Superior tradition of social democracy (letter)by Christopher J. WardNews Weekly
, April 15, 2006
I doubt very much that your editor needs any assistance from me in deflecting criticism from Greg Byrne's letter ("Capitalism raises living standards", News Weekly
, March 18, 2006).
His claims about the achievements in Britain relating to life expectancy and infant mortality, along with living standards, do not stand serious scrutiny.
It is true that they came about under capitalism, but also under governments of different political persuasions.
I found it hard to stomach Greg Byrne's comments in a week when it was reported that the share of national income held by Australia's wealthiest individuals is now at its highest since the Korean War, owing to huge pay rises for top chief executives and the super-rich (Melbourne Age
, March 15, 2006).
Research by economists at the ANU and Oxford University show that the wealthiest 1 per cent of Australians now take 9 per cent of national income compared with a 5 per cent share in 1980. The report observed that the top 1 per cent now have a greater share of national income than at any time since 1951 while the share of the richest 10 per cent is higher than at any time since 1949.
That may gladden the heart of Greg Byrne, but it shows how far Australia has fallen from the ideal of an egalitarian society. The ultra-liberal free-market policies espoused by recent governments have enriched the wealthy and immiserated an increasing number of poorer citizens.
These glassy-eyed ideologues of the feral right like to sheet their beliefs home to the works of the intellectual father of liberal capitalism, the Scottish economist Adam Smith. However, in so doing, they forget Adam Smith's immortal words:
"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged." (Wealth of Nations
, 1776, Vol.1, ch.8).
In my view, Smith's words sum up a long-held belief that a measure of the greatness of our society is how it treats the less fortunate in its midst.
Capitalism has certainly delivered for the top strata of society, but it has yet to meet the ideals of one of its philosophical pioneers. Unless it does so, we can expect increasing unrest as globalisation and its attendant policies bite even deeper into the Australian economy.News Weekly
has continued in the finest traditions of social democracy to espouse a more equitable distribution of wealth in our society, and undoubtedly Greg Byrne has been a beneficiary. It ill-behoves him to be hypocritical on the subject.Christopher J. Ward,