By Leonie Saunders
A little over two weeks have passed since I listened intently to the presenter of the ABC’s Statewide Drive program, Nicole Chvastek interview the owner of a popular Kyneton restaurant to get his opinion of the COVID-19 Roadmap aimed at taking Victoria out of lockdown that Premier Andrews announced the previous day.
With an open mind, and my humanitarian instincts fully engaged, I listened to the restauranteur voice his understandable dismay at the toll COVID-19 has taken on his small business and his staff. However, when he expressed his displeasure with Daniel Andrews simply because he expected the Premier would announce on the day how much financial support business owners can expect to receive from the Victorian government, my critical faculties kicked in.
Perhaps the Premier may have been able to placate the restauranteur had he stipulated that the Roadmap he laid out was the public route, and all secondary roads on the map would be outlined in due course. Then again, bearing in mind no matter what size the business, good old hubris is rife in the mindset of the business community. That being said, I somehow doubt there would be any circumstances under which business owners would abide secondary status in the realm of political considerations.
To be fair, at the beginning of the interview as I listened to this restauranteur expressing not only his concerns for his business but also for the economic hardship his staff were under; I judged him to be somewhat empathetic. Nevertheless, as he went on about the Premier not announcing on the day any offer of financial support for business, his solicitude for his staffs’ financial stresses soon waned. In truth, there would need to be more than a soupçon of empathy to assuage my ire at his and all business owners hypocritical bleating for social handouts.
The question is, why should governments provide financial support to business in a capitalist free-market economy? From my perspective, this fundamental contradiction in terms warrants serious debate. Accordingly, as is my wont, living up to the integrity of the allegorical meaning of my name being Lioness. I thought it high-time to put the cat amongst the pigeons. It was on that basis that I decided to ring the ABC to express my views during the talkback segment.
While I cannot recall verbatim the entirety of what I said, I remember beginning with words to the effect that it is important to take stock of the fact that one of the main reasons people are motivated to go into business is to make lots more money while being top dog with no-one looking down on them telling them what to do. And that is fine. But in the process of making a profit off the skills, time, and labour of workers, to then expect the rest of society – the majority of whom are workers – to pick up the tab for the profit-takers in hard times is a bit rich. Especially coming from people who think themselves morally superior to their employees. These are the people who begrudge paying taxes, and who hate having to comply with red tape despite the social and environmental safeguards that red tape affords our society.
There are common threads in the discourse of business owners worth noting. For example, whenever anyone dares challenge people in business to justify the way they go about deriving profits, it is reasonable to assume by the mechanical uniformity of their responses that collectively, all have learnt the Capitalist Handbook 101 by rote. This is more than evident in the obvious lack of deviation in their language when they assert themselves to be deserving of lucrative returns because they work hard and take all the risk.
Incredible as it sounds, I am yet to hear any business owner say my employees work as hard as me, if not harder. And they also face any number of workplace risks. So they too deserve to profit just as handsomely from the product of their labour.
The resentment that runs through the veins of the filthy penny-pinching rich is echoed in the attitudes of all the wannabes (otherwise known as aspirationals) in the ranks of the upwardly mobile sole traders in small to medium businesses. United in their jaundiced view of humankind they are predictably hostile when it comes to debating questions relative to the equitable distribution of wealth. Likewise, they are typically vitriolic in their condemnation of socially-conscious empathetic lefties who argue strongly for increasing our nation’s social safety net that for too long has failed abysmally to provide reasonable financial support for the less well-off in our society.
That being the case, I thought the irony of the restauranteur’s expectation for a hand-out was particularly pertinent in context to the presupposed benefits to Australia as a profit-oriented free-market economy. Why the lie? If the material benefits of market economics were tangible and evenly spread, then there would be no need for governments to apply socialist interventions in markets whatsoever.
Paradoxically we have COVID-19 to thank for exposing to the air the lies that journalists in the employ of this country’s self-serving commercial news media outlets have been complicit in suppressing. While they leave misconceptions and blatant untruths to fester like a puss-filled carbuncle on the bum of our society, the pandemic has laid bare the inherent defects in capitalist economics and the copious flaws that exist in globalised market economics. Importantly, Rona has brought into public view just how much business owners expect the freedom to capitalise their profits while in the cycle of economic downturns. They are reliant on governments enabling them to socialise their losses. Ergo, one must ask the question; if businesses rely so heavily on governments to bail them out in a crisis, what is their risk?
Truth be known, other than failing in business arising from their own mismanagement, the risk to the restauranteur and other small business owners comes from the people they typically vote into government.
Behind closed doors, government ministers beholden to monopoly capitalists cherry-pick which industry sectors get the most hand-outs. Take for example the unscrupulous extraction industry receiving fuel subsidies and a raft of other tax-breaks designed to offset the operational costs of doing business. While the working class suffer the financial burden that comes from the inequity of a 10% regressive goods and services tax, rent-seekers and other capitalists benefit handsomely from government wilfully leaving gaping loopholes in the tax system.
What is it with our political class? Is it nest-feathering, seeking a soft landing post-politics? Is it political careerist geared only to serving their self-interest? Or is it sheer unadulterated venality?
Perhaps it is all of the above that holds leaders in government so captive to rent-seekers that they allow billions in profits from raping this country of its precious resources to be channelled offshore tax-free? The only thing that is free about trade in this country is how our nation’s government facilitates its donors in big business to unceremoniously screw Australians over freely by making billions in untaxed profits while we pay the price.
Which brings me to another lie lifted straight out of the capitalist handbook. Out of all the people who erroneously claim that taxing businesses cost jobs, it is the rent-seekers who take the most but return nothing of any value to society that rail the loudest against paying company tax. No matter how one looks at it, rent-seeking is a protection racket and the fact that our so-called elected representatives entertain these racketeers dressed up in thousand-dollar suits designed to convey a veneer of respectability, is beyond contempt.
Overall, monopoly capitalism predetermines who wins and who loses. Big business leverage governments with the prospect of more jobs and political donations shape government budgets. Corporate wholesale shareholders engineer movements in markets. And this goes to the lie of there being a hidden hand of competition in markets as it proves market systems are never impartial.
If we are invested intellectually in the 17th Century philosopher Adam Smith’s microeconomic theory on supply and demand, in which he warned that equilibrium in markets can only be achieved through the hidden hand of competition. And that competition is driven by demand. How can politicians call Australia a free market economy based on supply and demand when government intervenes to serve the interests of monopoly capitalists dominating the supply side of the ledger? This is but one of many questions that should be raised concerning the efficacy of capitalism and to the social and environmental probity of deregulated supply-side market economics.
Not to put to finer point on the fact that 48 years have passed since the last political leader was fearless enough to introduce meaningful socioeconomic policy changes for the betterment of our society. It is fair to say courage is not the forte of today’s political class. Nevertheless, I contend that at this juncture in time, with our international borders closed, dampening the power of outside economic forces. The pandemic provides the political class with the perfect opportunity to show some mettle and test my long-held view that business owners are analogous of shark’s teeth – when one fails another pops up immediately to replace it.
Of course, that is just my pie-in-the-sky idealism sneaking out. Sadly, they won’t take the risk because they truly are cowards. They fear not being able to rely on aspirational mercenary capitalists starting in a business having the moolah readily available to line the right pockets in time to fund their Party’s election campaign. That is absolutely the domain of well-established capitalist class elites, here and abroad.
The likes of Murdoch, Rinehart, Forrest, Triguboff et al, understand only too well the raison d’être of political parties is winning power for power’s sake, and as a consequence politicians will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their benefactors. The capitalist class also know that contrary to the core tenets of representative democracy, governments first and foremost govern for them. This is evidenced by the fact that whenever governing in their best interest clashes with governing in the best interest of the electorate. There is no question of who wins and who loses.
While it is certainly true that not all business owners exploit workers or the environment and the tax system by setting up family trusts to dodge paying their fair share of taxes, it is also true that not all business owners begrudge government red tape because they know that it is red tape that safeguards Australia’s high standards. They understand the added time it takes to meet those requirements is a cost-benefit they pay in the social good. On the other hand, given the capitalist system encourages greed, it is equally true that capitalists including aspirational capitalists in small business are inherently monopolistic. Thus, it is an inexorable truth albeit, in varying degrees, business owners who exploit workers, society, the natural environment and the tax system are most definitely in the majority.
Which brings me to the source of my disgust. Every time the dyed-in-the-wool marketing man Scott Morrison smugly gives voices to one of his favourite right-wing shibboleths; “if you have a go, you’ll get ago”, I am reminded of how slimy capitalist puppets operate. The lie is evident in the subtext of Morrison’s typically pious mantra that all men are created equal. When in truth, he knows all too well that monopoly capitalism guarantees all men and women are not born equal.
Despite being media savvy, the marketing man’s glib façade of aspirational “if you have a go, you’ll get ago” rhetoric, cannot conceal his smug countenance. Morrison’s smirk betrays his lies, including his particular penchant for proselytising the farcical idea that the self-made man is a common occurrence in capitalist economies. This is another lie he and his ilk use as a means of harnessing deference to capitalist ideals. Make no mistake, this nation’s Prime Minister invests a great deal of religious fervour in conveying the cock-and-bull narrative that life is conducted on a level playing field.
To that end, there are days when I despair over the wretched credulity of the great majority of Australians who in their apathy and ignorance give sustenance to the biggest lie of all. Contrary to the narrative propagated by the mainstream media, social media is not responsible for the great majority of Australians buying into the lie that capitalist growth must be allowed to flourish unfettered by taxation and regulations. Social media is not to blame for the level of political illiteracy in Australia. Indeed, social media is not to blame for the impediments to the democratic process that comes from political illiteracy and indifference. That failure must be laid at the feet of mediocre leadership.
The mean-spirited state of politics in this country is testament to the public sphere being dominated for more than 40 years by right-wing politicians in both Liberal and Labor. It is testament to the dominance of misanthropic right-wing neoliberal leadership that a media landscape was created that gave a select few monopolistic media owners more power to foster witless passivity to ensure a culture in which Australians would unthinkingly give deference to capital. And to that extent, the general public’s predisposition for self-sabotage evident in how economic artifices of debt and deficits that allow the government to shirk their responsibilities go unquestioned. Is to be expected.
Yet despite all the lies, as oxymoronic as it sounds, this melancholy optimist continues to live in hope that the penny will drop before Mother Earth’s patient indulgence of our stupidity that is already showing frightening signs of being worn thin, runs out completely. As a socialist, I fight on in the belief that the multitudes will soon wake up from their political slumber to discover there are no second chances.
Doubtless to say, my position is clear and that for the sake of my grandchildren and all living creatures on this planet; I and we have no other choice than to keep raising our voices to awareness in the public good the cavernous pitfalls that come from buying into the lies told by Morrison and his ministers. To be perfectly frank, I cannot conceive of any finer aspiration than being a valid contributor in the quest of safeguarding the future by sounding the alarm that if heeded will ensure Morrison and his capitalist cronies in politics and business will be listed as a breed on the threshold of extinction.
This article was originally published on Connecting the Dots.
Leonie Saunders is benevolent dictator of Connecting the Dots, proud lefty feminist. Adores children and animals. Despises greedy union-bashing, power-abusing corporate polluters.
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