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The poor have ye always with you

June 17th, 2011

There was a time when Labor’s aim for the poor and disadvantaged was to end poverty and disadvantage. Now the best they can hope for is “extending opportunity“. Even equality of opportunity is a step too far it seems.

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  1. June 17th, 2011 at 15:59 | #1

    Its like watching the once grand old party slowly fading away. Soon all that will be left will be the smile on the face of Mark Arbib.

  2. Alan
    June 17th, 2011 at 16:19 | #2

    The story in The Australian has piqued my interest. Is there an accurate report available anywhere?

  3. Chris Warren
    June 17th, 2011 at 16:37 | #3

    You ain’t seen nothing yet – wait until they start talking about “Austerity”.

  4. Freelander
    June 17th, 2011 at 16:45 | #4

    I’m not sure that the poor were always there. Or at least there wasn’t always a need for “Poor Laws”. I thought the poor came about when the commons got privatised because the aristocrats saw money in running sheep on them and not compensating the common folk for what they lost was the most profitable way to go. Almost overnight there were suddenly poor that required managing. Poor Laws were passed so that looking after them was the responsibility of each parish (that is, responsibility of those indolent common folk that Ayn Rand wrote about rather than the Atlases, the aristocrats who make everything happen, and are capable of shrugging).

    The new aristocrats, in Labor, the Labor Atlases, who rose on the back of a worker/union revolution, now recognise that it is they, not those indolent common folk, who make things happen. Hence, a new set of Poor Laws to get those for whom there are no jobs, sorry, should be who willfully choose not to work, to grasp the opportunities there for the taking.

    I am sure many of us have room for one more on our plantation, if only they are willing to take the terms of employment offered (and as long as they are not ‘job snobs’).

    Equality of opportunity is such a flawed concept. It presupposes that those without opportunity are the equal of the noble class of supermen (and superwomen).

  5. June 17th, 2011 at 21:08 | #5

    This is somehow completely meaningless? Isn’t it? Equality of opportunity? WTF.

    Gillard is such a goose. What a great photo.

  6. boconnor
    June 17th, 2011 at 21:12 | #6

    Hmm..I wonder how they are going to implement “…reshape how we distribute opportunity in this society”? Perhaps a voucher system: each family gets an “opportunity” voucher that they can use as they like. They could call it the MyOpp initiative.

  7. June 17th, 2011 at 22:09 | #7

    And when does, “extending opportunity” converge with, “Buckleys”?

  8. Gavin R. Putland
    June 17th, 2011 at 22:11 | #8

    If you want to extend opportunity down to the bottom of the pyramid, here are two GetUp! campaign suggestions.

    Make payroll tax progressive: http://t.co/Ghdda6p .

    Make the Superannuation Guarantee progressive: http://t.co/OgbYweY .

  9. Ikonoclast
    June 18th, 2011 at 07:15 | #9

    Maybe we could structurally analyse “extending opportunity”. (Note, I am being a little ironic and partly serious here.)

    The first sayings it recalls are “extending a lending hand” or “extending charity”. Thus a government which has a duty to work for all its citizens, now sees this not as a duty but as a charity they are doing out of the goodness of their hearts. How big of them to “lend a hand”!

    Then if we look at “extending” we see that it splits into “ex” and “tending”. Here is the coded message. They will be “ex-tending”, that is the exiting and finishing of tending. “Opportunity” is also actually code, if your slur your words a little, for “opposite of unity”.

    So what the government is actually saying is “We will no longer be tending to citizen’s needs as we stand for the opposite of unity, (namely we stand for the corporate, financial and mangerial elite only)”.

    If anyone uses complex or artificial language (weasel words) when simple language would suffice then they are almost certainly telling lies or covering up something. The choice of weasel words is then often suggested to them by a mental process that is prone to making Freudian slips. The Freudian slips can be uncovered by the process of structural analysis as above.

  10. Freelander
    June 18th, 2011 at 15:33 | #10

    Incentivize the indolent (and undeserving) poor by extending opportunity by withdrawing poverty traps and nanny state cradle to grave education, health and welfare entitlements? Why not bring in a poll tax? I think Labor are rapidly losing support but given the immediate b&stardry of the coalition NSW and Vic state governments, the alternative is bleak.

  11. June 18th, 2011 at 18:25 | #11

    Pr Q said:

    There was a time when Labor’s aim for the poor and disadvantaged was to end poverty and disadvantage.

    Its mostly a waste of time to moan about the Right-ward drift of the ALP. A topic that has been a staple of demoralised Left-wing intellectuals ever since Robert Michels denounced the Iron Law of Oligarchy in the German Social Democrat party exactly 100 years ago. Left-wing parties are very much victims of social forces way beyond their control, which is why they tend to be fixated on politics-as-usual managerialism and crisis-management.

    The middle class is currently being squeezed between a parasitic financial over-class and a dysfunctional under-class. Somehow capitalist plutocrats (and their flunkeys) and statist bureaucrats (and their charges) seemed to have swallowed up all the productivity gains made in the past 40 years.

    With the worst ideological excesses being the result of capitalist-statist sweetheart contracts, so called private-public partnerships. These conspiracies against the tax-payer get toxic real quick under the prevailing “debtquity & diversity” culture. The absolute catastrophe engineered by Fannie Mae, in cahoots with Wall Street, is only the worst example of a very bad bunch.

    Restoring the middle class is not a utopian goal, we only have to recover the world of our fathers. The golden age of the middle class spanned the 40 year period from the end of WWII to the end of the end of the Vietnam War. An average bread-winner working 40 hours a week could support a wife and two kids, who both had a shot at going to university.

    But the prospects for the middle-class are not exactly bright under this scenario. And don’t start me on AI, which, sooner rather than later, will start to take up traditional white-collar jobs, already being out-sourced to Bangalore.

    I don’t have a detailed plan to go “forward to the past”. Apart from imposing authoritarian controls on the misbehaving elements in the over-class and under-class.

    A wise man once said, the best thing about the working class is leaving it. Of course it would be better still if class-disadvantage left the workers, not the other way around. Somehow the workers must improve their ownership of technology: any suggestions?

  12. Ernestine Gross
    June 18th, 2011 at 22:15 | #12

    Any suggestions on how workers can improve their ownership of technology?

    Here are some:
    1. Legislate that all profits by corporations have to be distributed in the form of dividends. (IT is now such that dividend reinvestment plans together with prospectuses, written in plain English in black and white can be distributed cheaply and the decisions of shareholders can be collected cheaply too.)
    2. Legislate to prohibit directors to issue equity shares of any type and options or other derivatives to themselves or their managers.
    3. Legislate all enterprise bargaining out of existence. But allow over-award payments.
    4. Require corporations to have 66% approval of shareholders for taking on debt other than short term working capital debt.
    5. Increase the top marginal tax rate and use the revenue to pay for teachers such that students are taught by people knowledgeable in the area (high school) and whatever else there is on the agenda.
    6. Legislate for superannuation funds to get their member approval for voting on their behalf as ‘shareholders’.
    7 Introduce a Tobin-type tax (or put restrictions on the quantity of various derivatives)
    8. The difference in cost between glossy print and plain paper black and white information issued by corporations (publicly listed as well as state owned corporations) has to be paid out of managerial after tax income.

    Items 1 to 4 are quite consistent with theoretical models of market economies. So, no ‘left wing’ thingy is required here.

  13. rdb
    June 18th, 2011 at 22:39 | #13

    Nicholas Gruen Who’s giving the disadvantaged a leg up? Club Troppo

    OECD analysis of international educational performance (PDF)reveals that one in three children from poor homes manages to “beat the odds stacked against them to outperform peers from the same socio-economic background and be ranked among the top quarter of students internationally.”

    The study, based on the OECD’s PISA maths, science and reading tests of 15-year olds in PISA 2006 and 2009, shows wide differences between countries: Korea, Finland, Japan, Turkey and Canada do best, while students from countries including Austria, Germany and Brazil are among the weakest performers. Among regional education systems, Shanghai-China and Hong-Kong China do the best.

  14. Ernestine Gross
    June 18th, 2011 at 22:54 | #14

    Addendum. Item 2 in my list refers to existing publicly listed companies not private companies. Obviously, the initial shareholders who provide the equity for a private company are the shareholders.

    Has anyone noticed the inconsistency of rating agencies with the idea of the role of disbursed information? (Ascribed to v. Hayek).

  15. June 19th, 2011 at 00:27 | #15

    Pr Q said:

    The poor have ye always with ye.

    Sadly true. Still, the poor can always be fobbed off with various welfare state measures, cheap entertainment and junk food. (bread and circuses).

    But the middle class is by no means always with us. Krugman is if anything even gloomier than me on this subject:

    The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

    Nor is it true that getting everyone to go to university will restore the middle class to its former glory:

    there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

    In general its remarkable how nostalgic and conservative Krugman’s views on social history have become, especially as post-modernism continues to dissipate social capital.

    For the middle class to once again create a social democracy we have to restore the middle-class to its former social dominance. Major parties do pay political lip service to “working families” and “white picket fences”.

    But invariably policies cater to the needs of elite top-dogs and lumpen under-dogs. Broadly speaking the bottom quintile of society have maintained their share of the income distribution. And of course the top quintile have increased their share. Which implies a squeeze of the middle three quintiles.

    Rawls “difference principle” is a good abstract test of social justice. But I suggest social policy should aim to maximise the well-being of the typical member of the median quintile household rather than typical member of the fifth quintile household.

  16. Ikonoclast
    June 19th, 2011 at 09:21 | #16

    Good on you Ernestine, I agree 100% with your points. They are actually more true to a correct and proper “regulated free market” than our current corporatised market. I don’t think a “regulated free market” is a contradiction in terms. All proper freedoms in society, including a so-called free market, are “freedoms within bounds” so they do not impinge unduly on other freedoms.

    Jack, your attempted distinction between working class and middle class is not valid and not useful. If anyone obtains the main part of her or his income from personal effort (physical or intellectual work) then that person is a worker. If anyone obtains the main part of her or his income from dividends, shares, rent etc. (i.e. from capital) that person is a capitalist or rentier.

    In many cases you will find your so-called middle class person (clerk, librarian or even suburban locum GP for example) is less well paid than a mine labourer, rigger or machinery operator. By what logic are the former middle class and the latter working class?

  17. Jill Rush
    June 19th, 2011 at 09:30 | #17

    People see through the hollow words and it is one of the reasons that the Labor Government is slipping so thoroughly in the polls. The government only considers the polls and how to stir up Tony Abbott and Co in devising policy which is in turn developed by policy wonks in Canberra who are so divorced from the real world that they develop policy which is also divorced from the real world. The centralisation of power in Canberra which started under John Howard has continued under the Rudd/Gillard governments and so those public servants working in the states who did understand what was going on have been a) given redundancies, b) had their jobs reduced to paper shuffling, c) have their opinions dismissed as they are only junior staff, d) are never asked their opinion, e) have stopped providing local advice because it is a career limiting move f) are only waiting for the day they retire because their job is boring and unfulfilling as they only manage contracts which is totally legalistic.

    The Labor Government did look at revitalising the public service with a report which is now gathering dust and yet it would have done more to help this hapless lot than almost any other action. No public servant nowadays would ever advise the Minister that they were making a brave decision – especially as some departments have up to five Ministers. The Labor Party appears to be like lemmings herded by the Liberals towards the cliff.

    So yes the poor will always be among us as the leadership made up of the wealthy politicians and public servants have no comprehension of what it is like to have a sick child in a family where the choice is between buying bread or medicine with nothing spare until payday. Nor do they understand that quality childcare is important but really matters not at all if it is unaffordable in the first place.

  18. June 19th, 2011 at 09:45 | #18

    Rawls difference principle applied to the middle class: “maxi-mid” ie social policy aimed st maximising the well-being of the 50th percentile. As opposed to “maxi-min” ie maximising the well being of the 100th percentile.

  19. Ikonoclast
    June 19th, 2011 at 14:12 | #19

    The real political economy battle is still the intrinsic conflict between labour and capital. The real environmental battle is the conflict between the natural world and capitalism. Humankind has no future if corporate capitalism is not defeated soon. Corporate capitalism is hellbent on a path which will wreck the natural world and civilization with it.

  20. Peter Whiteford
    June 20th, 2011 at 06:38 | #20

    I find a lot of this discussion curious.

    The fact is that the increase in the single rate of age pension following the Harmer Review was the largest real increase in Australian history. The increase in the supply of public housing was also one of the largest in recent decades.

    While the last Budget reduced spending on higher income families, it also increased benefits for lower income families with teenage children by very significant amounts (about $3,000 a year).

    All of these are traditional Labour spending priorities.

    Now one can argue about some of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric, but it is also a fact that not being in paid work is the main cause of poverty for people of working age, and it is also a major contributor to income inequality in Australia. Helping people into paid work and providing the resources and services to support this will improve equality of outcomes and not just of opportunity

  21. Xevram
    June 20th, 2011 at 12:36 | #21

    @EG #12.
    Good points and well made.
    IMO you missed out one biggie, that is the cost of housing, be it to rent or buy.
    One simple change to the tax system as recommended in the latest review, (Henry) and I don’t just mean increasing rent assistance but actually bringing into line the Capital gains tax and Negative Gearing measures. The teenagers and young adults in my household have no illusions about owning a house, they take it as given that they never will.

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