I don’t know anything about economics, which is stupid, especially as I get the feeling there are secret algorithms at work behind the grinding gears of human bone that make up the infernal machinery of society, whose operating system is a thieves’ cant spoken by property developers, bankers and corrupt politicians. Almost 250 years ago, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations wrote: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” and, whether by ‘masters’ he meant the landed gentry (old money) or the upstart merchant class (new money), a distinction best left to pedants and historians, he was right.
Smith was right then, and he’s right now. The wealthy buy political influence to maintain and increase their own wealth. That becomes the rule of society, the purpose of politics, and the unwitting raison d’être for all of us wage-slaves. Most of us are pushing shit uphill with a pointed stick.
I spoke to a guy yesterday who earns more than $150K, lives in a big house, owns several investment properties, and drives a HSV GTS Maloo. Now, on the face of it this guy has money coming out of his ass, yet when quizzed why he was angling for another promotion he looked at me the way you might a simpleton. He did everything except pat on the head. “For the money, mate” he said, keeping it simple for my benefit. For the money. And no, I’m not about to launch off on some outdated socialist diatribe, just a quick reality-check: we all know (don’t we?) that if happiness is your life-goal (isn’t it?) then money doesn’t make you happier once your reach a certain income. $150K in AUD is definitely above that point, even in super-expensive Sydney. So what’s it about, really?
I read in the NYT today that the mood in Davos, Switzerland, at the current World Economic Forum, is grim. I can understand why: with panoramic view of the Swiss Alps and a limitless supply of canapes and chablis, the international elites have met to discuss a re-writing of capitalism that would also benefit the masses — redistribution of wealth — in the full knowledge that them’s fightin’ words. Their point: ignore at your peril the revolutionary sentiment behind the Occupy protests, the Brexit result, and the groundswell behind Trump. Forget climate-change (actually, please don’t) THIS is the peril facing our generation. So, what (here, the shabbily distinguished elite steps over to the vast window in his crumpled Armani suit to gaze at the sun, glinting off the Rinerhorn, and sips meditatively on his Bollinger) what exactly are we going to do about it?
Well, for starters, I’d want know if we all in the same leaky boat. I’m not sure the Scandinavian countries would agree, or Germany for that fact. They just want to repatriate all their troublesome refugees, Economics 101 they already passed, thanks very much. Think globally, act locally.
So do we even need a revolution in Australia where the prevailing attitude has always been, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Let’s assume for a second that I understand enough economics following the logic that you don’t need to be a mechanic to know when your car is buggered. If our sunburnt country was in fine economic fettle right now, the government would be all high-fives over another quarter of economic growth. Ditto, the conga-lines in Canberra over the dip in unemployment figures. Champagne corks would be the only thing going up with regard to inflation. Federal and state budgets would mesh to deliver the lifestyle we all so richly deserve. Our government debt would be the gold standard of the Western world, and our credit rating would be unassailable. Angela Merkel would be on the phone, perhaps. Even those Scandinavians might pause in their artisanal bread-making and rug-weaving to rub their hipster chins in admiration. But that’s not the case.
Get the actual numbers from here if you want them, but Australian’s are not pointing towards the rosy glow on the horizon (unless it’s the glow of bushfires). They’re grabbing what they can possibly grab, and bracing themselves for the coming storm. Why? Because unemployment is much worse than the numbers suggest, especially for the young. Because the cost of living rises while wages stagnate. Because the government won’t make hard decisions (like taxing the rich) to balance the current account. Because our national debt is on the verge of unsustainable. Australia has always been proud that our small (pop 25M) nation can punch above its weight. Well, that day might be about to end.
There are too many markers to link to here, but the World Economic Forum could have been hosted atop the bone-dry hill in Canberra, with our uneasy elites gazing north at the smoke plumes from the fires at Tarago. The same feeling, that we are staring into an abyss, is prevalent everywhere I look.
So what’s the solution? Line your pockets! Screw everyone else! Look after yourself! If that’s true, then Adam Smith (and Karl Marx, and Noam Chomsky) was right about ‘the vile maxim’.
Capitalism was never about working hard so that economic prosperity trickles down to us workers. At the end of the day, democracy and capitalism are incompatible and would forever be at loggerheads. So why haven’t we noticed? What does it say that we’ve lived in a ‘capitalist democracy’ for so long without a revolution? Secondly, perhaps answering the first question, have we ever really lived in a democracy or are we actually living in a plutocracy, which has bribed us into silent apathy with promises of plasma televisions, holidays abroad, and a HSV GTS Maloo ute?
Fair question, don’t you think.
So would it be fair to storm the bastions and sweep the billionaires/architects of the system out into the gutter when we’ve finally had enough? Shouldn’t we actually be setting ourselves on fire for our apathy, complicity and outright stupidity? I can’t see it ever happening in Australia, we’re a blame-shifting anti-authoritarian bunch, but if it does, I know what side of the line I’ll be standing on.