Human rights

Slavery isn’t all that bad, is it?

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There is one accessory the mega-rich have that the nouveau riche like Abbott would love, says Robby Miller — other people’s time.

St Peter’s last word to the slaves building the Roman economy was:

 “Submit yourselves to your masters.”

It shouldn’t surprise us then that Christian conservatives today agree with the basic principle that it is alright to have someone else working for you for the minimum price of basic food and shelter. 

Who wouldn’t want someone to cook, clean and raise the children? 

As long as the slave was well fed and had no better options, then it would be a win-win situation wouldn’t it?  So goes the mentality of those who do not see themselves as their brother’s keeper — those who consider it fair to prey on other people’s lack to bolster their own luck. 

Of course the working poor here are better described as servants rather than slaves, since they have no ring through their nose and pay for their own food and lodgings.  Either way the jungle is not fair — built on predator / prey relationships. But should we accept the End Game that the conservatives are playing – a society where everyone gathers wealth at such different speeds that ultimately the labour of the lowest 10% can be bought as a luxury item?

Abbott and Hockey, desperate to deflect the negative attention of polls and internet searches, would have us swallow the line that the budget is fair because the poor in Australia are getting richer at a cracking rate. Recently, we were exhorted to be grateful we are not in a hapless Asian country like Cambodia — a place that’s good enough to send refugees to but you wouldn’t want to live there. Previous governments can be credited with lifting Australia to second place on the 2013 UN Human Development Index. We are only one step behind Norway in improving the lives of the poor. 

Using Treasury’s own Gini score of 32, a ranking of the gap between the rich and poor, we are second only to Germany out of the 14 other G20 countries listing a Gini coefficient on the UN group of nations with very high human development. Some countries in the Low Human Development group scored a better Gini – Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan – but that only serves to demonstrate that there is a world of difference between being unequally rich and being equally poor. The poor here are richer and developing faster than almost everyone else. 

Australia is a wonderful place to live, so is the gap between Australia’s not-too-poor and the growing-ever-richer something to worry about?

Treasury admits the gap is widening:

'Income distribution in Australia has become more unequal over the last 30 years.'

(Image via

Also, there were:

'... relatively high disparities in growth between the bottom and top deciles (at 1.5 per cent)… from 1995 until the late 2000s.'

But with the bottom 10% growing at 3% per annum, it seems we are at least looking out for the poor.

So what is the benefit of widening the gap?

There is one accessory that the mega-rich have that the nouveau riche like Abbott would love — help. Other people’s time can be bought by anyone who can afford it. 

We are all born with two things — time and money. Obviously, some are born into more money than others but time is roughly evenly distributed to everyone. Only a few more retirement years go to those who can afford good health care. Working life, however, is much the same for everyone.

We all sell our time, but usually only to corporations in exchange for making them more money than we cost them. There are only two ways to buy another person’s time at the individual level, where the aim is not wealth creation but lifestyle: 

  1. slavery – requiring chains and intimidation; or
  2. a minority who are so much richer than everyone else they can afford to compete in the labour market.

Which brings us back to Abbott and his Coalition’s end game – not the double dissolution, where Palmer will finally reveal his hand as being a Liberal at heart; or even that other Christian conservative end game of climate change denial, predicated on the Bible’s first words on the environment – “fill the earth and subdue it” – but rather the predator / prey ratios of the jungle.  

The number of lions to prey needs to be at least 1:12, or the wildebeest cannot meet demand. One T. Rex needed about 90-100 edible dinosaurs around to keep up supply. 

What the lion and T. Rex do to the weakest 10%, however, is more like good old-fashioned slavery — total subjugation. Yet it comes with the risk of rebellion — a kick in the head has undone many a lion that sticks its neck out. 

A ‘mandate’ for 'no new taxes and no surprises', has taught us the hard way to be wary of political wolves in sheep’s clothing, but do we need to go as far as keeping an eye out for flesh eaters by growing horizon scanning pupils like sheep have evolved?

Should we learn to sleep for only five minutes at a time like the giraffe — be alert or be consumed? Maybe we should start stotting like a gazelle, whose high jumps are a signal that they are too strong to be chased and the lion should go pick on someone else?  Such as, get good marks at school, kids, and the person who fails will have to become the servant instead of you.

Ants, however, can teach us a more subtle economics lesson — catching prey and milking it is easier than catching a new one every time. Aphids are not free to roam, but since the ants keep away other predators, it could be argued that the aphids are lucky to be servants. 

Farmyard domestication has been around for a good 9,000 years and cattle have been genetically improved despite their subjugation. There are about 1.3 billion well fed cattle in the world compared to a paltry million or so wildebeest. In other words, the average cow may not live very long, but it has quality time while it does and is now the undisputed lord of all the grass it can stomach.

In the Lucky Country we have quality time — if not a lot of it after the commute home. Who can blame a minority for aspiring to be rich enough to buy other people’s time to do their menial tasks?

If the growing-ever-richer can pay enough to the not-too-poor, letting them to put a mortgage ring through their nose — then they will be willing to suffer the indignity of doing the dirty work.

Most importantly, if Abbott and Pyne feed them hope that their children could climb out of the slave pit – if they are chained with enough student loan debt (two rings in the nose are better than one) – then the servants will not demand more of their own time and the wealthy will not have to waste so much of theirs.

You can follow Robby Miller on Twitter @rrobbymiller.

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Slavery isn’t all that bad, is it?

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