I originally thought the Abbott/Hockey budget was pretty sensible and logical in terms of the financial crisis facing the country; if you are spending so much that you are steadily going into hock, it would seem sensible to stop it, get some more income and encourage people to look after themselves. But thanks to the Age I have come to see some of the shortcomings in my attitude, to realise that we are on the wrong track after all and that the budget has been motivated by some pretty unsavoury principles. The first of the Age’s two contributions to my understanding was an editorial last week that explained a few home truths about the need for equality. The Age explained that the reason why the budget was bad was that it was not conducive to promoting equality. To bring about equality, what we have to do is put more of a burden on higher income earners. The reason why this should be done was simply that higher income earners ‘happen’ to earn more money, so they should have some of it taken away from them and we could all move forward to equality. That was the point where I knew I had gone wrong. I had thought that higher income earners were higher income earners because they happened to work harder or better, or because they had a qualification, started a business, invested, took risks, saved and spent their money more carefully. I can see now that this was a delusion. It just ‘happens’; they happen to have higher incomes because they do and they will keep on happening to have higher incomes until they are sufficiently punished and stop having higher incomes. That explanation was a great help to me.
The second contribution from the Age was an article by Bill Garner, a social commentator at Melbourne University. He, also, was a great help in filling in some gaps in my understanding. He is a great advocate of equality, and he took the argument further. He explained that we should bring about equality by having policies under which wealth is ‘redistributed’, because that is compulsory equality. Moreover, if we do not start redistributing it, we will be going back to ‘the darkest days of the 19th century’ and we all know what happened during that unfortunate era: scientific discovery, great literature, stable government, the expansion of trade, putting the French back in their place, building great cities, spreading common law, religion and free enterprise around the world and lightening the most miserable of days with electricity, paved roads and the railway.
So it seems pretty clear that if you do not want any more of those sorts of superficial baubles from the 19th century, we should redistribute as much wealth as we can and that that is what the budget should be doing, not perpetuating old-fashioned notions of self-help and advancement. He rounded this exposition off with a patriotic call to arms that really made the point: there is actually nothing better than a leaner because our diggers, during the Great War, would hang around Piccadilly leaning on lamp posts and thumbing their noses at the English officer class, instead of being lifters and doing things; they had earned the right to be leaners and that is as cherished a notion as any other in this dog-eat-dog world of free enterprise, initiative and competition. That made good sense to me and, whatever you say about the Age, it has done more than most to encourage noble poverty and equality, at least for its shareholders. Let me remind you that fashioning its product so that it appeals to an ever-diminishing market, and giving it away when no one will buy it, must have revolutionised modern-day economic thinking.
I was pleased, in a macabre sort of way, to see that Sepp Blatter of Fifa has adopted the tried and tested response of beleaguered celebrities, executives and foreign potentates when criticised for corruption, incompetence or stupid behaviour: they just say that the criticism is racism and it all goes away. Heaven forbid that you should have to rebut the precise allegations or defend yourself on the merits of the facts, when good old racism is there to draw on whenever you need it. It is like climate change, a defence for all seasons; whether we have cold snaps or hot snaps, floods or droughts, full dams or empty, good seasons or bad, it must all be due to climate change and don’t you dare deny the science, even if it is really religion. So it is with graft; it could not possibly be that Qatar got the World Cup by bribing half of Africa, so those who make the allegations are branded as racists because it turns the tables on the accusers and is the charge that can never be refuted; the more you point to the evidence of money changing hands, the more you must be a racist.
As is always the case with these big money projects, it is the long-suffering taxpayers who pay the bill, as governments pile new burdens on them to pay for increasingly ritualistic and symbolic adventures, world summits, grand prix, vast stadiums, arts festivals, conference centres and competitions for the World Cup and Olympics stretching off into the distant future. On that note, I have been thinking of writing a sort of tour d’horizon of the major changes in politics and government in the last 50 years; chief among them must be how the burden on taxpayers has steadily moved from paying for essential services like defence, communications and transport to paying for politicians’ hobbies like celebrity sports we rarely win but which always cost money, and pretentious summits that deal with only one real issue — fixing the date for the next meeting.
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