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We have forgotten what is important let alone how to fight for it

The trouble with neoliberalism is it focuses on the how and not on the why.

The result of this headlong pursuit of continuous growth is a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority are mired in poverty.  At the same time, environmental degradation in the pursuit of profit, and the waste produced by billions of consumers, is destroying the planet.

Neoliberalism purports to reward individual effort, completely ignoring the fact that we don’t all start from the same place.

It is much easier to build wealth if you start with some assets.  It is easier to do well at school if you have somewhere to live and enough to eat.  It is easier when your parents can afford to pay for extra tuition or to pay university fees so you don’t start life with a humungous debt.  It is easier to find work if you have a car or can afford, and have access to, good public transport.  It is easier to fight for your rights when you can afford a barrister.  And it is much easier to protect and grow your wealth if you can afford financial advisers and accountants.

Neoliberalism cares nothing about the greater good.  Every man and woman for themselves.  Lobbyists promote self-interest and the privileged jealously guard their perks.  Greed has replaced our sense of community, collective caring and shared responsibility.

Neoliberal governments strive to reduce regulation but businesses exist to maximise profits, not make moral or even ethical choices.  They will adhere to the law (usually) but contribute no more than they are forced to do.  And even that is questionable.  A quick look at the Fairwork Ombudsman site shows hundreds of litigations for underpayments, sham contracting, false or inadequate record-keeping and a litany of other abuses.

Environmental protection regulations are regularly breached with minimal consequences.  The Department of the Environment and Energy shows some case judgements but they seem to have dwindled to almost nothing since the Coalition won government.

Conservatives are often religious, insisting on imposing their view of the sanctity of life on everyone.  But they complain bitterly about contributing to the cost of raising children or caring for the elderly or providing a safety net for those who cannot work or find employment.

Spending on health, education, welfare and environmental protection is not a cost but an investment in a happier, more productive, more harmonious society.  That creates savings itself and benefits everyone.

Increasing company profits, on the other hand, have only benefitted CEOs and shareholders.  With company profits at record highs, investors enjoyed a 9.5 per cent per annum increase in dividend payments last year, while workers’ wages remain stuck growing at roughly 2 per cent per annum.  Rather than sharing the benefits of a revenue boost, the government wants to give even more back to big business through tax cuts and less to workers through cuts to penalty rates.  They want to impose draconian industrial relations laws and hobble workers’ ability to negotiate or protest, all the while protecting shareholders at every turn.

Despite the taxation assistance already given to small businesses, many will continue to struggle until their customers have more disposable income, a fact the government seems unable to understand.  Big business lobby groups oppose any increase in the minimum wage but they still think it would be a good idea for the government to give people on welfare a bit more to spend.

The idea that we must decrease company taxes to attract investment is not borne out by the facts. Non-mining investment grew by 14.0% through the year ending March 31, 2018 with many foreign investments coming from countries with lower tax rates.

You can’t tax a profitable business into being unprofitable, but you can, with their contribution, provide a strong judicial system, a safe place to do business where the rule of law is enforced, sophisticated transport and communication infrastructure, a well-educated, healthy workforce and a comparatively stable government.  These are the things that attract business investment.

We don’t need more growth.  What we need is a better, more equitable distribution of our finite resources.  Why should the owners of the capital amass wealth beyond measure built on the work of others who struggle just to survive?

We are a wealthy nation but we have lost our compassion.  We have forgotten our duty to protect the vulnerable.  We have abandoned our obligation to keep our home clean.  We ignore the plight of less fortunate countries.

We have become consumed by greed and gluttony.  But that has led to a greater poverty – a poverty of purpose and dignity, as Robert Kennedy said fifty years ago.

“Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

If we judge [our success by Gross National Product], that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That same year, 1968, Martin Luther King organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice.  The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

He felt that Congress had shown “hostility to the poor” by spending “military funds with alacrity and generosity.” He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided “poverty funds with miserliness.”  He was particularly in support of a guaranteed basic income.

His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”, and argued that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

They shot them both that year.

Fifty years later, we are so used to all the things they warned about that we have given up the fight.

It is possible that a visionary leader could get the weight of the people behind them to remind us of what is important, but would the corporate world ever allow it?


15 comments

  1. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, another brilliant article from you!

  2. Ian Hughes

    Brilliant article, Kaye, just brilliant. Thank you.

    So much of your writing resonates with my own thinking. I wish I had your talent for expression! 🙂

  3. Vikingduk

    Yes, me too,Ian Hughes, once again thank you all at AIMN for the excellent reading. Perhaps, in a different world you would all be highly regarded mainstream journalists.

    Regarding the monstrous greed exhibited by the born to have/born to rule a friend’s neighbor, an extraordinarily wealthy neighbor owns a race horse based in Malaysia which was due to race so wealthy one asked a few mates if they would like a day at the races, yep they say, right he says I’ll charter a jet and off we go. Halfway there he gets the word race called off due to weather, no worries he says, dinner in Malaysia sounds good. On the return journey the mates offer to chip in for charter costs, no he says it’s only $35,000, it’s all cool.

  4. etnorb

    What another great article Kaye! Very wise words & thoughts. Sadly though, this inept. lying, obscenely overpaid so-called “liberal” government just blindly follows the USA especially, with their flat earth theory, minimal or no taxes paid, to hell with the working class & their Unions, to hell with all the poor & underprivileged, & just lets keep on filling all the banks & financial institutions etc with all the profits they make, at the expense of every one else! Just hope that they are kicked out at the next Federal election, & some sanity & reason can be returned to everyone!

  5. diannaart

    We not only need to kick out the LNP, but also neuter the IPA and other vested interests of the wealthy 1% – including the malevolent Murdoch.

  6. Keitha Granville

    I always find it interesting that speakers, politicians, leaders from the past often have had similar thoughts about the direction of their country / the world : talking about community, social inclusion, values – not just how much can be made from the world’s riches. It is a crying shame that it needs to be repeated decade after decade.

    thanks for this

  7. BazJon

    Inspiring! It needs no be posted on the other sides platform.

  8. paul walter

    We will be left in depressed contemplation of how much more valuable the goose that Laid the Golden Egg would have been, if only a little patience had been shown.

    But prudence always runs a long distance second to instant gratification.

  9. Anomander

    Neoliberals always claim success as their own – achieved solely through their own hard work, never once acknowledging that they woukd not have been in such a position without society, and everyone else paying for them. The safety and security, the legal protections, the infrastructure – roads, transport, utilities, etc, the health services, education – without all these things being provided to support them, their success is almost entirely dependent on everyone contributing their fair share.

    This is why we should all be very, VERY angry about tax evaders and those who refuse to pay their share.

  10. Zathras

    The mindless scramble for personal wealth often results in a loss of perspective, both personal and as a society.

    In the end it doesn’t matter about the size of your house, the value of your car or the number of zeroes in your bank account.
    All our graves will be the same size.

  11. Peter Hilbig

    “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

    I believe that MLK was dead right about this and the way to do it is through the people and not by government edict. We spend too much time criticising our imperfect pollies and precious little on putting our own houses in order.

    In order to remedy this I have started a Facebook social group with a mission – a “Quest for high personal integrity”. I’m looking for ordinary working people, not leaders, to join us and stand up themselves for what is right. We’re in for the long haul, not some quick magical fix.

    And it’s non-political. Reconstruction of society must come from within.

    The group is called “Questers”.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1821226314822541/

  12. jimhaz

    [Despite the taxation assistance already given to small businesses, many will continue to struggle until their customers have more disposable income, a fact the government seems unable to understand]

    Agree, but high immigration also plays a role in destroying small businesses. Generally they start up family businesses in areas that are already saturated with similar products. Nonetheless it is the neoconservatives lack of values that has removed or not allowed regulation to limit new simple product startups.

    [With company profits at record highs, investors enjoyed a 9.5 per cent per annum increase in dividend payments last year, while workers’ wages remain stuck growing at roughly 2 per cent per annum]

    In a collective sense, Baby Boomers are total fn arseholes – too many vote LNP for much higher investment returns under LNP policies.

    More of us should actually be castigating our own parents. It has to become personal for change to occur.

    It is only going to get worse because we now import 10,000 millionaires per annum.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-14/millionaires-are-moving-to-australia/9861322

    This simple fact alone tells us that the Murdoch propaganda arm – the LNP – is conducting wealth warfare far more than most other developed western countries.

  13. Kyran

    A little ray of sunshine has come into my world. Not the Victorian election, which has been characterised as a ‘win’ for positivity over negativity. It was heartening, but not nearly enough to displace or alleviate any of the foul smell emanating from the Canberra bubble. It was our youth, who demonstrated that they haven’t forgotten what is important, or how to fight for it. The most heartening thing is that there seems to have been a canny use of social media to get this started, devoid of the usual need for an organiser, or leader, per se.
    Perhaps one of the best ‘write-ups’ was a note of appreciation from another youth, which speaks volumes. This wasn’t just about kids doing a dummy spit, stamping their feet and demanding attention. Whilst such behaviour may entitle someone to a seat in our parliament, it has no bearing on what is acceptable in the broader community.
    They articulated the problem, they made suggestions of needed action, and they committed to being participants in the change, not merely onlookers or bystanders.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/30/the-school-climate-strike-was-a-new-generations-activism-and-im-so-proud

    Another article had some quotes from students. Given the atrocious behaviour emanating from Canberra, the bully boy antics of Morrison and Canavan, the pathetic pandering of MSM in general and the Canberra Press Gallery in particular, it was positively refreshing to hear people, our youth, call this shower of wasters out, without fear or favour. Nothing about it was political, confected or staged. It was one of those occasions some of us remember from a very distant past – it’s called speaking truth to power.
    “Speaking truth to power is a commitment to peace that must manifest itself in everything we do. Nonetheless, the meaning of the phrase has morphed. Now speaking truth to power just means saying something those in authority don’t want to hear.”
    Just some of their quotes should have every parliamentarian, bar none, sitting in the naughty corner having a long hard look at their pathetic prioritisation of personal aggrandisement, then party, then benefactors and sponsors, then ideology. As a last resort, they may consider we, the people.

    “Lucie Atkin-Bolton, 11, the school captain of Forest Lodge public school, said she had been let down by politicians.
    “I wish I didn’t have to be here today,” she said. “I’m the school captain at my primary school. We’ve been taught what it means to be a leader. You have to think about other people.
    “When kids make a mess, adults tell us to clean it up and that’s fair. But when our leaders make a mess, they’re leaving it to us to clean up”.”

    “Any mention of Scott Morrison brought boos from the crowd, as student after student criticised his comments.
    “If Scott Morrison wants children to stop acting like a parliament, then maybe the parliament should stop acting like children,” Manjot Kaur, 17, from Ravenswood school said.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/30/climate-change-strike-thousands-of-students-to-join-national-protest

    As to their creativity, there was an article on the signs, which demonstrated a marketing genius far beyond anything imagined by the hapless failure, Morrison. One notable sign – “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea”.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/30/schools-climate-strike-the-best-protest-banners-and-posters

    A student was interviewed on what passes as a ‘news show’. She recalled her favourite was a youth who had dressed up as a dinosaur, carrying a sign saying ‘Stop digging up my ancestors’.
    It can only be seen as a start, the first steps of our youth in demanding better. In terms of significance, this is greater than the Change the Rules protests (over 150k people) or the Australia day rally (over 60k people) or the various rallies to protest various government ideologies (they have never had policies).
    It’s no cause for popcorn just yet, but, damn, it’s so heartening. From little things big things grow.
    Thank you Ms Lee. Your reposting of the essay your daughter wrote was demonstration of the clarity with which our youth can see things, before they become too jaded and cynical with the realities of coping day to day. Her cohorts just served up a very timely reminder to the rest of us.
    Damn it feels good.
    Thanks again. Take care

  14. Kaye Lee

    Young people make me smile too Kyran. And I agree – it feels good.

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