At the core of the liberal philosophy which guides our modern societies are two principles – free people and free markets. It has generally been assumed that these are in harmony. But as the populist consequences of the GFC continue to reverberate through our world, establishment liberals are being forced to choose between the two. Time after time, unelected officials have chosen to protect the markets against the consequences of democracy in a way that lays bare their true priorities.
The top university in Australia recently announced a new scheme for assessing undergraduate applicants. The ANU’s new policy will substantially loosen the requirements for academic results and add a new requirement for extra-curricular activities. This acts to screen out those from working class backgrounds and ensure those from the upper class take their ordained place, regardless of talent.
In the classic form of capitalism, companies competed to sell their products to customers with the aim of producing profits to fuel further expansion. Today, companies no longer need to make profits in order to command massive valuations. Making money is no longer a prerequisite for business success. Instead, these companies serve as stock market vehicles, catering to the whims of investors rather than customers. This serves to remove any measure of control ordinary people might have been able to impose upon corporations through their choices in the market.
Back in the bad old days of slavery and serfdom, there was a class of people who weren’t quite slaves, but weren’t free either. These indentured servants were tied by contract to serve a particular master as slaves, but only for a specified period (typically 3-7 years). Folks who were desperate for passage to the Americas or who had accumulated debts beyond their ability to pay would sell themselves into virtual slavery with the hope of a better life after their period of bondage ended. South Sea Islanders were coerced into similar contracts to labour in Queensland in the late 1800s, long after such arrangements were outlawed for white folks. But were they actually outlawed, or just transferred into another form?
Four years ago, the Liberal government assured us that hard budgetary cuts were required to tame a “debt and deficit disaster”. Since then, that same government has increased our net debt by more than 55%, or $129 billion. When tonight’s budget is released, Treasurer Scott Morrison is expected to find money for tax cuts, both for personal incomes and to fund the corporate tax cuts for the big businesses which have yet to pass through the Senate, while the budget remains in deficit. The Medicare levy increase which was to fund the NDIS has been scrapped. If our national debt is such a crisis, then how can we afford such cuts to revenue?
In our market society, every thing is transformed into a commodity to be bought and sold. Buyers and sellers meet to trade not only petrol, but also fine art and literature. We also sell ourselves on the market, renting out our lives to employers. In our current epoch these commodities are not just sold, but actively moulded to better suit the demands of the market. Not only do brewers adjust their formulations based on sales, but we shape ourselves to better fit our perceptions of what the market demands.
How do we solve the coming decimation of jobs through automation? The solution of a Universal Basic Income has united both Silicon Valley libertarians and social democrats, offering a guaranteed income to every citizen. But the practical and political issues with the UBI mean it will only serve as a temporary salve for the underlying problems. Instead, progressives must argue for Universal Basic Services, drawing on the history of publicly provided health and education services to build a state fit for the 21st century.
Mankind’s capacity for creative work is what distinguishes us from the animals. People through history have created great works of art, literature and technological achievements as a means of self-actualisation. But what is labour without self-expression?
Companies deploy elegant public relations masks in order to appear a positive influence on our society and lives. BP claims to deliver services that “help drive the transition to a low carbon future”. Northrop Grumman are “committed to maintaining the highest of ethical standards, embracing diversity and inclusion, protecting the environment, and striving to be an ideal corporate citizen in the community and in the world.” But beneath the hollow sheen of advertisements and corporate branding is an ugly demonstration of what is really important to the corporations who run our lives.
The ABC is under intense scrutiny from News Corp’s battery of scribes to avoid any hint of a leftward lean. Prime Minister Turnbull’s office felt it necessary to directly intervene against Emma Alberici’s analysis of tax paid by corporations. It seems his office thought that too much emphasis was placed on company revenues rather than profits, creating the impression that these companies were tax dodging freeloaders, rather than legitimately tax minimising freeloaders. So in the wake of such scrutiny on ABC partisanship, I was intrigued to see this week’s edition of their flagship discussion program, Q&A. Q&A brings together a panel of guests from across the political and media spectrum to face questions from a general public audience, and in concept is an excellent idea to encourage political accountability and debate within the country. In practice, it felt like I’d stepped into a Sargon of Akkad live stream.