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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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June 21, 2006

Ross Gittens, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, has a useful account of what social democracy once stood for in Australia. It endeavoured to correct the underlying structural (class) inequalities of education, health, employment, housing and location to achieve a fairer society by actively by pursuing six policy goals:

* Full-time employment for anyone who wanted it;

* A legislated set of minimum wages and conditions sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living, rising in line with national prosperity;

* A balance of bargaining power in the workplace;

* A means-tested but dignified safety net of welfare payments to cover short-term contingencies;

* A strongly progressive tax system; and

* Equality of access, across socio-economic groups and geographic regions, to public services such as good education and health care, housing and public transport.

Gittens, commenting on a paper by Fred Argy for the Australia Institute says that Governments didn't always attain those objectives, of course, but they did accept their legitimacy and they did strive for them.

No more. That was yesterday. Today, a neo-liberal mode of governance equates social justice (a fairer Australia) with a job. As Kevin Andrews, the Minister of Industrial Relations, says on Lateline 'fairness starts with the chance of a job.'

Is that all there is to justice as fairness? How does the Andrew's conception of fairness temper the effects of markets on income and wealth inequality?

The most dramatic reversal in social democracy's policy goals has been the undermining of both the minimum wages and conditions sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living and the balance of bargaining power in the workplace. As Argy points out, as the spending on middle-class concessions increases the the share of government spending going to the poorest 20 per cent has tended to decline appreciably, especially in the spending on health and school education.

Gittens comments that as:

spending on maintaining general public services struggles to keep up with demand, we're developing a two-class system in education (public versus private), health (public v private), housing (owners v renters), public transport (inner v outer suburbs) and location (city v country).

Welcome to the new neo-liberal world and the aspirational middle class. Will they accept Howard in a world of increasing interest rates coupled with the effects of the IR legislation and an effective scare campaign being run by the unions?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:13 AM | | Comments (4)
Comments

Comments

Interesting stuff. The multifarious two-class system that we seem to be encouraging at the moment is an interesting way of looking at it.

Guy
another way of looking at ithe undermining of social democracy is through the importation of cheap labour as a way to alleviate the spiralling costs arising from the skills crisis.

A recent example is ABC Tissues in Sydney, where unions claim poorly-trained and low paid Chinese workers are being used to build a giant tissue-making machine. See Lateline
The thin edge of the wedge?

Definitely.

The point of the cheap offshore labour is not their cheapness, it's that they lower the wage baseline for all workers in that industry.

Coupled with the employer's new IR upper hand will mean low skilled worker's will be having their living standards reduced further.

The current mantra seems to be that having a job will solve all social ills - reference the isolated indigenous community debate for one. But I believe that having a poorly paid job, with the threat of summary dismissal constantly hanging over you, while working any hours the employer deems necessary will be as deleterious to the person employed as being unemployed.

All this while the economy is performing reasonably, what will happen once it hits the wall?

BigBob,
I agree with your analysis--its the low wage scenario for the working poor coupled to high wages for the global skilled workers.

The aspirational middle class do not care about the working poor. That is why they are aspirational--they are getting away from being amongst the working as fast as they can. Howard's job, as they see it, is to ensure that they can, by keeping the economy humming along.

The problem re the economic downturn---that's Costello's problem, is it not? Or the ALP's?

What are they going to do about the human waste--the "wasted humans" who are demed to be are the excess, the superfluous because they are redundant and no longer fit into society or who for one reason or another are not? Treat them we would waste?
allowed to stay.