Is Inequality Fracturing Our Society? – Social Policy Connections

Extract from an article by Gary Harkin.

Inequality has grown to unimagined extremes in our world. A recent report by Oxfam dramatically protests about “Eighty billionaires controlling as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet”. Meanwhile, in Australia, the independent Fair Work Commission made a decision on 23 February to reduce Sunday penalty rates. The ACTU has dubbed this action imposed on Australia’s lowest-paid workers “the greatest cut to working people’s wages since the Great Depression”.

Whatever Australians feel about paying more for their cafe latte on a Sunday than during the week, there is a bigger issue here than the wage reduction – that is, the philosophical underpinning of the decision, and its implicit support from the federal government.

Most of us still enjoy Sunday as a day of rest, if not from a religious perspective any longer, then certainly from a family and recreational perspective. On Sundays, teachers don’t teach, children don’t go to school, the stock exchange is closed, parliament doesn’t sit, and professional folk have their feet up. Not so for those who need to supplement their incomes by working on Sunday. Our conventional understanding has been that if these workers are denied the opportunity of precious family time, then they should be fairly compensated.

Inequality growing

Inequality is a slow-acting poison in our culture, and it’s still growing. In Australia, we witness the inadequacy of many government transfer payments to the disadvantaged. We see it in the tax breaks to the property investor, via negative gearing and generous capital gains tax provisions, while many first-home buyers are struggling or locked out of the market. Such economic settings are often taken for granted, rather than evaluated in terms of justice and social equity.

The essence of this conservative economics is a belief in the sacredness of the market, without situating the market within an ethical framework aimed at the wellbeing of all the people. The so-called trickle-down theory proclaims that wealth and success will generally cascade down from employers to employees.

On the contrary, one can argue convincingly that wealth and success often flow first to owners and shareholders, as opposed to employees, and that an increase in the wealth of the few entails the increasing marginalisation and impoverishment of many others.

SOURCE: Harkin, Gary. “Is Inequality Fracturing Our Society?” Social Policy Connections, 2 March 2017.

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