By Joe Montero
The JobSeeker payment supplement has come to an end. Longer term unemployed, those now out of a job because of Covid-19, and those they care for, have just been thrown, deliberately and callously, into serious poverty. The ending of the rent debt moratorium will make it even worse.
This is the ugliest face of a neoliberal economic agenda that relies on the redistribution of income upwards because it is seen to be necessary for an investor led recovery.
Bipartisan support for this has been around for a long time and is the major reason for the low esteem of political parties and the political system. This has allowed a blowout in lying and spin to hide the truth. None has practiced this more ardently than the Morrison government.
Neoliberalism was introduced into Australia by the Hawke Labor government in 1983, deepened under John Howard, continued, and taken to a new level under Morrison.
A Labor victory at the next election would be positive. The doubters must ask themselves, what alternative is there at this time? The fall of Morrison and his crew would at least set back the worst of this government.
If Labor does not ditch the neoliberal bipartisanship and adopt a thorough alternative, its chances of regaining the trust of its political base winning the election are slim and the Morrison government will remain to do its worst.
Neoliberalism is essentially a response to economic decline in highly monopolised capitalist economies. Monopoly refers to where the key industries in an economy are overwhelmingly dominated by a few corporations and an even smaller group of shareholders.
This description fits Australia very well, with the addition that the home turf of most of this small group is in the United States and the United Kingdom. It is not surprising that Australia followed the lead of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher into the world of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is the economics of a small elite facing the reality that the proportion of its income generated from creating addition to the real economy and seeking alternative sources for profit. As the value added to the economy diminishes as a proportion of profit, the drive to cover this by redrawing the proportion going to the workforce increases.
There isn’t enough space here to provide a proper analysis on how this works. But the shift is clear in the data, and the gap is widening.
The ending of the JobSeeper supplement, JobKeeper, as well as keeping all Centrelink benefits down, is part of this.
To reduce the wages, share to a new level, it is necessary to create a big source of cheap labour, and the only way to do this, is to make a bigger proportion of Australians poor enough and desperate enough, to accept low wages and inferior working conditions.
It goes together with the deliberate destruction of proper jobs and replacing them with insecure work.
None of this is admitted. It would create a political backlash. So, we are sold that the government is doing what is needed to fix the economy.
Wrong. Not only does neoliberalism fail to address what is making the economy sick, it has proven to make it sicker.
Paying too much in wages is not the problem. The way in which the creation of value is organised is the problem.
Ultimately, neoliberalism protects the bottom line of the biggest corporations and sends many smaller businesses to the wall. According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), 4,943 companies, mostly small, have gone under during the pandemic. Another tranche of failures is about to hit Australia.
Secondly, economic health is inseparable form participation. The most basic form of participation is to go to work. All of us participate as consumers. Exclusion form one or both means exclusion form participation. The less participation the less healthy the economy.
Human beings create wealth by using our hands and brains and provide the means to realise this wealth through consumption.
The degree of participation is also important, and this corresponds to the degree of democracy in the workplace and society. When this is curbed, the priority of the economy is to meet the needs of the few. Extend democracy and the needs of society becomes the priority.
A national economic plan that involves rebuilding the economy, bringing about change in how its organised, and extends democracy in the workplace and society, is far more likely to turn the situation around.
The immediate response should be to ensure that everyone receives enough income to keep them out of serious poverty. JobSeeker and JobSeeker should be restored to the levels they were. A sufficiently large job creation program must be put inti effect and paid for by progressive reform to the tax system. The biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals should contribute to society by shouldering a burden. This will not send them to the poorhouse.
It will redistribute income downwards and with other suitable policies, can be used to return investment to creating value and create disincentive to pursue harmful alternative avenues for profit.