Excerpts from a popular song: Ain’t We Got Fun (1921)
There’s nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get children
In the meantime, in between time
Ain’t we got fun?
There’s nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get laid off
In the meantime, in between time
Ain’t we got fun?
They’ve cut my wages
But my income tax will be so much smaller
When I’m laid off, I’ll be paid off
Ain’t we got fun?
There’s nothing surer:
the rich get rich, and the poor get poorer.
In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun?
Songwriters: Raymond B Egan / Gus Kahn / Richard A Whiting
Was this ditty meant to be lightly entertaining, or was it thinly disguised social commentary? Buggered if I know, but I can guess what it might have meant to people who were still reeling from the impact of “the war to end all wars”. The wealthy may have found it amusing, but I doubt that society’s paupers were trying not to spill their champagne, whilst dancing the foxtrot.
In 2021, not all that far away, the “gap” between society’s rich and poor will almost certainly be even wider than it was in 1921, but comparisons are irrelevant, since the simple fact that such an enormous wealth gap exists at all, is an indictment of the world society.
Global wealth is produced by people – not all of the people, but an enormous majority of them. However, that wealth is not shared equitably.
I’m not suggesting that we steal from the rich and give to the poor. I’m proposing that we use global wealth to reduce poverty (its eradication will always be a pipedream).
If I try to present a case using a global perspective, I’ll still be writing in 2021, and I’ll be no nearer to achieving my goal. Instead, I’ll limit myself to talking in general principles, and use some salient examples to bolster my argument.
And I’m specifically not talking about supporting the bludgers, those who won’t contribute to the society’s wealth.
I was earning an income at the age of 14, in an attempt to help support my mother, brother and sister, and I was still earning an income 50 years later. I’ve got no time for people who think that the world should pay them for doing bugger all.
There are numerous articles, which credit reliable sources, quoting statistics which show how out of balance the distribution of global wealth happens to be. I won’t bother much with them. Anyone who needs empirical proof of the reality of such heinous inequality, wouldn’t be reading my rants anyway, but some references may prove revealing.
Let’s take it as read, that the situation is such that we might easily be talking about the abuse of human rights. When the wants of a few are satisfied to the detriment of millions, something is seriously wrong.
In Australia, allegedly a developed, modern nation, and supposedly possessed of a social conscience, the gap between the most wealthy and the least wealthy, yawns extravagantly. Consecutive Federal governments have created, supported and promoted this arrangement, simply because it’s in the interests of politicians to do so. Who will fund their election campaigns and lavish lifestyles, if not the mega companies and the obscenely rich individuals who control them?
According to the Australian Financial Review Rich List 2018:
Anthony Pratt, of the cardboard empire, Visy, has a net wealth of $12.9 billion.
Property developer Harry Triguboff has $12.77 billion.
Mining megastar Gina Rinehart has $12.68 billion.
If I press the calculator buttons correctly, that’s about thirty eight billion dollars, shared between three people.
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So, why do individuals want to possess wealth that is so totally out of step with the satisfaction of needs?
I suspect that an in-depth psychoanalysis of these individuals would reveal some fascinating data, but I don’t have the skills or the opportunity to make such a study, so I’ll just do what I always do in this situation – I’ll guess.
Greed, avarice, gluttony, the words all mean basically the same thing and I’m sure that the psychotic desire to possess more is a principal motivation for the super-rich, but I believe that the acquisition of material wealth is only part of the wealth equation.
An exaggerated need for power is probably an even more significant motivating factor. Narcissistic individuals seem to need constant and extreme reinforcement of self-image. They require the type and range of power that continually bolsters egos, which, despite the security that should accrue to the filthy rich by virtue of their enormous wealth, may be exceedingly fragile.
It may be understandable. How do the mega rich know whether other people are interested in them, as people, or are merely attracted to them because of their wealth?
How do the ultra-wealthy define themselves as people? Are they, first and foremost, members of the human race – parents, friends and people who seek the companionships of others – or do they see themselves as superior beings, defined primarily by their bank balances and material assets? If wealth equals worth, how much wealth is enough?
If we forget the rich and famous for a moment, we might be able to suggest just how much money is enough for “normal” people. I’m prepared to lay claim to some sort of normality and, for me, the sole purpose of money is to enable me to satisfy my needs, and, perhaps, some of my wants.
For many people, socialism is a dirty word. I call myself a moderate socialist because, up until now, I could find no other label appropriate to my beliefs, but I certainly do not fit the accepted profile of the traditional believer in pure socialist practices. Perhaps I’m more a believer in the importance of being guided by a social conscience.
Merriam-Webster provides several definitions of the term, the one most acceptable to me being:
“Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”
However, this still doesn’t describe my view.
Merriam-Webster goes on to expand upon their definitions, providing this particularly useful statement:
“Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”
Maybe I’m a social democrat, or a democratic socialist. Frankly, I don’t give a shit what label applies to me – it’s the ideas which are important – and my ideas are based upon a set of defined principles. Here they are:
- The wealth of the world belongs to all of the people who contribute to its creation.
- Regardless of the nature of their contribution, people are entitled to, at least, an agreed minimum share of the world’s wealth.
- That minimum share must be sufficient as to enable contributors to enjoy an acceptable “world standard” of living.
- The world’s bludgers get fuck all. No discernible, productive contribution means no share in the rewards.
Some expansion may be required. (Please forgive the use of extremely rudimentary and simplistic economic theory):
- Wealth is achieved through the production of goods and services, which are then sold in a market place, to consumers. This process requires the input and management of labour and capital in order to provide a supply, and a demand that makes the supply viable.
The absence of demand, or of any of the production factors, will result in the failure of the production/consumption process and the inevitable failure to produce wealth.
Therefore, every person who makes a contribution to the process, as a producer or consumer, is entitled to share in the wealth which is created. The worlds’ many millions who live in poverty and on the edge of starvation are consumers and are therefore part of the wealth production process. To deny them a share of the wealth which they help to create by simply supplying a demand, is immoral. To suggest that they have no right to a share, because they are not directly producing wealth, is inhuman. Many of these people are powerless to become producers due to their position in society.
- The “risk versus reward” concept is often used to justify the unequal distribution of wealth. “S/he who takes the greatest risks should gain the greatest rewards”, and it’s virtually impossible to argue against that principle, in principle. However, defining “risk” and “reward” in this context can be an extremely challenging task.
I’d say that Jack and Jill Smith, who use their home as security on a business loan, in order to open a coffee shop, are taking a big risk. (I wouldn’t have the guts to risk my house on any sort of gamble.) Therefore they are initially entitled to big support and big returns, right up until the time that their business is securely established, and their home is no longer at risk.
Anthony Pratt, one of Australia’s richest people, is personally risking nothing when he acquires yet another business. His ultra-successful companies risk little or nothing as they expand and therefore, neither Anthony, nor his businesses, are entitled to extravagant rewards.
- What is an acceptable “world standard” of living?
We do not choose to be born. As children, we have little or no control over our lives so we have no chance to earn rights. Therefore, from the moment of birth, every human being who inhabits the planet must have, as a birthright, an entitlement to adequate food and shelter to sustain life with dignity. At some point, each of us makes a choice to be, or not to be, a contributor to our own welfare and the welfare of the species.
The range of the current division between the world’s richest and poorest is almost inconceivable. The living conditions of the wealthiest human beings are luxurious beyond the comprehension of ordinary people, as are the conditions in which the poorest people barely manage to exist, so the parameters are huge.
If we assume that the world’s filthy rich are managing to survive without hardship, we may reasonably begin to determine an acceptable world standard by asking what it is that “ordinary” people consider acceptable. Fortunately, in Australia, we have relatively few filthy rich and, although far too many, still relatively few who regularly face starvation.
I believe that, in terms of living standards, my family can rightly be classified as “normal”, “ordinary” or “average”. We live in our own homes, some mortgaged; we each have access to private transport; our kids go to public schools; we eat when we want or need to; we have holidays and we work, or have worked, our arses off.
Although, in relative terms we may be considered “well off” and our living conditions luxurious to people who exist below the poverty line, this might be a reasonable starting point from which to begin suggesting an acceptable world standard of living.
Since, for the majority of people, our standard of living is determined by our access to money, this would seem to be the single most important item to address in our quest to establish an acceptable level.
Money may be obtained through employment, through social welfare programmes, or as proceeds of crime. For most people, employment is the preferred option. For some, social welfare programmes are a necessary, short-term alternative to starvation, whilst a small minority see total reliance upon hand-outs or criminal activity as a perfectly acceptable way of satisfying their needs and wants. We’ll deal with this minority group in greater detail under point four.
Access to legitimate employment and a living wage is a key factor in achieving an acceptable standard of living and this is largely determined by the nature of the nation’s political system. Some countries are impoverished due to a lack of natural or human resources, others through greed and corruption by a ruling class. Regimes which profit from denying education to the poor and which regard the “lower classes” as nothing more than a cheap source of labour, use the wealth gap as a means to retain power.
There are few more striking examples of abuse of the poor than the situation in India, which is so extreme as to warrant a separate rant. The actions required to rectify this vile state of affairs include such radical cultural and political change as to place it outside the range of “normality” and therefore definitely beyond the scope of this rant and probably beyond my skill as a writer.
I’ll therefore confine myself to suggesting change within the local context. It’s impossible to believe that Australia’s ruling class would ever countenance change sufficient to eliminate poverty in this amazing country, but, here at least, speculation is feasible.
- It is a sad but true fact of life that there are people in this world who do nothing more than steal oxygen from others.
Few individuals are born to be human detritus. Circumstances beyond the control of children sometimes mean that they are predestined to become adults who are so seriously damaged as to make some of them a burden upon society, whilst others draw upon courage, and sufficient resilience, to become purposeful contributors to society.
Regardless of pre-existing circumstances, people may still choose to live their lives with dignity, as contributors to society, or as wastrels, dependent for survival upon the work of others. The willingness to access education is often the differentiating factor.
It was education alone, which enabled me to break the poverty cycle, into which I was born.
As a young person I was determined to achieve one goal – to have and maintain a loving family in a financially secure home. I worked hard and was fortunate enough to meet and marry a likeminded person. As a result of the choices which we have made together, we have more than realised our dreams.
It is my considered view that no-one who refuses to contribute to society should gain access to society’s benefits.
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