The real reason Tony Abbott won’t spend money for poor people

With a newly-elected right-wing Government, and a “budget emergency” on our hands, it seems inevitable that some tough budgets are on the way. After all, the Liberal Party loves fiscal responsibility, right? They are the responsible hand on the tiller of the economy. As the story goes, the ALP gets elected when voters feel like a more nurturing Government, then they spend too much, Australians get fed-up, and we elect a Coalition government to get the economy back on track.

This narrative might make sense if Conservatism were simply an economic philosophy on a one-dimensional spectrum, in which left-wing parties believe the Government should raise more revenue to provide more services, and right-wing parties believe Government should provide fewer services and reduce taxes.

a spectrum between progressivism (big government) and conservatism (small govermnent)But it’s a myth. Consider the Abbott Government’s recent changes to how superannuation contributions are taxed. They’ve scrapped the “the low-income superannuation contribution”, so that low-income earners earning below $37,000 a year pay 15% tax (instead of 0%) on their superannuation contributions. At the same time, Hockey is putting the kibosh on a proposed measure that would have seen around 128,000 Australians who earn more than $300,000 per year paying a 30% rate on their super contributions, instead of a 15% rate. (Great graphs here, thanks to Greg Jericho).

What’s going on here? Does it make sense to scrap a tax concession because of the “budget emergency”, while simultaneously giving the 1% an even sweeter deal?

If you’re Conservative, yes.

Just stay with me on this one and accept that a great amount of academic work has gone into understanding the neural patterns (or, if you prefer, “the brains”) of both Conservatives and Progressives, and this work is documented in great books – most famously Don’t Think of an Elephant but also The Political Mind (and I’m sure people other than Lakoff write about it too). One important takeaway from this work is that many people understand Government using the metaphor of “family”, and that in the Conservative case this family is run by a “strict father”.

In this family, writes Lakoff, the job of the father is to discipline his children when they do wrong, because only with such discipline will children/citizens grow prosperous.

…And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally. (emphasis added)

This worldview excludes the possibility that people got wealthy through anything other than their own merit (such as through luck, or malfeasance), and it excludes the possibility that poor people are so because of anything other than their own shortcomings. Lakoff observes, “taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don’t deserve it”.

a spectrum between progressivism as a proponnent of taxation and conseratism as an opponentNow it makes sense. The Government cuts a tax concession for poor people, not to raise more revenue, but because it does’t make sense to reward a lack of discipline. At the same time, they increase the budget deficit to give a sweetener to some of Australia’s wealthiest – because they’ve earned it. For future budgets, we’ll doubtless hear plenty about ‘tough’, ‘disciplined’ and ‘responsible’ Government. But when the numbers are revealed, it won’t be corporate subsidies or tax loopholes in the crosshairs, but services for the most needy in our community.

Despite all this talk of a “budget emergency”, the Abbott Government doesn’t seem interested in increasing the size of the pie, or perhaps dishing less out. Instead, it’s changing who gets a slice, making sure that the wealthiest, most deserving Australians benefit at the expense of the great, immoral, unwashed. As Dan Spencer once said, “It’s cut-throat Capitalism for the poor, and Corporate Socialism for the rich.”

This is why Tony Abbott won’t waste money on Australia’s working poor, our vulnerable or marginalised. Not because it’s expensive, not because the Government can’t afford it – but because bad people don’t deserve it.

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7 Responses to “The real reason Tony Abbott won’t spend money for poor people”

  1. Yes, indeed, with perhaps an extra dimension:
    If you have wealth, you are as protected as you can be in this turbulent world, according to conservatives. The end result of this philosophy is gated communities, social apartheid and violent gang warfare that only the rich, with private armies, can protect themselves against. A new feudalism becomes the norm, the social contract is ripped up by unheedingly rapacious privateers whose veneer of civilisation, at least as they conceive of it as deserved by ‘the other’, is scrubbed away as unecessary for the undeserving. “The elect” will be raptured to heaven, leaving the hoi polloi to face fire and brimstone on earth, but meanwhile, the elect deserve the best, at the expense of the bare comfort of the many.

    It’s a philosophy based on fear of death, of loathing of the unknown and unfamiliar. It’s craven cowardice dressed up as savoir faire and good breeding.

    Its opposite is love and compassion, as preached by all great religious leaders and philosophers down the ages. To quote J.K Galbraith: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of mankind’s oldest pursuits: the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”. He said that 70 years ago, and it’ will remain as pertinent as then now, and for the foreseeable future.

  2. Good piece. Now explain the Abbott Government’s attitude to the car industry.

  3. Easy. Hatred of unions. outdoes the like of saving jobs. Simple, the workers in the car industry, in the eyes of conservatives are seen as unworthy.

  4. there is also the problem of numbers. A pollie can see large numbers of people. If say I wish to impose an idea that costs each person a dollar a day, let’s take the disabled at 800,000. That is a lot of money to do something else with; if we multiple that number with the 365 days at a dollar per day across each year … I believe the Abbott looks at ideas on this basis

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. LNP: GIve to the rich, take from the poor | melisse reynolds - December 26, 2013

    […] Another blogger wrote “Despite all this talk of a “budget emergency”, the Abbott Government doesn’t seem interested in increasing the size of the pie, or perhaps dishing less out. Instead, it’s changing who gets a slice, making sure that the wealthiest, most deserving Australians benefit at the expense of the great, immoral, unwashed. As Dan Spencer once said, “It’s cut-throat Capitalism for the poor, and Corporate Socialism for the rich.”” (http://scitnecessitas.com/2013/12/23/the-real-reason-tony-abbott-wont-spend-money-for-poor-people/) […]

  2. The poor are undeserving | melisse reynolds - December 27, 2013

    […] http://scitnecessitas.com/2013/12/23/the-real-reason-tony-abbott-wont-spend-money-for-poor-people/ […]

  3. Coalition bucks wisdom and blames less fortunate | melisse reynolds - January 21, 2014

    […] The real reason Tony Abbott won’t spend money for poor people […]

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