Bicycling Along a Tightrope

Another fine post from Catalyst, which (and whom) I wish would be the catalyst for changing the hearts and minds of the rich and super-rich elites of this country. Thank you again, Catalyst.

(Image credit: State Library of Victoria H96.160/2603)

Bicycling along a tightrope was how Harold Macmillan( Britain’s Prime Minister 1957-1963) explained how demanding formulating economic policy was and is. After the war and the subsequent years of bleak austerity, Macmillan famously reminded Britons that You’ve never had it so good.

In Australia too, Prime Minister Robert Menzies (1949-1966) was in the fortunate position of presiding over a high growth period. And it was prosperity that reached almost all Australians.

As Andrew Leigh writes in Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia:

There was a fridge in 97 percent of Australian homes in the 1960s, an appliance that most Britons, Germans and Italians did not yet possess.

(Image credit: Attic Paper)

He adds that Australians also took for granted owning a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a radio, and a television.

When we arrived as migrants in the early 1970s I was overawed by the variety of small electrical appliances for sale and which were present in so many ordinary homes.

(Image credits: Hoover washing machine; Electrolux vacuum cleaner; radiogram; PYE TV receiver)

Working conditions in Australia were better, the pay was better, the flat we rented was superior to the one we had left. What’s more, people were friendly, quick to help and the weather was so good. If it wasn’t quite a land of milk and honey, it was certainly a very favourable place to be.

Dreams that had seemed impossible were realised here: a home of our own with a swimming pool. Four weeks paid holidays (introduced 1974), penalty rates, and a more relaxed lifestyle.

Life was good, and it began to change so slowly that at first it was hardly noticeable. Management in the 1980s suddenly became the preserve of the young, and American ideas flourished. Pie charts and motivational talks were the order of the day. Personnel departments – alarmingly – were now presumed to manage ‘human resources’ .As the terminology changed, people became just another disposable asset

No longer could people expect lifetime careers. The rich list flourished and flamboyant millionaires indulged their sporting and others passions, while they sold off their companies. Alan Bond, Christopher Skase, Rene Rivkin, and Laurie Connell bought and sold companies and spent money lavishly: polo ponies, racing yachts, Van Gogh paintings and extravagant parties. Businessmen suddenly became the corporate elite and excess became commonplace. Think of the gloss and glamour of the TV shows Dynasty and Dallas.

(Image credits: Alan Bond; Christopher Skase; Rene Rivkin; Laurie Connell)

(Image credits: Dynasty; Dallas)

As the 80s came to an end some of the tycoons were jailed, some exiled themselves, some died, and some just faded from the limelight. The gulf between them and us had widened, Australia had become less interested in being egalitarian.

Interest rates climbed: rising from 12% they spiralled to 18%. In the early 1990s we had “the recession we had to have”. The boom mentality had led to a spending cycle which could not last. Dreams collapsed, firms failed, and jobs were lost. Many people were retrenched, in some cases (like mine) more than once. Houses went up for sale, as people could no longer afford their Australian dream. Firms merged or closed, leaving staff afraid for their superannuation. People found their job “rationalised” or downsized and the job for life disappeared, to be replaced by increased part-time and casual work.

(Image credit: The Age)

Insecurity was in the air, and like a game of snakes and ladders the assets that had climbed so high tumbled in value. If the 80s had been one long high, the 90s were a much more sober affair. But for some the party never stopped – while those on the lower rungs of the ladder were reeling, those at the top just kept on making money.

In 1992 Lang Hancock died worth about $150 million – a sizable fortune. These days, though, his daughter Gina Rinehart’s “worth” is estimated as $29 billion. In Battlers and Billionaires, Andrew Leigh asks:

Is she really 190 times more ingenious than her father?

He concludes that the income boost is due mostly to a tenfold increase in the price of iron ore.

At the same time he estimates that half of Australian families have an annual pre-tax household income of $77,220 or less. Many people take home considerably less. Life at the lower income levels needs clever budgeting and an unenvious spirit. Ingenuity, not cash, is the order of the day: bulk buying, home cooking, op shopping and the ability to amuse yourself and seek out free events can make life better, even at this income level.

As someone commented to me,

I can always tell middle class kids – even in op shop clothes – they’ve got straight, white middle class teeth.

They may find it fun pretending to be poor. Many don’t realise that not everyone enjoys private schooling, with Foxtel and broadband on tap, an iPad, a job lined up by daddy or mummy, access to the latest books and films and their own car, not to mention annual holidays, often overseas. These kids have known nothing else, but older people have less excuse for ignoring the growing inequality in our society.

(Image Credit: Dental Implants Review)

Why should a TV personality – an ‘ordinary mum’ type – reportedly be paid $700,000 a year? How much should her opinions be allowed to influence the rest of us? How can these people speak for and represent the majority?

And if she is out of touch, what about those at the very top, the rich and super rich? Their share of economic prosperity has tripled in the period 1984-2012 from 0.8% to 2.8%, according to Andrew Leigh. At their income levels these percentages really add up. So does their lack of understanding of those who will never make the rich list, who are not members of what some have dubbed the lucky sperm club.

(Image credit: The Age)

PLEASE NOTE: This was the Australian Rich List for 2011

That’s why we need a Labor government: to encourage people, not exclude them. To keep the fair go alive, to represent the majority of people, the ones that the elites like to forget about, so that we don’t end up with a more divided society, the enclaves of privilege contrasted to the rest of us.

If we have been fortunate, whether by inheritance or education, by intelligence or health, don’t we have an obligation to the rest of society? Shouldn’t we use our gifts to help others? Or will we allow the user pays mentality to take hold and grow, forgetting that not everyone has the capacity to pay?

© Catalyst 2013

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596 thoughts on “Bicycling Along a Tightrope

  1. Bob Watch

    Bob continues to improve (I know, reading that is getting boring).

    His appetite has returned with gusto. He even successfully mugged Cozzie this morning, shouldering him out of the way and scoffing his breakfast.

    And I found a couple of suspicious little nuggets outside on the front terrace that look tellingly like they were produced by Bob’s usually prolific Poo Engine.

    If so, then we have all faculties basically back on deck.

    Yes, he’s still wobbly, and seems a little vaguer than before (remember that even a full recovery will still leave him as a dog with moderate canine dementia), some habits have changed, and some news ones have taken their place.

    After he was out on the wet deck this morning, Bob’s fur got into that impossible wet tangle that he prefers as a fashion statement. That’s my Bob.

  2. Talk about Albrechtsen…I have it on Exellent authority, she has claimed first dibs on JWH’s penis when he dies to use as a “full-stop stamp” for her pointless articles.

  3. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-07/high-court-rules-on-mineral-resource-rent-tax/4870228

    High Court rules against Fortescue and states on Minerals Resource Rent Tax
    Updated 21 minutes ago

    Miner Andrew Forrest has lost his High Court challenge to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

    The tax applies to profits for coal and iron ore projects above $75 million.

    Mr Forrest and his Fortescue Metals Group had argued that the tax discriminated between states and interfered with the rights of states to control their own mineral resources.

    He was supported in his challenge by the Queensland and Western Australian governments.

    Despite the ruling, the tax’s future is uncertain, with the Coalition pledging to scrap it if it wins the election next month.

  4. Just seen the full six and a half minutes of Diaz’s train-wreck:

    Wow. I think it’s pretty clear what the Liberal message is then: People are doing it tough, cost of living, doorknocking, pensioner and her heater, carbon tax, er, cost of living, tough, doorknocking, talk to people heaters, heaters, doorknocking, er… cost of living I mean carbon tax, doorknock, struggling, cost of living… ah, Direct Action! trees, er, trees and a solar panel, Direct Action is direct action, green army?, real trees and a real army, no Workchoices nobody cares about that, it’s doorknock talk to people cost of living prices… boats! hooray, boats, six point plan, the point is that there’s six points and that’s, six of them, yes, one of them is stopping boats, what the Liberals are going to is that Labor has, exactly, the Liberal policy is that the Labor policy is bad, and that’s bad, six points, I told you there are six… ignore that pensioner behind me shaking his head in disbelief, they all know that cost of living, doorknock, talk to people, heaters, carbon tax, pensioners… the main issues are cost of living, cost of living, and boats… debt, PPL because families are doing it tough, cost of living, company tax? what? have to go now.

  5. This little piece of gravel would love NOT to see creepy photo’s……..could a link suffice for anyone interested, or am I just a spoilsport?

  6. Aguirre

    Well done, great interpretation.

    BB

    It is NOT boring getting updates on Bob, I think most of us here care and want to hear what is happening. Sounds like you’ll have him as a beaut companion for a little while more. Our ball off fluff this morning just stood in the lounge room like a statue for about 5 minutes before she decided what she was going to do.

  7. Bob watch
    BB – if Bob keeps improving at this rate expect a truckload of now not needed Schmakos, Liver Cookies, Just Natural Kangaroo Mini Treats, BlackHawk Lamb & Rice Holistic Adult, Black Dog Cheese biscuits, My Dog Country Lamb & Liver, My Dog Sardines & Tuna, a frozen rabbit and 10 kilograms of frozen lean beef from me via the Hume Highway.
    Also I’ll throw in 20 balls mainly tennis!

  8. This little piece of gravel would love NOT to see creepy photo’s……..could a link suffice for anyone interested, or am I just a spoilsport?

    Know thine enemy, 2Gravel. Bathe in his creepy presence.

  9. I meant bask, but let’s all bathe in his presence as well, just to add a touch more creepiness.

  10. No wonder he received a cordial reception.

    She has also ascertained that the woman who was sort-of-kind-of kissed by Mr Abbott (see posts 10.10am, 10.11am and 10.12am) is a very, very big Coalition and Tony Abbott fan. Her name is Evie Whittaker and she works at Bickford’s, as do her uncle, mother and grandfather.

  11. Hello everyone. I’m just back from shopping to replenish the dogs and cats larder. They are my biggest expense but I cannot deny they are worth it.

    I am delighted that little doggie Bob still continues to improve so that he and his dad can look forward to some future however short, or long, that maybe. Both Bob and BB deserved to win this fight.

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