Speculation is increasing about an early federal election, possibly in July. That would be something of a gamble for the Coalition, as Mr Turnbull’s honeymoon polls have greatly weakened, partly because of apparent dithering by the Government, partly from disarray within Liberal ranks, and partly because the Labor Opposition has been putting forward sensible economic policies and in the polls is looking a serious threat.
We have presented numbers of talks – including those from prominent economic commentator Tim Colebatch, and from Tony French – on how to fix the budget deficits, especially by enhancing fairness in the tax system, and providing the needed revenue for government services such as housing (as Jenny Begent points out in this newsletter).
Yet we also see the power of special interests at work. Australia has not been as badly affected by this as our US cousins, who have been shamelessly exploited by sectional interest groups, using the ideology of neoliberal economics as justification and excuse for exploitation of the great bulk of working people. No wonder so many Americans, fed up with their political system, are embracing the venting nostrums of Donald Trump.
As the Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, has argued for years, the rich and powerful in the United States (and elsewhere) have written the rules of the economy to channel vast wealth into their own pockets, while most US citizens have not increased their real income in 30 years or more.
Do you think this is an exaggeration? For a concise update on Stiglitz’s critique, see his latest book, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: an Agenda for Growth & Shared Prosperity.
Like Pope Francis, Stiglitz has been arguing against the philosophy of neoliberalism and its economic results. Indeed, Stiglitz has been one of the key advisers to the Vatican, and has helped inform the Pope’s writings and speeches.
For additional insight into the clash of views between Catholic social advocacy and neoliberalism, read some of the talks by Pope Francis in Mexico recently, reiterating his message in Laudato Si’ and elsewhere, calling for increased social equity and participation, so that everyone can access a decent livelihood.
As Bruce Duncan writes this month, Francis made an extraordinary visit to the Zapatista regime of indigenous peoples in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. But the media seemed to miss the significance of this, and especially the resonance between what the Zapatistas have built in their autonomous state and the ancient Jesuit Reductions in Paraguay, which lasted for 150 years before being destroyed by the Portuguese and Spanish in 1767. As a Jesuit, Francis is well aware of the history of the Reductions.
One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than this between the extreme inequality engendered by neoliberal economics and the Zapatistas developing their cooperative economy on the basis of their traditional communal ownership of land.
While Stiglitz and Pope Francis agree that restoring social equity is the key to a sustainable and peaceful future, ensuring this entails confronting and defeating the dominant power of these special interests in their neoliberal cladding.