I’m finding myself increasingly impressed by the economic and social views of Ross Gittins, the financial columnist for the Herald newspaper in Sydney. His article today was about finding the right balance for the role of the state in our lives. At one extreme is libertarianism and at the other socialism. Ross’s observation was this:
The truth is the capitalist system does need to be protected from its own excesses, which could bring it – and us – crashing down. We were reminded of this truth in the recent crisis, from which the Europeans and Americans have yet to escape.
Yes, that’s right, the Global Financial Crisis! Although it’s still causing great pain in the US and Europe, the GFC is fading quickly from our memories because it didn’t hurt us. And in case you’ve forgotten why it didn’t hurt us, it was because our federal government reacted quickly and bravely with a huge stimulus to the economy, including the school grants program and rebates for those who reduced their thermal footprint.
Not only were the decisions quick and brave, but the schemes were clever in that they were designed to have a long-term payback.
Of course the government has been rightly criticised for not managing the schemes better, but they were implemented with great speed, as they needed to be if they were to work, and it was always going to be a catch-up effort to put proper controls in place. I agree that there were some failures to do that.
Getting back to Ross Gittins, here’s another quote from the article:
I don’t resent having the taxman redistribute a fair bit of my income to those less fortunate.
This is really interesting, because Linda and I have paid an awful lot of tax during our working lives, and still pay some now we’re retired via GST and other consumer taxes. However, we often say to each other that we never begrudge it. And the reason is simple: here in Australia we can see our taxes at work.
We all vote for politicians. We don’t always get the ones we as individuals would prefer, but we have a strong respect for the political process. Once a government is elected we expect them to operate in the best interests of our community as a whole. It can’t make everyone happy (as evidenced by the outrage of the rich and famous and some needy areas of our society) but governments by and large operate reasonably.
Listening to shock-jocks, reading newspapers or watching the tabloid TV shows like Today Tonight or A Current Affair you could be forgiven for thinking our country was going to hell in a handbasket, to use an American phrase. But if you look around your suburb and your city the evidence is clearly the opposite.
Our taxes pay for large, well organised and efficient police forces. Sydney is very safe when compared with other cities of similar size in other parts of the world. Yes, drugs continue to be a curse, but the police will over time get on top of the gangs fighting for control of the industry. In fact major crime is at such a low level our big newspapers have to resort to reporting backyard disputes to fill their pages. A Current Affair tells us that if we leave small change in our trousers it might not still be there when they come back from the dry cleaners. Shock horror! The truth is that we are a remarkably honest society.
Look at the roads in your area. They are in good condition, well marked and signposted and quickly repaired when there is a pothole or a car knocks over a traffic light. When major upgrades are undertaken we place priority on the safety of workmen. Yes, we grizzle about the 40kph speed limits around work zones, but how often do you hear about an injured worker? This is a sign of a caring and compassionate country.
Look at Google Earth and you will see our suburbs abundantly dotted with trees and shrubs and large, well managed parks. Our taxes pay for all that.
Look at the seaside and our waterways and you will see well managed areas freely open to the public. Parks abound and privately owned land is kept well back, allowing you and me to enjoy these areas simply because we pay our taxes. In many countries these areas have been sold for profit, to the detriment of the public.
Look at our shops and malls and you’ll generally see happy, well trained staff who are paid penalty rates for working when you and I prefer to be at home with our family. And rightly so, I say. You will only see this in a compassionate country. Compassion is not cheap, and again I willingly support it through slightly higher prices.
Our health system may have some faults, but it’s still perhaps the best in the world, treating the rich and the poor with equality and respect.
Our public schools are fantastic, well resourced and staffed by largely dedicated teachers doing such an important and difficult job. Education up to secondary level is free and, like our health system, treats everyone equally. Unlike some countries, to send our kids to a public school here is a choice parents can be proud of.
We elect governments to run the country, states and shires just this way, because that’s the way we want Australia to be.
It works, and we can be proud of it. The way we can make sure it keeps working is to stay engaged with the process. To quote Ross Gittins again:
The truth is the government can’t solve all our problems, and the more we abandon primary responsibility for fixing them ourselves, the more dysfunctional society becomes.
I must say I haven’t always been aware just how good Australia is. It was my dear wife who opened my eyes. When I was being a little critical of some things, she would point out just how well most things work in Australia. (She has, after all, the benefit of having experienced living elsewhere.) Over time I came to the same view.
Don’t think I am now a nationalistic bigot, though. It would be wrong to think Australia is without fault. I don’t get upset when someone criticises our country. If someone burns the Australian flag it makes good TV but is otherwise of no interest to me unless backed up by some well reasoned statement. If I was to look for something we could have done better then here is one example. I feel we have been too slow to take a stand on greenhouse emissions. To ask why we should do so when others have not is a bit like asking why I should be honest when paying my taxes when others are not. The answer is because it’s the right thing to do. If every country waited until others took a stand then no one would take the first step. Not a good option for something as important as the risk of global warming.
Taking all things into account, I am proud to be Australian.
To read the full Ross Gittins article go to: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/jump-off-the-policy-pendulum-20120501-1xwzq.html#ixzz1teoG3YuK