decisions for themselves, cliques, classes, colleagues, fellow conspirators, onsiders. The actual producers of wealth, dispossessed and rendered “powerless”, have little say in decision making which enriches the great navigators of all finance. Social, economic, political, national policy is so shaped, with loyal insiders only in charge. Hypocritical usage of moral, ethical, legal points camouflage the realities of naked power in shaping society. But, who am I, and you??

  3. Kathryn

    The appalling unquenchable greed and selfishness of the ultra-conservative, parasitic oxygen thieves in the Top 1% NEVER CEASES to amaze and infuriate ordinary working- and middle-class people who are now fighting back and raging against the self-obsession and born-to-rule entitlement so inherent in these LNP-supporting elitists! The truth is that these sanctimonious members of the Top 1% have NEVER given two shades of sh*t about anything with a pulse except for themselves and their like-minded, self-obsessed “heroes” in the LNP. The fact that every single member of the LNP have lived a long, non-achieving life sucking off the bleeding wound of the Australian taxpayer seems to have completely escaped them! Perhaps if the rampaging, self-entitled, condescending ultra-conservative political parasites in the LNP were FORCED to actually WORK for a living, they may (finally) appreciate the level of hard work, stress, responsibility and day-to-day commitment it takes to work under the relentless demands of a demanding employer instead of being spoiled and indulged by the Australian taxpayer until the day they retire on an obscenely high and totally undeserved superannuated pension! You only have to look at that smug, bible-thumping hypocrite, Scott Morrison, (who couldn’t hold down a single job out in the real world before he became one of the worst, most voracious political parasites in our history) to see the level of entitlement and hypocrisy that pervades every dark corner of the LNP!

  4. New England Cocky

    WOW!! What a great article!! Should be part of every history course taught in schools & universities!!

    Time for the LIARBRAL & Nazional$ ”leaners & loafers” to pay their way in our 21st century society by paying reasonable amounts of personal taxation while government must cut the tax ”relief” and other tax concessions to corporations and the ”undeserving wealthy”.

    Too often the first response by politicians and commentators is ”tax the PAYG bastards” without discussing why foreign owned multinational oil corporations require ”incentives” to search for oil in the post ”peak oil” era. Why do private schools require enormous inequitable government subsidies to provide aspiring parents with a child minding service having only mediocre academic outcomes? Why do the top professional earners deserve negative gearing from each of their numerous investment residences?

    Where are the housing industry advocates for more social housing, especially in regional centres where both major parties neglect Australian voters because the majority of regional voters believe that nothing has changed since their great-grandfathers formed the Country Party over 100 years ago?

    Where are the Universal Basic Income (UBI) supporters in Parliament promoting the benefits of keeping citizens fed & housed & secure?

  5. Steve Davis

    Great stuff.

    It could be co-incidental, but the pandemic seems to have raised the class consciousness of the workforce, and prompted a degree of activism that we have not seen for some time.

  6. Harry Lime

    Agree wholeheartedly with this article and the comments.Never been a more propitious time for Albo &Co to to take the bull of neoliberalism by the horns and disembowel it.As for the Ugly American..recast media monopoly laws,and make truth the central tenet of reporting,which would put the majority of Murdoch’s garbage peddlers into the unemployed queues.Where they so rightfully belong.This will take courage and conviction,Mr. Albanese.The last thing we need now is a watered down version of the gobsmacking shit we’ve had for the last nine years.We are already in irreversible climate change,and still we have chain dragging and denial.We should be planning now for the inevitable waves of climate refugees,instead of pissing untold billions away on war toys that don’t work,or are never delivered.I wonder what we could spend that loot on that might benefit society in general?Change is coming whether we like it or not.

  7. pierre wilkinson

    there will come a time when the people will truly revolt and take back what is rightfully their own;
    beware you greedy supercilious self righteous hypocrites, you will no longer be able to hide behind the sanctimony of the church and the plutocracy loving media

  8. Arnd

    I got curious, and looked up Kessler’s opinion piece: https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-work-worth-unions-profit-value-life-balance-human-capital-labor-foce-economy-manufacturing-11668268509

    Amazing!

    Unfathomable!!

    They still allow those types to parade their nonsense, fresh out from the Truss/Kwarteng debacle in the UK?

    I can’t even muster the energy for the customary Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrott facepalm with which I used to acknowledge neo-liberal claptrap. Nor even a derisive snort or condescending grin.

    A slackjawed stare of underwhelmed incomprehension is all I can do these days.

    Somebody, make it stop! Please!!

  9. GL

    As long as you have political parties that are more than willing to hop in the pockets of, or spread their cheeks, the corporations and the obscenely rich then greed will continue to win out every time.

  10. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks for all the passionate commentary. Highly enjoyable to read. I share your rage and frustration.

  11. leefe

    All I can do is sit back and applaud. Superb stuff, Ms Hamilton.

  12. Andrew Smith

    Good read and related has been those looking at the influences of US think tank networks of Kochs i.e. ‘radical right libertarian economics’ (Jane Mayer) significantly influenced by James Buchanan, but masked by Friedman, Hayek, Rand et al., why?

    Because not only were Buchanan’s policies radical, but were described as ‘segregation economics’, or eugenics masquerading as economic theory. which were and are not ordinarily acceptable to many or most voters.

    A metaphor is a socioeconomic ladder with a minority at the top, then knock out the middle rungs which pushes most of the middle further down (disappear social security, public education etc.), and precludes upward mobility; is this how class works?

  13. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks so much, leefe
    Really appreciated

  14. Michael Taylor

    Lucy, looks like you’re winning some admirers. And deservedly so. 😀

  15. wam

    If we have a minimum wage we should have a maximum wage? When my dad was fishing he never earned enough to pay tax and we lived on the fish he couldn’t sell and the rabbits I trapped. The rich, over 10000 quid, paid 5621 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence plus 75% of anything over 10k. The tax man loved my aunt’s son in law. he worked in WA for the septics at a US$30k job and they paid him 30k pounds. He was unbelievably rich. we would solve our health worries if the levy was on gross income.

  16. Lucy Hamilton

    It’s a really good question, wam. I geared this to a fairly mainstream audience as I imagine P&I’s lot to be, so I didn’t go into the detail, hoping not to sidetrack people into becoming irate about solutions. It would be terrific to see the top end pay a proper share of tax, as well as appropriate wages. The gap between the rich and poor shouldn’t be such a chasm.

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