Peter Whiting.

Bending the Arc of Poverty Featuring World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Chief Economist Kaushik Basu. World Bank Photo Collection. flickr cc.

Doubtless, it displays something of my vintage, when I find myself citing words written by that great economist John Maynard Keynes in 1933, reflecting on the road to recovery after the Great Depression. He wrote, “It is not an engineering problem or an agricultural problem. It is not even a business problem … nor is it a banking problem. On the contrary, it is, in the strictest sense … a blend of economic theory with the art of statesmanship, a problem of political economy”. We each have our own sense of what ‘statesmanship’ is about, but for me, at least, it is about leadership, and about caring about people and outcomes.

The Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, handed down the Australian Government budget on 8 May. Seemingly aligned with Keynes’s comments, the budget “sets out the economic and fiscal outlook for Australia, and includes expenditure and revenue estimates for the current financial year”, and “shows the Government’s social and political priorities”. Two of our authors critique the social priorities of the Government, finding the budget in various dimensions falling short in Keynes’s “art of statesmanship”.

Tim Costello laments the fact that Australian foreign aid has dropped to its lowest level ever, at 0.22% of National Income, with the announced reductions to lower this even further. He observes that what is needed is leadership and clarity of vision from those informed and competent to bring about a shift in budget priories, and overcome the current mindset of negativity to foreign aid.

Jason Davies-Kildea finds the Budget has failed to give priority to one of the biggest drivers of poverty and disadvantage in Australia – the cost of housing. He calls for a national strategy to address this chronic social problem.

A recent Vatican document, published by two of its organisations with the approval of Pope Francis, calls for “appropriate regulation of the dynamics of the markets, and, on the other hand, a clear ethical foundation that assures wellbeing realised through the quality of human relationships”. We see again the observation that the economy must be driven by ethical factors. We need to care about people and outcomes.

Bruce Duncan provides a useful summary of the Vatican document demonstrating the moral imperatives for change in local and international economies: “never has this call to protect the common good been so dramatic and immediate”. If nothing else, this is a pressing call for increased statesmanship at all levels, but particularly for those nations which dominate the world scene.

Also in this month’s newsletter, we address the state of Australia’s relationships with China.  Joseph Camilleri sees in the regional and global shift under way an opportunity for Australia to rethink its position. In light of tensions in Sino-Australian relationships which have emerged in recent times, this would seem most timely.

Sara Niner mirrors a similar observation, but in a modest scale. She considers the impacts of microfinance in developing countries in empowering women. While acknowledging the benefits of access to microfinance, she observes it does little to transform the structural conditions which create poverty for women in the first place. We need vision and courage on the part of leaders and policymakers to change the power dynamics and other cultural factors which repress women.

Many people would be unaware of the huge influence on the Second Vatican Council played by Canon Joseph Cardijn, the Belgian priest who inspired the Young Christian Workers movement around the world. Stefan Gigacz outlines the Cardijn influence, and particularly his friendship with Pope Paul VI, soon to be canonised by Pope Francis, along with the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.

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Unavoidably, budget considerations have an impact not only on the great economies and the humble household, but also on us here at Social Policy Connections (SPC). Our Board has been actively addressing how we might extend the reach and impact of SPC, while operating within the budget constraints of a volunteer organisation like ours. We are most grateful to those who support us through memberships and donations, and will shortly be sending an invitation to our existing membership to renew. We invite new members from our readership also to sign up or donate online. Your support is what keeps us able to operate.

SPC has, from the outset, been committed to collaborating with like organisations in the social justice arena. Our Board has been discussing opportunities to increase collaboration even further, in order to improve our efficiency and effectiveness. We hope to be able to share news of this initiative as discussions firm up outcomes. In the interim, be assured, however, that the SPC Board is looking at all times to direct activities in such a way as to ensure our limited resources are well used.

A mea culpa to readers who find the term ‘statesmanship’ to be non-inclusive. The best equivalent I could come up with was ‘statecraft’. I guess if Keynes were writing today, that is the term he would have used. Statecraft seems an insufficient replacement for statesmanship, since, while it suggests a practice, it lacks the explicit recognition that it is ultimately a practice conducted by people for people. At the core of all social justice considerations, outcomes for individuals and communities must remain the key concern.



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