Peter Smith

Dependency, all that’s Left

One of the problems I’ve had these days is simply being able to understand those on the other side of politics; what makes them tick; why people support them. This is not the same thing as disagreeing with the other side. When I was growing up my dad voted for the British Labour Party. Even when quite young, I understood why and still understand why. I wonder whether he would still vote for the left side of politics and how he would explain it to me now. Yes son, we really need to penalise the competitive position of our industry and risk putting workers on the dole on the very unlikely chance that we might make an infinitesimal and unmeasurable contribution to saving the barrier reef. Somehow it doesn’t gel.

Patrick Morgan’s “Government Control Freaks”, in this month’s Quadrant magazine, makes an insightful contribution towards understanding the present state of Left politics in Australia. Self-serving apparatchiks in union leadership and in the Party have certainly replaced the light on the hill crowd who actually believed in something. This he lays bare but more instructive still is his account of the growing gap between the Labor government and the productive private sector of the economy. In-between is a growing middle layer of public servants, public school teachers, academics, and throw in ABC journalists; all of whom have grown used to feeding off the public teat. To the rise of intergenerational dependency on welfare entitlements, we may have to add the perpetuation by the growing middle layer of its own special brand of dependency from generation to generation.

There was a series in the Australian newspaper (“What’s Left?”) a couple of years ago, which had a number of writers explaining what it meant to be Left these days. There was no unanimity. It was clearly a struggle for the writers to precisely articulate what it meant to be Left. My view at the time was that if it were such a struggle maybe there was no longer any point to it. A letter of mine in the Australian drew this out:

scratching around for something to stand for now that capitalism has delivered its promise to relieve poverty is unedifying and leads … to the most awful tangle … if this is all they can come up with, the time has come for social democrats to take their bat and ball home.

For me the defining characteristic of the Left today and that includes the hard left – the Greens – is no longer the achievement of what was called social justice or a more equal society. It is, instead, a more dependent society; a society within which businesses, particular groups, and individuals, increasingly depend on government patronage. Look at the carbon tax. It gives to government the power to take away and to give. It fits perfectly in the worldview of today’s Left.

Dependency produces captive voters, who, in turn, support the careers and ambitions of the Left’s political class, whose aim is to create ever more dependency. Dependency has filled the void created when there was nothing left for the Left to do. There is nothing noble about this. Dependency debilitates the recipients and, in the end result, undermines capitalist wealth creation. It isn’t striving for a light on the hill but a pit of despair.

Morgan says “we know” what to do to make things right and makes the point that Greens and Tea Parties will flourish if our democratic processes aren’t corrected. I put a somewhat different slant on it; and say that the US Tea Party alone has the will to put the knowledge of what to do into practise and may be our last hope of redressing the balance. Dependency on the state might soon be impossible to pull back, even in the US. According to IRS figures, the bottom 50% of US federal taxpayers have an average tax rate of just 2.6% and 40% of eligible US voters pay no income tax at all. What price for doing much to reduce dependency if this goes much further?

The Labor Party wants to ensure that as many young people as possible pay no income tax by raising the tax free limit. Call this tax reform if you like, but it fits within a two-pronged strategy of reducing the numbers who pay tax against those who either pay no tax or receive net benefits. Once the number in this latter group materially exceeds 50 per cent of voters, the game is close to being lost and welcome to Greece and worse.

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