“… a moral choice at least as much as an economic one”

Today’s Guest Poster is Dr Hugh Mackay, who has kindly given The Pub permission to republish the following article, first published on 14th August, 2004 by the “West Australian”. Our thanks to Dr Mackay, and also to Catalyst who sent us a copy of the article some weeks ago.

Drive for US model or Aussie fair go for all?
The Moral Maze
by Hugh Mackay

“You see a bloke driving a Rolls-Royce in America, you say, ‘I’ll have one of those one day’. But sometimes the old Australian (attitude) resents the fact that somebody else has got it. Now, I think that’s changing.”
– John Howard

In a recent interview with the Sydney morning Herald, the Prime Minister expressed warm approval for a change he believes has come over our society: he sees us as more entrepreneurial, more aspirational and “more like America”.

He has special praise for young people who he believes are more upwardly mobile than previous generations, and he plans to develop policies that will encourage us to become a nation of small-business people.

The aspiration to own a Rolls-Royce might once have been gently mocked as evidence of unbridled greed or envy. But in the new economic order, such avaricious motives have become economic virtues because they fuel the engine that drives the mass market. Materialism may not be good for the soul, but it’s good for the economy.

There’s an ethical dimension to this whole debate about aspirations, upward mobility and extravagance. If we were, indeed, to take the US as our model, we’d be looking at a fundamentally different society from the one many of us have dreamt of becoming. Do we want the sickening gap between the top and bottom of society that defines America, with an underclass of “working poor” apparently institutionalised beyond redemption?

Success is one thing; elbowing each other out of the way in our struggle to reach the top of the heap is another. And the economic heap in Australia has become very tall indeed: never before in our history has the distance from top to bottom been as great as it is now. No one would deny the value of enterprise and ambition. But the idea of a grasping, acquisitive society is at odds with the long-standing Australian ideal of an egalitarian society committed to equity, fairness and special consideration for those who are marginalised or disadvantaged by disability, poverty, incompetence, lack of intelligence or sheer bad luck.

That doesn’t mean a society in which everyone has the same amount of money or the same economic status. But every society must make a moral choice: will we encourage untrammelled greed and economic survival of the fittest or will we accept, via the tax and welfare systems, serious responsibility for the wellbeing of those who will never make it on their own, let alone become “entrepreneurial”, no matter how hard they try?

There’s another society the PM didn’t mention – Denmark – that has adopted a radically different approach from America’s when it comes to the distribution of wealth. The Danes don’t just choose nice princesses; they also choose egalitarianism.

Newsweek reported recently that 38 per cent of Denmark’s total income goes to the middle 40 per cent of the population, and the richest 20 per cent of Danes have only 2.9 times more disposable income than the poorest 20 per cent. In Australia, by contrast, the richest 20 per cent of households have 14 times the income of the poorest 20 per cent.

The highly-taxed Danes devote almost one-third of their GDP to “social transfers” that subsidise things like health and education for low-income families.

This redistribution of wealth has created something close to a nation of middle-income people; it has also created a remarkable degree of social stability.

We don’t have to emulate Denmark, but neither do we have to emulate the US. What we must do, sooner or later, is decide whether we want an egalitarian, broadly middle-class society or not.

And because that’s a decision affecting the wellbeing of millions of Australians, it’s a moral choice at least as much as an economic one.

Freezy Friday Raffle Evening

(Image Credit: ABC))

After the mildest start to winter I can remember,

Victoria was hit by what the Bureau of Meteorology called a “weather bomb” on June 24, 2014, including destructive winds, high tides, heavy rain and blizzard conditions in the alpine region.

and snow finally began falling in the Australian Alps:

(Image Credit: Fairfax))

In Canberra, Coalition ministers’ frozen hearts have been on full view

(Image Credit: Safaricom Live))

with their continued vicious attacks on the most vulnerable people in Australia – and elsewhere – we must not forget asylum seekers, and the outrageous revision of foreign aid.

Is it “just” entitlement on their part, the “born to rule” mentality writ large?

Or is it something more? Is it possible that behind their uncaring disdain lurks fear? Are they so terrified of us that they’ll do … almost … anything to destroy us?

Well …

(Image Credit: IbyteMedia))

and six months into what will be a long winter of discontent (geez, where’s Richard III when you want him?) we must remain strong in our friendship. There is such a thing as community – and the community of The Pub is part of our individual strength.

So let’s spend this Friday evening together, enjoying the music, the raffle, the drinks, the food – AND the friendship.

Australia… banana republic… and it’s open for business


(Source: Sydney Morning Herald,  Pat Campbell)

The cartoon above reminds us not to forget the nobbling of the NBN to benefit Foxtel, and then nobbling downloaders to benefit Foxtel’s programming investments.

Foxtel is the main source of profit for Murdoch’s Australian operation. If it folds, then the Old Man will be humiliated in front of the Gnomes of New York who refused to back his own business model for News Corp. They want to make some money, not indulge Rupert’s dynasty fantasy.

The Gnomes hived off the newspapers around the world, and kept the profitable parts – mostly movies and entertainment – separate… everywhere except in Australia, where pay TV was bundled in with the newspapers to prop them up.

Australia is special for Murdoch. It’s his “home ground”, where he was spawned. He still thinks he can keep control of it and use it as a redoubt to marshall his forces under a friendly government, once again to strike out at the world and take it by storm.

I’ve always thought Foxtel was the key business for Murdoch. So much damage has been wrought on our local polity, our governance, our technological infrastructure, our wallets and our freedoms to prop it up. Even the ABC has been nobbled: they lost Australia TV, and lost access to the BBC when Murdoch gazumped them with big money.

But still Foxtel stubbornly refuses to grow. Increases in sales are desultory. The business model of giving sham value – hundreds of channels full of rubbish – is failing. Packages abound. If you have Foxtel and want to quit, you get badgered by them with better and more generous deals offered (my own personal experience). You have to be determined to resist.

The Foxtel technology is antiquated: a proprietary physical cable, a set-top box, a smart card. It’s too hardware-based. These limitations mean that if a new customer wants a Foxtel connection a gang of workers has to come out to your property with back hoes and shovels to dig a trench. Someone has to pay for that.

Soon it will be us.

Why us? Because Murdoch’s Foxtel HFC cable is due to become part of Turnbull’s “NBN”. When a new HFC cable is installed, we – the taxpayers – will pay part or all of the cost, relieving Murdoch of one of the greatest cash drains in his operation.

Telstra, of course has a big share in Foxtel, so I guess they won’t be complaining either. Telstra already uses the HFC cable for internet… that’s how I get mine, by using the old Foxtel connection only for data. One of my greatest pleasures is to use Murdoch’s battered wire – the one HE paid to install, back in the early days of 2001 – to download iView programs and YouTubes when the broadcast TV menu is just too awful to watch (Psychic TV – online charlatans reading your tarots – can be depressing at times)

We are being stitched up. The ABC will be emasculated, punters will pay more for services they don’t want. All so the Old Man can thumb his nose at New York, who said he’d never make the Australian territory pay. They didn’t reckon on his determination to buy a country and its government.

Unfortunately for Murdoch, he is old. And his kids, the ones he’s anointed to run his businesses are dopey. The only one he hasn’t given the nod to, Elisabeth, the smart one, has been side-lined. There is hope.

The government he has entrusted to shore up his local empire is dopey as well, and hated. They’ve turned on everyone who voted for them – pensioners, disabled, foolish educators who believed that “Unity Ticket” crap, even more idiotic technocrats who didn’t believe Turnbull would actually “destroy the NBN”.

But not all supporters are voters, or more accurately have large numbers of votes at their disposal. They have money instead. Big Business, short on votes, but long on money and ability to donate, thought Murdoch’s Australia would be a land of milk and honey. It was expected that confidence and prosperity would return, literally overnight after the election. I can still remember Ray Hadley confidently predicting that the shops would “be full tomorrow”, the day after the Liberals wiped out Labor in Western Sydney. Reality has superseded that expectation (and Labor didn’t get wiped out).

There now seems to be a definite chance that it’s going to turn into a train wreck, as the train of spin meets the brick wall of reality. Things aren’t going too well.

Eventually the public will have to choose between the naive, “Bread and circuses” Reality TV show that’s been provided for their tittilation – Gillard scandals, Rudd Restorations, rats whiskers on the Speaker, hookers, 20 year old “scandals”, “Budget Emergencies” and the like – and the brutal facts of the Budget that takes away their entitlements (yes… entitlements) and replaces them with the Law Of The Jungle, Abbott and Murdoch’s jungle.

The “Budget Emergency” will have to be discarded in the minds of the punters, if for nothing else, then just for self-preservation. Without a “Budget Emergency” it becomes permissible to to start whingeing about your lot in life without that nagging guilt of going against the national interest. It’ll go, and along with it, the whole basis of the Budget and the government’s pitch for legitimacy.

In the last week I’ve been around to my suppliers where last year, in some cases, my expressed support for the Gillard government was met with actual open-mouthed shock. The general opinion of me was “Get his money quick. He’s mad.”

Now, not so much. It’s starting in the warehouses, and moving up into the sales offices. People are openly berating the government, looking for fault. You can’t find a lot of punters who admit they voted for Abbott’s mob. Many of these did, of course, and may vote for him again, but right now they’re going with the mob in condemning him. It’s the fashionable thing.

After “fashion” comes “mindset”. Then comes “common wisdom”.

People are sick of eternal struggle. They’re sick of politics and stress. They want to relax and enjoy the benefits of this great country they live in, without being hectored, divided into factions and demographics, and then encouraged to disparage, heckle or pick on each other.

Australia is not a hot-headed country. We’re more laid back about our politics. We like to be “relaxed and comfortable”. Culture wars, seething anger, envy, polemics, lies, spin, scandals and the rest are fun while they last, but we’re tired now.

We want our government to deliver, but in many cases the promises have been broken, and in others the “hundreds of policies” that we were promised were “costed and ready” haven’t got past the back-of-the-envelope stage, pending a thorough vetting by the warriors of the right, for ideological purity.

Australia is small enough for a few players to control. Media moguls, miners, a few banks and two supermarket chains take up far too much of our time and soak up far too much of our disposable income. Our exports are few. We are the world’s consumers. The few who are not involved in this handful of enterprises sell each other real estate and do each others laundry. Scientific research is becoming a secondary, marginal occupation. The physical reality of Climate Change is denied and ridiculed. It is still a “Debate” here, as it is almost nowhere else in the world. Our IT infrastructure is third rate, soon to become fourth or fifth rate, the better to keep antiquated delivery systems artificially current.

We are controlled by a cabal of niche business operators who think they pays us too much for too little work, and who can still buy whole governments to do their bidding… changing laws to benefit them, crushing those who oppose them, suing, arresting and trying – or investigating via Royal Commissions – those who are in their way.

If one of our main exports was bananas it would be perfect. But bananas – and most of our other agricultural produce – were dealt out of the last two “Free” trade agreements we have entered into.

Nevertheless, the description “Banana Republic” still applies. Wikipedia tells us:

Banana republic is a political science term for a politically unstable country, whose economy is largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites.[1] This politico-economic oligarchy controls the primary-sector productions to exploit the country’s economy.[2]

Yes, even “political instability” applies, unless you want to argue that the last election, and the media-legal trail of destruction leading up to it, wasn’t a stitched-up farce.

Yep, “banana republic” does it for me. But what are we going to DO about it?