Short Stories

A sampler from this bi-monthly magazine, choc full of useful data:

“Those who view poverty as produced by structural inequalities will continue to advocate increased government intervention to promote greater opportunities for the disadvantaged.”

– From an article by a welfare expert from a certain Victorian university. But what sort of intervention? Current wealth redistribution schemes – mere band-aids – are not enough! The author has been sent material on what really needs to be done.

The widespread riots in France in November were apparently not so much ethnic or religious in motivation, but rather due to the fact that so many felt deeply socially alienated by the system. In “Progress and “Poverty” Henry George had a prophetic passage, ‘Whence shall come the new barbarians?” Failure to give real socioeconomic opportunity is of course by no means confined to France.

“Four decades after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, more than 37 million people in the world’s richest country are officially classified as poor. .since 2000 the ranks of the poor have increased, year by year, by almost 5.5 million in total.”
(The Age, 6/10/05).

“The share of total income that goes to the bottom two fifths of households has fallen to one of the lowest levels since World War II and the number of people lacking health insurance rose in 2003 to highest level on record.”
(The Unitarian Beacon, Oct. 2005). Henry George would not be surprised!

About 1500 Australian children aged 14 and under die each year because of socioeconomic disadvantage, according to a recent issue of the Australian Medical Journal. Death rates among Australian children rise in association with worsening levels of disadvantage. Suicide rates in young Australian men have quadrupled in 30 years (The Age, 1/8/05). More evidence to back Henry George’s classic “Progress and Poverty”.

“The truly brazen claim is that tax cuts for the big end of townwould put an end to criminal tax avoidance. Oddly, this is seen as a perfect respectable argument. Taken to its logical absurdity, you could argue that tax cuts for the bottom end of town would put an end to ram-raiding, but nobody ever runs that proposition. It is only the rich that need incentives.”
– Mike Canton, Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 10-11, 2005.

A University study from Sheffield, Bristol, and Edinburgh found that the rich-poor divide in Britain is as great as ever, 60 years after the founding of the welfare state (Melbourne Unitarian Beacon, Oct.2005). Welfare is no substitute for radical social justice.

Acknowledgment of the role of land prices in housing occurs rarely in the media, but Alan Moran of the Institute of Pub1ic Affairs pointed out (The Age, 27/10/04) that planning restrictions were causing a shortage of new housing land, to the detriment of new-home builders. For a typical new home the land component is $112,000 compared with $15,000 30 years ago. Of course there are factors as well, such as the activity of “investors” of various types. But planning red tape is indeed significant.

The issue of resources rentals is currently relevant as regards the Timor Sea. According to the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, the Australian government is continuing to unilaterally take millions of dollars of government royalties from contested oil and gas resources in that area, thereby depriving one of the poorest countries of billions of dollars while East Timorese children are dying from preventable diseases. It is claimed that simply recognises Timor’s rightful entitlement to have permanent maritime boundaries established accordance with international law. (Disarming Times, No 2005-Jan.2006).

There were some odd incidental aspects to the Live8 concerts on July 2 focusing on world hunger. One artist cancelled his appearance at Live8 because it clashed with his acting commitment for the upcoming film “Get Rich or Die Trying”. In Philadelphia while many musicians “donated their services”, many performers received lavish gift bags of branded designer goods such as expensive guitars, sty1ish suits and exclusive fashion accessories, some worth as much as $10,000 (New Internationalist, Aug.2005).

Australian house prices were the most overvalued in the world, according to a sensational leading page 1 report in The Age, 1/12/05. Amidst the dire warning was a report on welfare services saving that the struggle to find affordable housing is now affecting middle class people, as well as those on low incomes; 1.7 million people were in “housing stress” in 2004, spending more than 30% of their income on accommodation. Average household debt had skyrocketed as a proportion of household disposable income. From 49% of income in 1990-91, the debt ratio had nearly trebled to 143% in 2004. In the lengthy “Age” article, the word land did not occur once. A comment on this point by your columnist, was not of course, published.