To take but two examples, Education and Tourism, it seems our economic system is designed to service the desires of the already well-provided-for.
I was listening to ABC’s The Minefield (my left wing bias showing already) and Walid Aly expressed succinctly a feeling I have had – unease at going to a luxury resort, in his case in Sri Lanka; unease at consuming in a way that the people outside the compound could hardly conceive of, quite apart from the vacuity of going to partake of western style luxury in a country where poverty and starvation are there for your eyes to see. At least insensitive, at worst immoral. One can hardly credibly claim that this is good for the mass of those outside the “resort”. Our harbours are cluttered with cruise ships, mobile hotels, guaranteeing minimal contact with the reality of the exotic climes they visit. My idea of Hell. Surely the benefit of travel should be to experience what life is like in other countries. But such stuff is widely promoted and advertised, so someone must be raking it in, but not the man in the Colombo omnibus. But the fact that we can tolerate this patent unfairness, by calling it “business”, as though our moral compass stops operating at that point, is a sad reflection on what “neoliberal economics” (whatever that is) has brought us to.
The Hawke government did worse than privatise the Commonwealth Bank and deregulate them all to allow cartel profiteering with a government guarantee; it turned education into a commodity. The birthright of our children and grandchildren to access to the world of knowledge became reduced to a mere job ticket, sellable to those who had the disposable income to buy it. Even worse, we turned our back on worthy schemes like the Colombo Plan (I knew there was a connecting link) where worthy nominees from less wealthy countries in the region could improve their education. Now it seems the wealthy families of poor nations get first bite of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and we cash in. Instead of being places where knowledge was pursued for its own sake, we now flog off certificates in marketing, management and public relations, which if they ever do advance human knowledge, corrupt it by directing it to money making. As Richard Nixon’s personal philosopher, W. Clement Stone, so eloquently put it, PMA gets you OPM (positive mental attitude gets you other people’s money). What has become of John Henry Newman’s Idea of the University ?
All politicians should read Mohamad Yusuf (the mastermind of microfinance)’s recent book. He optimistically believes that our capitalist economic system, with legal and regulatory tweaking, would allow altruism to have full play. But that tweaking is anathema to the rent-takers, let alone the cartel of banks which do not want their right to huge profits affected by institutions based on trust rather than entrepreneurialism (taking a cut as a middle-man) . The rent-takers have government by the throat. Now don’t get me started on Dwight Eisenhower’s bug-bear, the Military–Industrial-Complex !
Jim Coombs is a nearly retired Magistrate and old fashioned economist.