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.
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”.
Now 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.