Submission to the Australian Bishops’ Wealth Enquiry

The choice of’ Wealth’ as the group subject for social justice statement of the bishops is very significant. There is perhaps no subject so immediately urgent in tackling the root causes of the troubles of society. But there is no subject more open to controversy. The fact that the Church might dare to tackle something that the Government fears to face is indeed startling and pleasing

The fears that naturally arise are that the final document makes only the enunciated theoretical principles of Catholic social doctrine – or that it might just point out where great concentrations of wealth exist statistically and denounce the situation. I guess that there is enough of God in each of us to want to make all things new in the world. It seems to me that the world today is at this stage of its development by men and women that the men’s venue and radical change of direction. Mercantile Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution were forces that changed the face of earthly living and demanded a new arrangement of cultural values and ways of sharing the earth’s resources.

I believe that capital intensive large-scale technology is another great force that is significantly changing the face of life on earth today that it demands not just a reform of abuses in the system but a radical change in the direction of goals and methods of society.

I would hope that the inquiry would not centre to strictly on definitions of what is wealth, but would rather looked largely at the earthly mission of men and women to develop the world. That it would look at the resources that were put at their disposal and the way that those resources have been organised.

The problems of wealth in the world arise out of concepts and visions of progress, and the organisation we have accepted in; ownership, payment of wages, use of technology etc. To try to put curve on a system that so inequitable and so inevitably favours and elite seems to me to be useless. And I believe that today’s recent developments that changed the situation from very difficult to the utterly impossible.

I recently received a letter from a girl in Sydney. She receives an income of $30,000 per year and was startled to hear recently that this put her in the top 10% of income earners in Australia. She feels threatened by responsibility (as a single woman with such an income) to be doing things for others. But she has recently bought a house in Sydney. While in no way being an extravagant looking house, the price was so enormous that she finds that she has little disposable income. She questions how it possible for other Australians on lesser incomes to even own home.

The South Australian (SA) Sunday Mail (May 29th 1988) in response to the budget run an article on the budget of a SA family-one wage earner husband, a wife, and two children. The only 46 year-old home in Warradale that they are paying off. The budget for basic comes to $795 per fortnight. The father’s pay is $722 per fortnight. I checked out the items and costings as a couple of families in this parish. They assure me that the cost given are valid and that many things (for example parents clothes) are not in the budget. It points to the fact that single income families are not easily able to buy a home and live decently.

This is borne out by the 1986 census figures on income for the parish I living. 90% of persons learned less than 26,000 dollars a year – but 30% of the families member cleared $ 26,000 – $40,000.

Despite the situation where large enterprises continued to make work of profits it is true that small businesses are living a precarious situation. Government costs (federal, state and local) and on costs are continually increasing. Small business and investors continually cry that there is no incentive to continue struggling in the source of enterprises. And the fact is that takeovers and bankruptcies are bringing about the downfall of many small businesses. And this is affecting the nature of the workforce.

For young people there is the fear and threat of unemployment. But there is also the situation were employment become at the price of being totally absorbed in a multinational company with its pension scheme and security benefits. Anyway they will be involved in with house mortgage, life insurance, monotonous work -often life is boring to t suffocation. And meanwhile they are caught up in economic forces of vast commercial enterprises over which they have no control. And there is a threat ever present of war and total weapons. Even if they are cushioned against the immediate problems of life, their helpless against its major dangers.

For older people there is threat and insecurity of job futures, the possibility of no pensions in the future, and taxation of their Superannuation schemes.

Around as we see new developments in the situation of divisions between the rich and that were. A new breed of super rich has appeared with the corporate raiders and new names of the super rich are now household words. We see unprecedented examples in Australia of the possessions of these people – places like Sanctuary Cove for in Queensland that are now being aped in other cities. The rich are taking their possessions behind walls and surrounding themselves with their peers in guarded treasure homes. The obviously fear being robbed and vandalized. It is a new state in the division of rich and poor Australia. On the other hand we have developments of refugees, and homes for the homeless, to structural social welfare are for the new varieties and degrees of the poor.

Not only other successful farmers taking over neighbours farms, and farms employment less unless Labour but even the successful farmers are finding that they cannot make a go of farming. Last year I saw figures of the loss of football teams in country areas. Whole towns and districts are losing their youth to the cities. A farmer I visited in Rockhampton not only manages both his own and his brother’s sugar farms – he also has done courses. He and his wife relieve motel managers in off peak work times. Sugar harvesting is now done by contractors who alone can afford the highly expensive big harvesters that must harvesting crops of many farms to be a paying proposition. Large corporations now own mines that were once owned and work by individuals or small companies with the work done by hired workers. Farms are fast following suit. Multinational and foreign ownership of farming land is increasing.

Whole trades (e.g. wood machining) are disappearing or becoming de-skilled as technology encroaches on new areas. Individual artistic work becomes too expensive and products -become utilitarian rather than individual artistic unique products. Work demands higher skills but lower individual artistic creative opportunities. Opportunities for workers whose abilities and desires demanded opportunities to work with their hands without high levels of education of disappearing. Much of the work of educated skilled people becomes too specialised and lacks any creative outlet (skilled production line work).

The Australia YCW has over number of years strived to draw out an analysis of the situation facing it and the causes of these situations. In doing so this had to try to find some ways of expressing as a unity the situation of “The Modern World”. While it is impossible to portray the world situation as a unity the YCW has found it useful in their work. What I’m saying in the following paragraphs is a precis of that analysis.

The modern world got its cultural shape during the 16th and 18 centuries true the Protestant reformation and the scientific enlightenment (c.f. Weber’s thesis on why the Industrial Revolution took off in the Protestant countries more quickly than in the Catholic countries). It took its political shape in the latter part of the 18th century from the French and American revolutions and subsequently the other political revolutions. It received economic shape from Industrial Revolution in 18th century from Industrial Capitalism in a 19th century and from Industrial Socialism in the 20th century.

The goal of the modern world seemed to be to build an autonomous scientific secular world. And so Industrial Socialism brought the economy and other scientific state. It crushed community and tradition into mass society and set out to eliminate religion that was propounding alternate ideas and visions.

Industrial Capitalism at first entrusted its vision its progress to the irrational market -which had community and religious restraints. It privatised rather than eliminated religion. And then it faced and continues to face the worker movements. However as time has gone on it has centralised power in monster bureaucracies both economic and political. It has set up and utilised militarised states and organised the arms race and defence hegemonies. And it has undermined the power and efficiency of community and tradition by high mobility and consumer propaganda.

The modern world faces enormous challenges and problems as a result of the “progress” it has made.

The situations of ecological destruction and poisoning and the foreseeable end to nonrenewable  material resources. 

The fear of nuclear holocaust and the terrible economic and political oppression of peoples. 

Added to these material forces of destruction other personal effects of poverty, hunger,  unemployment, forced immigration, boring work, lack of power over one’s life etc. etc.

“Progress” has taken on its own momentum, it has got away from people. They no longer say where it is going. It is a runaway train. It has lost its connection with the earth, with community and tradition, and was religious mystery.

There is a hierarchy in the needs of human beings, and priority in time or urgency naturally goes to those with great economic needs. The third world has vast economic needs, and sees that the solution to the problem must be an economic solution. The second world’s problems are primarily political and a look for political solution the first world’s problems are primarily cultural, that this way they feel the pinch (boring meaningless work, unemployment, powerlessness, specialised production, insecurity etc.). If we said the three world’s problems in competition with one another, then that we will inevitably opt for the problems of the third world, for they are needs are economic and most urgent. The result will be calls to make options for the poor, denunciations of the super rich, suggestions for trade alternatives.

These might be the right answers, but to the wrong question. It is no longer possible to do a Marshall Plan for Third World. Not only can believe as the first world lives, but rather the first world has to curtail its lifestyle. In saying this I’m not suggesting the economic answers useless. They are part of the solution. But they are not the root causes and so not the sole priority

This threat of nuclear war today is a sort of symbol example of the cultural crisis. The fear of nuclear war is not come because this generation is more evil than the previous generation. Rather they come because technology has provided the instrument that makes traditional forms of defence (e.g. building up arms to equalise the power of the potential enemy) redundant. The power and potential destruction of nuclear weapons makes force or opposing power useless as the primary solution.

Similarly economies of scaling production originally opened the way to enormous progress in material well being for consumers and wage earners as well as for businesses. However ever increasing technological progress has given the power that has brought about the situation where the making of the consumer goods the world needs is in the hands of vast conglomerates who need vast wealth to run, using enormous quantities of nonrenewable resources, and fewer and fewer labourers.

Acts such as the Sherman anti- trust act and Clayton anti- trust act set out to fight such things politically in America in the beginning of the emergence of trusts and holding companies. They were unsuccessful. Today society sees such things as part of the immutable “System”.

In the early days of Industrial Capitalism the big change for the workers was that they got paid wages, cash in the hand, though they lost any rights of possession of the goods they produced. Their main aim became to ensure that they got sufficient wages to exchange for goods so that they could have a decent way of living. The system of wages was not challenged, but only the amount of wages. And so worker movements fought for just wages, for the basic wage, for the conditions of dignity at work, for the abolition of child labour etc.

Today, especially in the first world, this continues with worker movements fighting for a mechanistic justice, comparative equality with other workers etc. but the game has changed. The workers have no say in the wider issues. They alight players too small to have any influence on the game of football on the field who argue instead over the oranges at half-time.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the situation that was solved by a revolutionary method of distribution of wealth. No longer than the worker only products of his work, he was paid instead a wage. This, in a philosophy of economic liberalism, cause terrible hardship, poverty, hunger etc. the worker movement united and fought for justice. It happened that increasing technology that was less labour-intensive then that the beginning of the Industrial Revolution coupled with the comparative interest and of the entrepreneurial capitalists made more justice for the workers not only possible but beneficial to both employers and employees.

Today the internationalisation of capital and especially the development of highly capital intensive technology has brought about the situation of marginalisation of whole area is of the world, unemployment everywhere a and a loss of power and meaning to those working. When workers worked many hours per week every week for 50 or so years of the life, it was possible and meaningful to tie the distribution of wealth to the hours worked. Today there are millions who cannot find worked. Those who do work will spend 30-35 years working instead of the 50-60 years previously. They will live longer than their grandparents’ will and they will have more and longer holidays.

The distribution of wealth the man is a new vision and new methods the power to oppress minorities is already invented and not able to be un-invented. People need dignity in worked and in being paid. No one wants to live on handouts. No one wants to be un-involved and non-participating in society.

The truth is that similarly with nuclear weapons we humans have now the power to wreak terrible hurt on one another. The thing we have to do is to work our way to use what is good in our inventions without destroying one another. It demands a change of heart. In the days of the Cold War we didn’t have American and Russian leaders conferring and embracing one another – but we do now. Yet the answers cannot be just a plea to people to be good and to realise that people come before profit. We need to work out the new system.

I’m not going to try to give examples of what that solution should be. I don’t think that anyone has really done much valuable work on that as yet, but I do not see that this makes impossible. I would see that the system needs to organise that employers be rewarded for the proportion of wages in their product (rather than being penalised). Also workers wages should not be tied to their productivity. This does not recognise that they need differing wages at different times in the life e.g. when building home, or raising children. The idea of rewarding in “earned” rewards as in the system of Superannuation is perhaps a model there. Perhaps women working at home to be paid a wage is another idea. Then there is the possibility of socialising some industries and whole question of such things as education etc.

If the inquiry was going to raise the source of issues that I have spoken about I might be moved to think more and write more on these ideas.

Hugh O’Sullivan

[Date unknown, venue unknown]

Reference: 006-060299