ALLAN PATIENCE. Complacency is the opiate of the Australian masses.

So, QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce’s annual salary is now some $24 million dollars. This is over three hundred times the average Australian salary. Other CEOs are also being paid well into the tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile the wages of the vast majority of Australian workers are flat-lining as the cost of living relentlessly heads upwards.

The growing inequality that this points to ought to be galvanising people into some kind of mass protest movement. But the good old Aussie masses remain mired in complacency. It’s as if everyone has given up. Perhaps people even think that those CEOs are actually entitled to their grotesquely inflated salaries and associated lurks and perks.

Meanwhile, politicians at federal and state levels have been granted eye-watering increases in their salaries and allowances. In the universities, vice chancellors and other senior managers are being paid way out of proportion to the salaries granted to teaching and research staff. Medical specialists are demanding fees that are placing their services out of reach of large numbers of people who are seriously ill, in need of treatment, and in many cases whose lives are at risk because they simply can’t afford that treatment. Lawyers demand fees that make the idea of justice totally risible for far too many aggrieved citizens.

Across the Australian economy we now see a selfish minority class siphoning off the bulk of whatever profits are being made, while the crumbs are left for the majority of workers. The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening by the day. The few who have the money can be kept alive (and even botoxed and face-lifted), educated, and keep out of jail, while increasing numbers have no such luck. Australian society is in grave danger of being torn asunder by this economically poisonous development.

How has it come to this?

An anti-culture of complacency has been confected across Australian society that meshes sickeningly with the ideology of neoliberalism. This anti-culture manipulates public opinion so that people falsely believe that the likes of Alan Joyce, or the vice chancellors, the politicians, the medical specialists, and the legal eagles actually deserve their massive pay packets – that because of their business acumen, stressful work demands, and hard-to-achieve professional qualifications, they are entitled to be paid way in excess of the wages and salaries of ordinary mortals.

Reputable academic researchers dispute the view that the fabulously well-paid are entitled to their good fortune. Unequal societies in which wealth has become dangerously concentrated in the hands of the few at the top of the wealth distribution pyramid, are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. “How is it,” ask Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their excellent book, The Spirit Level: How is it that equality makes societies stronger, “that we have so much mental and emotional suffering despite levels of wealth and comfort unprecedented in human history?” They marshal compelling evidence to show that the patterns of inequality now entrenched in the developed world are not only unjust, but destructive of social cohesion, mental health, high productivity, and general wellbeing.

The ultimate irony is this inequality characterising all the contemporary capitalist societies is driving those societies to the edge of a socio-economic precipice. In his disturbingly prescient book, How Will Capitalism End? Wolfgang Streeck notes: “There is a widespread sense today that capitalism is in critical condition. Looking back, the crash of 2008 was only the latest in a long sequence of political and economic disorders that began with the end of post-war prosperity in the mid 1970s.”

The opiate of Australian complacency has befuddled so many policy-makers’ minds that the country’s leadership is sleep-walking into a weakening economy and an increasingly vulnerable and conflicted society. The dominant ideological perspective remains that, given time, somehow, anyhow, the free market, devoid of all regulatory oversight, will fix everything up. But time is running out. Moreover, the deregulated chickens are coming noisily home to roost. As the Royal Commissions into the financial sector and the aged care sector are demonstrating, with devastating clarity, deregulation has been the problem all along.

What is to be done?

It’s time to regulate the salaries of CEOs. Their pay must be as proportionate to their companies’ turnovers as their workers – those who do the hard yards to create the cash flows and profits over which senior managers and shareholders currently have a totally unjust and ultimately counterproductive monopoly. Neoliberal policies have handed this monopoly to them with little regard for the wealth-makers – the workers – whose wages and salaries have remained ridiculously static for far too long.

Let’s face it: Alan Joyce’s 24 million dollar payment for his service to QANTAS is obscene. So too are the multi-million dollar salaries being awarded to other leading CEOs across the Australian economy. They are only able to get away with this kind of highway robbery because their workers and their unions are living in a cloud of complacency which ultimately means they are collaborating with the injustice and economic madness that hands the Joyces of this world such absurdly high rewards. QANTAS workers would have every justification to down tools until they are awarded wages and salaries substantially in excess of what they currently receive. And they should strike until their CEO’s salary is cute back to at least one twentieth of what it is currently.

Allan Patience is a Melbourne-based academic.

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6 Responses to ALLAN PATIENCE. Complacency is the opiate of the Australian masses.

  1. Robert Stewart says:

    We’ve got a long way to go Allan. Joyce’s salary 300 times average. In the US quite a few get (don’t earn – get!) up to 600+ times average. And talking about salaries misses the big picture. The big bucks aren’t in salaries. Salaries are for the proles. Jeff Bezos probably pays himself a paltry salary of a few bucks a year. It’s wealth where the tax dodging, unearned robbery action is really at.

    A few years ago Oxfam found that the richest 8 individuals on the planet had more wealth than the bottom 50% of humanity (that would be about 3,800,000,000 people). Complacency? Sure was.That revelation barely made a ripple in the news. Should have been a revolution. The 2008 GFC collapse? Nope. Not a collapse at all, that was an “opportunity”. Obama et al did their traitorous work and bailed out the rich and starved the poor, an exemplar of corporate welfare at work.

    Of course I agree our C-suite salaries are unearned disgraceful thievery. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And things like the RC into the Banks were more about theatre – stern looks and opprobrium from Hayne, Orr et al – and less about substance (bread and circuses, without the bread). The report and recommendations are a squib. The bankers and their top end of town mates will already be stuffing their filthy pockets again. And our politicians will do nothing about it because they look forward to cashing in – just ask Julie or Christopher. When was the last time a politician left politics to go and work for a union or social welfare group?

  2. Capitalism is Australia is increasingly becoming unjust, corrupt and unsustainable. The system does not care for the poor and vulnerable. It does not care for workers who are the real creators of wealth. It is designed to cater for the top end of town. Australian pensioners can not afford to see a specialist who charges $490 for a 5 minute consultation. Poor and disadvantaged people can not afford justice as the legal system is based on premium fees for service and is designed to trap vulnerable victims into institutions. Australian youth rightly see the clear and present danger from climate change and its deniers. Instead of despair, a growing number of Australians are focusing on solutions, practical remedies and action. Our Prime Minister is wining and dining with Trump at the White House and their circle of billionaires. How long will this last?

  3. Andreas Wagner says:

    The author suggested a salary reduction to 1/20th of 24 Mil, that would leave poor Mr Joyce with 1.2 Mil and the remainder would indeed make a difference to QF staff.

  4. R. N. England says:

    In the days of imperial honours, some of those honoured turned down dukedoms and earldoms because they didn’t have the wealth that the general public expected of people of such high status.

    The income of the little leprechaun reflects the extent to which he is fawned on by shareholders and the general public. The system is in positive feedback. The more he is paid, the more he is fawned on, and the more he is fawned on, the more he is paid. His celebrity is an asset to the company. Frequent fawners fly QANTAS.

  5. Evan Hadkins says:

    Rule of thumb: level of salary correlates with degree of irrelevance. If most of these people fell under a bus tomorrow, most of us wouldn’t see any noticeable differences.

    I’m wondering if half of Alan Joyce’s salary was distributed to QANTAS employees, how much difference this would make.

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