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Abbott Government blind to social capital


Human capital image

The Abbott Government's abolition of the price on carbon was part of its agenda to remove or weaken regulation that is thought to place a burden on business. Aside from the carbon tax, much of the Coalition's legislative program gives priority to capital over human need. The removal of important elements of the previous government's increased protection for consumers seeking financial advice is an example.

It is significant that the Abbott Government has a popular mandate to wind back its predecessor's policies that promoted social inclusion. This is despite the fact that many of the new Government's moves are clearly contrary to the common interest of the Australian people. For instance the mining super profits tax — which it is set to abolish — was designed to direct a proportion of the revenue from the nation's mineral wealth from large, predominantly foreign owned corporations, back to the common good of the Australian people. But the Australian people apparently want the big miners to keep their super profits.

Why? One possible answer lies in the symbolic value of business entrepreneurship. This is promoted as a good that trumps others, including — and especially — the social good. The social good has even been demonised, with welfare assistance depicted as the defining characteristic of the 'age of entitlement' that must be ended.

The glorification of business entrepreneurship has quite a bit of history, with the philosophy of the 'self made man' that came to dominate life in the United States and spread to other countries of the world, particularly in East Asia. Until now Australians have been proud to think of their nation as the land of the fair go, but it seems we've been won over by the promise of individual prosperity.

The culture of business entrepreneurship is difficult to avoid because it is linked to the globalisation of financial capital. But most especially, it dominates our education system, which must prepare young people to participate in the market economy. Future generations are likely to be indifferent, or even hostile, to the common good.

This was the scenario depicted earlier this month by Fr Benny Juliawan of the Jesuit Conference of Asia-Pacific, who was a keynote speaker at the Jesuit education colloquium in Sydney.

'School management, curricula and the general atmosphere in society idealise an entrepreneurial subject which revolves around discourses of competition and enterprise ... This underlying discourse of entrepreneurship redefines traditional values such as freedom and empowerment in a highly individualised sense.'

Juliawan believes the talents and personalities of today's students are geared toward joining a profession that will fulfil the material aspiration of the middle class, and that there is a serious shortcoming in the entrepreneurial self that is crafted through our education system.

The energy and focus of the activity of creating wealth is in itself admirable. But social — rather than business — entrepreneurship promises a better world. Business entrepreneurs measure performance in terms of financial profit and return, while social entrepreneurs offer profits for society and not just themselves. 

A good role model for aspiring social entrepreneurs is the Jesuit educated Australian rooftop solar pioneer Danny Kennedy, who featured on ABC1's 4 Corners two weeks ago. To realise his ambitions he had to leave his home country and settle in the US, where paradoxically he has discovered there is more appetite for social entrepreneurship than there is in egalitarian Australia. That's because it ultimately makes good business sense.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Human capital image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tony Abbott, Benny Juliawan, Danny Kennedy, social entrepreneur, business, carbon tax



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Existing comments

Or consider the modern idea of a university as a place for producing accountants and lawyers and engineers. And contrast with the view of Newman, the founder/first rector of my former university (UCD), "It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it."

Frank | 21 July 2014  

What you say sounds impressive but in view of the fact that Australia is 48% welfare dependent, your statements don't have much credibility. A little "whistling in the wind" so to speak.stands up

shirley McHugh | 21 July 2014  

Hi Michael An excellent article, however, more explanation as to why social capital makes good business sense would be helpful. Cheers

Mick Geaney | 21 July 2014  

Shirley, this figure of 48%. Could you explain it. Does it mean that almost half of us depend solely on welfare for our income? Or does it mean that 48% of us receive some welfare support (for example all those on part-aged pensions)?

Janet | 21 July 2014  

some people are using the terms "social entrepreneurship" and "business entrepreneurship" interchangeably ... this is both confusing and unhelpful. Businesses like "who gives a crap?" and "spade and barrow" and "second bite" etc are all both! The Maori business world includes both well-being (individual and communal) and viability in their work ethos and relationships (internal and external). There are many great enterprises emerging that are not solely profit-driven. We need to support them if we really wish to walk the talk.

mary | 21 July 2014  

Sadly my "old school"- Joeys, has moved in that direction since I left it in the 1960's. I have also seen evidence of that philosophy in the Catholic Education of system of which I was a part for many years-particularly in the more elite schools. It is a very sad day indeed when our Catholic Schools sell their credentials on material success of the "Old Boys/Old Girls". Sadly we are now more and more reflecting the social mores of our society rather than trying to lead by example. Maybe its old age catching up with me or maybe I see the past through rose coloured glasses? Either way I lament the way our society (and the Church)_is going whether it be in business or treatment of the refuges.

Gavin O'Brien | 22 July 2014  

I don't believe that the government has a "mandate" to wind back policies that encourage social incusion and the welfare of ALL Australians. The government had many policies on offer but while voters would support a selection of these policies they could also strongly oppose others. support every one. A voter may support the refugee policy while at the same time strongly opposing the education policy: which policy has the mandate?

Adrian J. C. | 22 July 2014  

I find a certain disconnect in Fr Juliawan's remarks. 1. Contrary to what he recommends, parents from time immemorial have sought to promote the economic flourishing of their offspring - via education, or whatever. Yet, all things considered, how is this not common sense? Hands up anyone on ES who has chosen that their child be significantly be denied a standard level of basic education for the sake of some ideal of their own? If your hand is up, shame on you! 2. Fr J seems to be seriously suggesting that local (ie ultimately parental) as opposed to state control is a bad thing! Totally contrary to church teaching! And, by the way, why is E.S., traditionally so proudly anti-hierarchy in all its forms, promoting Fr J’s idea that a state hierarchy knows best? 3. Most importantly, Fr J candidly admits of Asia's burgeoning middle class: "By 2030 Asia Pacific’s middle class will be almost five times larger than Europe’s and ten times larger than North America’s". Um, how is this a bad thing, given that Asia Pacific was a grossly impoverished, underdeveloped area 50 years ago? Are we to lament the increase of the Asia Pacific middle class and the huge increase of wealth thereby, which has lifted millions out of poverty? Fr J, it seems, has problems about people lifting themselves out of poverty. I have serious problems with Fr J denying people the right to lift themselves out of poverty.

HH | 28 July 2014  

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