Poverty and Pharisaic Politicians

When wealthy politicians try to outdo one another about how much they really care about the poor, we usually need to get our baloney detectors out. While some may indeed have some concerns about those who are way less well off than they are, one has to question the sincerity of those who resort to gimmicks and empty rhetoric to make their point.

We saw a classic case of this amongst some of our Federal Politicians this week. The Greens and Labor were going at each other, trying to convince us just how much they really care about the poor and needy. Indeed, it turned into a bit of a slanging match as these folks sought to take the high moral ground here.

Consider how one newspaper covered these recent events: “The Greens have challenged Families Minister Jenny Macklin to live on the dole for a week after she declared she could manage on the $245-a-week unemployment allowance.

“Acting Leader Adam Bandt invited Ms Macklin to join him in trying to pay food, rent and bills on Newstart for seven days in February. Ms Macklin – who has gone to ground today and is refusing to comment any further on the issue – has come under fire from welfare groups for claim she could live on the $35-a-day dole payment.

“Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said the minister’s comments were insensitive to people struggling on the dole and went against the evidence presented to the government about the inadequacy of the unemployment benefit.”

So here we have two lefties vying for the “I am more compassionate than you are” award. And both know they are mouthing so much empty rhetoric and pious platitudes which mean nothing. Ms Macklin of course has no intention of really living on $35-a-day, whether for a day, a week, or a month.

So it is of course quite easy for her to claim how easily she might survive on such a meagre fare. She knows of course she never will actually have to experience such a situation. She not only enjoys her cushy salary now, but will enjoy her tax-payer funded government pension and retirement scheme for the rest of her life.

She is living on easy street. So her talk rings empty and her compassionate claims are just more Labor rhetoric. Indeed, Ms Macklin earns $6321 a week as a cabinet minister. Imagine taking a pay cut to just $245-a-week – less than four per cent of what she is now making. I really don’t think she could cope for a day.

And her own colleagues have admitted as much. Another news item puts it this way: “Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has conceded it is ‘very hard’ to live on unemployment benefits, as the debate rages over the adequacy of Newstart.

“While Families Minister Jenny Macklin continues to come under fire for saying she could live on the $245 a week payment, Ms Plibersek said today: ‘I don’t think anyone thinks it’s easy. I think that it’s very hard to live on an income support payment,’ she told ABC radio.”

But Macklin’s Greens’ critic fares no better. So he will spend a whole week on the Newstart allowance. Wow, what a hero! What sacrifice! That is not much of a challenge knowing he has all his worldly goods (nice home, generous salary, government cars, chauffeurs, travel costs, etc) well and truly taken care of.

Even if he lived on the streets for a night or a week or a month, as some have, that really means nothing. They know perfectly well they have all their material and financial security still there awaiting them. They are making no sacrifice at all in other words.

These are just gimmicks in the “I’m a rich guy pretending to care about poor people” game. Any wealthy person can play it. We will start to take these guys seriously when they renounce their government pay cheques and benefits for their entire term in office.

Then we might know they are serious and mean what they are saying. But that is not likely to happen. True, there have been a handful of politicians around the world who have knocked back their salaries. But certainly not many. And these two are just a pair of hypocrites who have no intention of learning about real poverty.

Their only game is point scoring and moral one-upmanship. Thus I am not impressed with either. And given that both prefer policies which tend to thwart wealth creation, all their rhetoric is doubly dubious. The Greens especially would bankrupt this nation if they and their policies held sway.

Indeed, many of these politicians have known little about real hardship and deprivation. My wife just pointed out to me a talk given in Australia by American economist and social commentator Charles Murray called “Capitalism and Virtue: Reaffirming Old Truths”.

In it he spoke about a new social and political elite, those who know very little about what life is like for most people. Although discussing the scene in America, his remarks seem apropos here. He said this: “The other part of the divergence has led to a new upper class that is increasingly segregated from, and ignorant of, life in mainstream America.”

He continued, “And that brings me to the scariest part about the isolation of the new upper class. It’s not a big problem if someone has grown up in a working-class or middle-class family and then become rich and powerful. That person still remembers. He can be put down on the main street in a small town in Kansas or a working-class neighbourhood in Boston and recognise all the social cues, and know how to get along. He’s in familiar territory. What scares me are the children of that person.

“They go to private schools from K-12, spending their summers at tennis camp or in exclusive resorts where their parents vacation. They go to excellent colleges, spending their summers interning at Greenpeace or the Brookings Institution.

“Then they get their law degrees or their MBAs, and move seamlessly into the same upper class bubble as adults that they’ve lived in all their lives. And they haven’t a clue about how ordinary people live. Worse yet, they are likely to have an extremely condescending view of what ordinary people are like.”

That seems to be the case with so many of our politicians today. I am reminded of what Kim Beazley Sr said way back in 1970: “When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class. But as I look about me now all I see are the dregs of the middle class. And what I want to know is when you middle class perverts are going to stop using the Labor Party as a spiritual spittoon.”

Much more needs to be said about government policy, economics, wealth and poverty, and so on. Elsewhere I have sought to touch on such topics. But here it might be fitting to close with two quotes from two Black American economists, who between them have far more sense and understanding about these issues than most politicians:

“The act of reaching into one’s own pockets to help a fellow man in need is praiseworthy and laudable. Reaching into someone else’s pocket is despicable and worthy of condemnation.” -Prof. Walter Williams

“What do you call it when someone steals someone else’s money secretly? Theft. What do you call it when someone takes someone else’s money openly by force? Robbery. What do you call it when a politician takes someone else’s money in taxes and gives it to someone who is more likely to vote for him? Social Justice.” -Thomas Sowell


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11 Replies to “Poverty and Pharisaic Politicians”

  1. Just recently, was there not an African politician who did the actual deed of giving his salary?

    Greg Brien

  2. Notable too that Sowell and Williams both came from extremely poor conditions themselves.

    Damien Spillane

  3. I’m a bit weary about saying this, as it’s not always that simple but;

    For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (NIV) 2Thessalonians 3:10

    I’m from a farming area, away from the big cities, their is alot of seasonal work available but employers cannot find locals to do the work, they prefer to stay on a goverment payment of some sort than actually work. The Goverment doesn’t make it any easier when, for their work, they might get paid say $100 but their goverment payment gets reduced $90. Meaning they effectively get paid $10, It doesn’t provide much insentive to get out of the ‘dole’ culture.

    Mark Lambert

  4. Where are leaders of the the calibre and ethical stature of Jesus of Nazareth in our 21st-century halls of power and influence?

    “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich.” 2Corinthians 8:9 [NET]

    John Wigg

  5. I’m from a farming area, away from the big cities; there’s a lot of work that could be done on farms but employers won’t pay anyone to do it, e.g., blackberries choking fences, sheds falling down etc. etc. If you offer to do this, or point out it needs doing, they either say, she’ll be right for another 12 months, or actually tell you to !@$# off.

    Yes, there is a lot of seasonal work available, which is great, but as soon as that activity is over, it’s like, ‘why are you still here?’ or “Well, there’s no work for you Monday”

    It is hypocritical to blame people for being ‘dole bludgers’ when the government demands a certain level of unemployment for the economy to operate within ‘acceptable’ limits, particularly with regard to inflation. The government places a monetary value on umemployment’s contribution the health of the rest of the economy, by paying people to stay out of work.

    If you have one hour’s work per fortnight, the government does not count you in the unemployment figures — check it with Centrelink.

    Michael Watts

  6. When I arrived in Australia, in 1970 as a ten pound pom, we immigrants the moment we arrived, though allowed to stay in a hostel for just a few days in order to gather our wits, had newspapers thrust into our hands and told to find a job and other accommodation, because there was no social welfare obviously available.

    So many today are not only dependent on the state, but worse they are denied the true hope of salvation through Christ. Our youth are denied any horizon beyond material gratification. That is the real poverty, deliberately created by the state.

    David Skinner, UK

  7. Thank you Bill for your take on this situation. When Ms Macklin made that comment about $35 per week, I thought she’s going to regret that. It seemed as though she was caught of guard. You know, didn’t have a better answer prepared.
    But as you say Bill, who really cares? Even in my own circles I’ve experienced this. My wife and I spent Xmas with a family. Just in our normal conversation, about anything and everything, we found we were repeating ourselves a lot. You see they have the 3 story house, the sale of a business which gave them 2m dollars, and when I mentioned home schooling and losing my wife’s income, they looked confused. They thought why is that a problem? They just don’t get it. Ms Macklin could lose her job and get another one quickly. A small inconvenience. At $6321 a week my wife said, with that sort of money, we could get serious about community projects to help.
    But the real truth is as David said, their poor.
    Daniel Kempton

  8. Yes there’s “a lot of work that could be done on farms” but the government loads up potential employers with a bunch of red-tape and on-costs, thereby discouraging employment. The problem is government interference, not an unwillingness to work or to employ.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  9. The group, single mothers, should be helped financially by the Govt. making the fathers pay up. If they won`t notify who the father is, no pension should be forthcoming.
    I`m all for increasing benefits, but they have to start being more accountable to why they require them.
    Housing commission houses should be for a maximum of 10 years to all people who can work, after that they should be moved to another H.C house, lest they come to think the house is legitimatly theirs. Yes, yes, it sounds hard, and for some cases you`re right, but I know of too many where it is not, and the govt. can`t assess every case individually can they ? Think how many 4 bedroom H.C houses have 1 person in them for example.
    The govt. should be thinking smart, not just looking for easy cost cutting.
    Johannes Archer

  10. Family break-up is not always the father’s fault, so I am not sure if they should always be the ones paying.
    I read with interest the earlier comment on how people don’t think it is worthwhile working for an extra $10 a week. That is typical example of what welfarism has done to individual attitudes. Centrelink money should never be given out without the requirement of the recipient doing some volunteer work in return. That way it is harder for the money to be seen as “a right”, but would always be connected with the act of working for it.
    As for politicians, why do they get paid so much? Is it to insure that the highly motivated and qualified get the job and do well for the people? Do we not in fact thereby attract those who with their cleverness make an easy life for themselves and don’t care who they are fleecing in the process?
    Sadly, to me reality mainly points to the latter scenario.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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