Our richest one percent has doubled its share of national income since 1980.
Buried in an Oxfam report, which found just 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, is a graph showing Australia’s proud place.
Of course, the winner is the home of the free, the United States, where billionaires increased their pot by around 140 per cent to $US110 trillion.
But it’s not due to our golden soil; rather, a tax system skewed to the rich.
The report found, since the late 1970s, tax rates for the wealthiest have fallen in 29 of the 30 countries for which data are available.
So, they make more money. Then they keep more of it.
In a searing piece for the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman busts the myth of the ‘deserving rich’, in a nation where real wages for the bottom half of the workforce have stagnated while incomes of the top one percent have quadrupled.
“The myth goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to Victorian values,” he writes. This “postulates opportunities that don’t exist”, amid increasing tuition fees, decreasing wages, and fewer jobs.
But Krugman points out an even more compelling fact: The top one percent consists of finance executives, who don’t fit the mould of the clean, sober, white-collar professional.
Think the Wolf of Wall Street.
At one of the film’s many pre-screenings, Manhattan traders cheered as Jordan Belfort defrauded low-income earners to pay for coke, hookers, cars, and yachts, then booed when he turned snitch for the Feds.
So much for Wall Street cleaning up its act.
Ironically, as Paul Krugman notes, conservatives “seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor”.
This is the subliminal message in the Australian federal government’s review of welfare payments.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews says the welfare system is “unsustainable” and large, urgent changes must be made to the disability pension and unemployment benefit.
“The best form of welfare is work,” he’s told ABC radio.
But what of those physically or psychologically unable to work; parents of young children without affordable childcare; or those who care for elderly relatives…?
There are plenty of people who want to work, but suffer discrimination from employers who prefer young, white males, preferably without a disability.
Oxfam released its report to put pressure on leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week: “Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between women and men.”
I fear such pleas will fall on deaf ears, especially those of the Prime Minister.
In his book, Battlelines, Tony Abbott wrote that one of the Howard government’s greatest achievements was, “slowing the rise in the number of people claiming the disability pension”.
What was that quote about the moral test of a government being how well it looks after those who need it the most?
I guess that must have been referring to the other marginalised group: the top one percent.
Undoubtedly, they’ve earned their wealth by toil.
Makes you proud to be an Australian, doesn’t it?