The tale of the wealthy bludger


Flickr image by messiahdivineWe do not blame the poor for being poor, or suggest that it is because they are lazy or incapable of earning a living. Likewise, is it altogether hard work and enterprise that has made the wealthy rich? Could there be bludgers among the wealthy?

Not many of us have the stamina to look privilege squarely in the face. We have created an economy where we all feel vulnerable. We are familiar with the injustices we personally have to deal with and we feel threatened to even acknowledge the wider picture of disadvantage, let alone do anything about it.

There is a biblical story in which a rich young man chooses to maintain his material wealth rather than give it up to follow Jesus. The tough message is not so much that he loved his wealth and refused to share it. Rather it refers to the problems surrounding his inherited wealth.

In Jesus' time the rich were the people who had the power to manipulate the political and religious structures. They would take over your lands when circumstances forced you into debt.

So it was not just his wealth that was out of kilter but the way he obtained it. Gospel teaching often avoids that lesson, and instead goes for the soft option, citing the story as an injunction to make tax exempt donations to the charity of our choice.

We are all familiar with the concept of affluenza, the 'consumerist mentality' as posited by Clive Hamilton. The economic situation that has unfolded in recent weeks shows how vulnerable even the wealthy are to the nature of the economy.

To say people are driven by greed is not the whole picture. When there is such an ever-widening discrepancy between rich and poor, no one feels secure. Everyone feels as though they are holding on to their way of life by a mere thread.

So it is fear as much as greed that propels people into consumerism. Greed is a product of the vast differences in wealth, and not necessarily a major cause. 

Think what would happen if we lavished attention on disadvantaged areas. If we demanded better schools and facilities from the government. If we put church resources into these areas. We all know the consequences. With better livability more people would be enticed to live in these areas, thus pushing up real estate prices and simply forcing the poor onto another forgotten post code. Such are some of the challenges before us.

The Federal Government is conducting an inquiry into our taxation system. All submissions are to be sent in by 17 October. We all have a responsibility to see what is happening to our taxes. It should be obvious that present taxation favours the wealthy. Taxation has failed to relieve poverty or to lesson the gap between rich and poor. Taxation is now failing to adequately fund community services such as education and health.

Whatever taxes the wealthy pay, they receive back, by and large. Taxation spent on schools, roads, security, communication and facilities all increase land values. Rising land values benefit property owners, and in turn hurt people who have to pay higher rents or who are looking to buy a home.

We all pay our taxes, yet those who have large investments in growth areas where our taxes are spent reap untold benefits. Winners are grinners and this tax grab is made to look so ethical that few of us realise there is a strong body of evidence which disputes the ethics of wealth accumulation via private land acquisition at the expense of the community.

Whatever we want to say about the present debt situation it has been brought about because people were working on the assumption that debt would be paid by ever rising land prices. Building a just society requires more than wealth distribution at the final stage.

Anne SchmidAnne Schmid is Secretary of Prosper Australia.


Topic tags: anne schmid, market crash, just economy



submit a comment

Existing comments

"We all pay our taxes". Really? Perhaps it's time that charities were brought under the taxation umbrella.

andrew trezise | 09 October 2008  

Well put Anne, I totally agree and if you wish to submit your message to the Fed Gov. I am happy to have my name added to your list/petition. Best wishes.

Vivian Bradley | 09 October 2008  

I agree with the sentiment of this article but not the reasoning.
No excuses for greed, it is a failure of intelligent engagement with life. The illusion of samsara. That material wealth represensts a fulfilled life.
The structure of our society allows the wealthy to build the political structures, they are not victims. International financial markets, the most complicated and invasive of these structures.

These markets were never well founded. Trading in speculative debt instruments with no intrinsic value, attempting to build wealth out of all proportion to productive input. We should not seek to resurrect them or lament their passing, but take the opportunity to demand a moral basis for financial dealings.

Our speculative housing bubble was driven by a government under the spell of the illusions we see shattering at present.

Land values being driven by infrastructure spending seems a tenuous connection due to the lack of such spending over the last 15 years. Property values have been influenced by factors such as negative gearing, unregulated credit, and state government drip feeding land releases to maximize stamp duty receipts.
As for the last paragraph google 'ponzi scheme'

Jonah Bones | 09 October 2008  

“In Jesus’ time, the rich were the people who had the power to manipulate the political and religious structures”.
Anne could have gone on to point out that in our time, the rich are the people who have the power to manipulate the political and corporate structures.
Le plus ca change ...

David Arthur | 09 October 2008  

I think Gandhi's list of 7 sins is appropriate at this time. Beware 1)Wealth without work, 2)Pleasure without conscience, 3)Knowledge without character, 4)Commerce without morality, 5)Science without humanity, 6) Worship without sacrifice, 7)Politics without principle

Sheila van Gent | 10 October 2008  

Anne, your article on the "wealthy Bludger" is a timely reminder about the system of injustice present in today's society. It's time people rethink their positions and stand up to help create a more just world based on social justice -- one that would benefit our most vulnerable brothers and sisters in poverty and living practically without proper education. We can help but, sadly, our selfishness gets in the way. Enough!

John Commins | 28 October 2008  

Similar Articles

Reality check for antisocial Church

  • Bruce Duncan
  • 02 October 2008

There is tension in the churches between those focused on piety and those engaged with social justice. Benedict's document on globalisation will presumably stress that concern for social justice is essential to the Church's mission.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up