If Karl Marx had lived until current times he might have realised how badly he misread human nature and how his followers consigned hundreds of millions of people to decades of misery, poverty and failure. Blessed with the wisdom of advanced years, he may also have adjusted his observation about religion to read: Other People’s Money, the opiate of the masses.
OPM’s dangers are well known: distorted vision, disturbed thinking and an escalating addiction to dipping into fellow citizens’ wealth. In extreme doses it can bring down governments, even democracy itself. Yet few in Australia realise how much OPM permeates our society and how wholly dependent many have become.
All politicians, federal and state, depend on OPM. Local councils are renowned abusers of OPM. University academics suckle on OPM, as do charities, NGOs, welfare recipients, public servants, unions … the list goes on and on. All up, it is reported that about 40% of Australians (and nearly 50% of Americans) are dependent on one or another government-distributed OPM. Note that 50% of the population is thought to be a tipping point beyond which democracy itself comes under severe threat as an ever-larger slice of the electorate votes itself greater access to the public purse.
Regular use of even small doses of OPM has an undesirable effect on some users: artificially enhanced self-esteem, for starters, and the constant craving for ever-bigger doses.
Not all OPM is bad, and therapeutic uses have been developed. Police and teachers, for instance, are dependent on OPM, but manage their dependency in a way that does not affect their duties (much to the annoyance of the teachers’ union). And for society’s least fortunate, OPM is essential to relieve a wide variety of symptoms. Many in these categories people could be considered OPM users, rather than abusive addicts.
Despite its sometimes beneficial uses it is vital that access to OPM be strictly controlled and used wisely (that is, kept safe from confirmed addicts, such as leftists). Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have said: “The problem with socialism is that sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money (OPM) to spend”, but it was Milton Friedman who spelled it out in detail, writing of the four ways of spending:
- You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, you try to get the best value for money – fit-for-purpose and low cost;
- You can spend your own money on somebody else. Then you are not so careful about the fit with the purpose, but very careful about the cost;
- You can spend OPM on yourself: fit-for-purpose, but don’t worry so much about the cost;
- You can spend OPM on somebody else. You will not be so concerned about cost, and not concerned about the fit with the purpose.
‘Their’ ABC, perpetually high on OPM, is a case study in Category Four. The national broadcaster represents fit-for-purpose spending, but only if that purpose is leftist propaganda, cronyism and cultural insularity. Local councils are also a good examples, spending OPM on things that rate-payer typically do not recognise as local problems. At least one “local” Sydney council wasted time and OPM by endorsing an economic boycott of Israel and Israeli products. Others have grandiosely declared themselves “nuclear-free zones” or refuges to asylum seekers, never mind fixing local roads and removing local rubbish The recent federal Labor Government makes another case study, consuming OPM like a crack junkie while under-delivering its way to political oblivion. But has the lesson of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years been earnt? Tthe latest opinion polls suggests the voting public is as forgetful as it is forgiving.
Author and US academic, the late Elmer T. Peterson, is reputed to have said:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result that democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship.”
Peterson’s insight explains why successive changes in government, from leftist to conservative and vice versa, always seem to result in a slow drift to the left as increasing numbers of voters refuse to tolerate cuts in their OPM supplies. Leftist governments naturally provide more OPM; meanwhile, allegedly conservative governments grow too timid to crimp access to the OPM supply. Even more alarming, both sides of politics are continually finding ways to re-distribute even larger sums. Europe is now dealing with the sort of crisis that results from this process. Bizarrely, the Eurozone nations are trying to fix the problem with ever greater infusions of OPM. In some countries, governments will be voted out of office for trying to fix the problem.
Going cold turkey to beat an addiction is never pleasant, so why not vote for parties that will continue the supply of OPM and avert those horrible withdrawal symptoms? As Peterson observed, once OPM addicts have the numbers, it’s game over for democracy.
In Australia, recent talk of potential cuts to Labor’s unfunded Gonski education plan – in effect, support for an industry delivered by people overwhelmingly of the Left — and cuts to the unnecessary parts of the Commonwealth bureaucracy have caused outrage amongst OPM addicts, not least at the ABC, our billion-dollars-a-year testament to institutional bias ideological corruption and cronyism.
The new Coalition government’s first few months have been deliberate and cautious, but Abbott & Co. cannot afford timidity. They have been concentrating, quite rightly, on election promises and the urgent matter of restoring the country to a sound financial footing. Ending OPM addiction was not an election issue, and probably never will be until a potentially terminal crisis is at hand (as per recent Europe Union bailouts). As political issues go, however, OPM is a sleeping giant, and it requires little insight to comprehend that only a conservative government has any chance of getting it under control.
Our budget emergency may not be of Hellenic proportions, but it is serious and trending into dangerous territory. What is needed is not a new broom but a swiftly revolving wire brush capable of scrubbing the ruinous mentality of dependency and entitlement.
Mal Wedd is a reformed leftist