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Burning down the house of inequality

  • 28 June 2018


If you want to look for the logic behind cutting taxes and flattening out the tax system, look no further than this formulation of individualism by former Liberal federal MP Bronwyn Bishop: 'Individualism means you make laws so that the individual can prosper and reach their maximum potential and that they are free to use that skill to the best of their ability.'

It is against this frame that we need to analyse the urgent desire for tax cuts that occupies and colonises our political imagination. But before we can talk about tax cuts we need to talk about tax, and before we talk about tax we need to talk about the role of government.

If you accept the tenets of individualism, you are going to struggle to see why we should have anything but the most minimal level of taxation, and you certainly wouldn't hold that taxation should be progressive in order to be fair.

On this logic you would welcome the government's massive ideological reframing of the taxation system, significantly flattening it out, disproportionately rewarding those who already have much, and taking from those who have little via cuts to social security, social expenditure and penalty rates. You would also accept the deeply offensive proposition that inequality is caused by a purported lack of aspiration on the part of those who bear its brunt.

You wouldn't, in fact, see the reduction of inequality as a reasonable objective for a society through its government. You would probably see inequality as a measure of effort or, in the unforgettable words of one commentator earlier this year, 'a measure of freedom'.

Inequality is a political failure; not a personal one.

As the commons were being enclosed in 17th century England, an anonymous poet wryly observed: 'The law locks up the man or woman / Who steals a goose from off the common / But leaves the greater villain loose / Who steals the common from under the goose.'


"This is not just about having the resources to support those who bear the brunt of extreme inequality. It is about the value of a society collectively achieving for everyone that which we hold to be essential for a decent life."


It is the 'commons' that are the greatest collective means of actually ensuring that everyone does get to prosper and be able to use their abilities while also meeting their needs.

If we were serious about addressing inequality