JIM COOMBS: “What’s good for General Bullmoose….” The Everest Affair and the Banking Royal Commission show the highly limited (I am attracted by the old term “purblind”)thinking which is driving the nation.Oct 13, 2018
Prime Minister Morrison, for such, alas, he is, sees the Opera House as a billboard for promoting whoever can pay for it. That’s BUSINESS, isn’t it ? Anything that turns a quid is, for them, Business, and that’s good enough. Indeed this government seems to think its job is done if it looks after business, and devil take the hindmost. And then sell off government functions so that some entrepreneur (French for middleman) can squeeze a profit out of the citizens. The sale of NSW Land Titles Office ( which one would think was a key function of government : control of land and title) led to gouging up to 1800% of previous state charges. Great for Business, bad for the state and its citizens. The privatisation of the responsibilities of government, such as the operation of prisons is an abrogation of its responsibilities and has dire results, due to lack of adequate supervision. When children are taken into care, subject to court orders, the government should not pass them on to agencies which may or may not do justice in the situation, which is the state’s responsibility.
The role of government and the health of the nation are not aptly described by saying “business is booming”. Ministers of the Crown would often say that our banks are the best in the world, and it turns out that they are best at cheating their customers. And then there are insurers, nursing home operators ( dear me, another Royal Commission !), let alone the operators and promoters of on-line gambling and poker machines. “Gamble responsibly” is an oxymoron, more a contradiction in terms.
As all us elitist latte sippers know from Government I, the social contract between government and people is that the people shall be protected and their welfare promoted. Unless we are fed, and allowed to live in health, our children educated, a system of law and justice protects us from crime and exploitation, the government fails to meet its end of the bargain. So it is in democratic societies the government is to ensure that the basic things are available to all, not just to the highest bidder, or those with “market power”. It is from this contractual relationship that the idea of “public goods” arises; health care and prevention of disease, clean water and sewerage, public transport available equitably to all, free education, are all best provided by the state as “the market” will not provide equal access to these essentials of a civilized society.
A government that believes that it has met its responsibilities by giving “business” free rein is foolishly ignorant of what a government is supposed to do under the social contract. A stable banking system which deals fairly with its customers is a prerequisite of a capitalist society. Proper regulation and application of penalties that fit the crime of cheating customers are clearly essential, or the whole edifice of the capitalist system comes crashing to the ground.
Treating everything as a commodity subject to market forces is what Immanuel Kant called a Category Mistake. Knowledge, art, music, the mystery of the universe cannot reasonably be something subject to buyer-seller market forces. These things can only be evaluated in their own terms. As Oscar Wilde put it, a cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Jim Coombs studied economics, philosophy and politics and started work with the Atomic Energy Commission and is a nearly retired magistrate.