Politics Opinion

Fixing Australia's capitalism problem will take action, not words

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(Cartoon by Paul Dorin / @DorinToons)

Action is needed to address the current state of declining living standards under the capitalist framework in order to achieve an equitable future, writes Navishkar Ram.

AUSTRALIANS ARE LIVING through one of the worst economic downturns of the past decade, which constitutes the third “once in a lifetime” financial crash since 2000. Amidst all this chaos, the Australian Bureau of Statistics proposes that families and individuals are paying much more than they have at any stage of our recent history for food, insurance, transportation, health, as well as household items.

Inflation continues to remain stubbornly high, sitting at just under 6%, which the Reserve Bank of Australia and its widely unpopular Governor, Philip Lowe, have stated is simply too high, veering off its 2%-3% target. While inflation is easing – it reached a record high of 8% in December 2022 – the costs imposed on working Australians continue to escalate.

Despite signs in the economy that hint at a return to some degree of normality, the price of food, petrol, childcare and other essential items refuses to decelerate with the same momentum. To further complicate and contextualise this situation, the corporations selling those goods are reaping the “rewards” of the inflationary environment, with subsequent record profits.

You can almost picture the scene now. A pinstriped executive toasting his board for their billions in profit in their office. A city of tents slowly growing by the day in the distance, within eyesight but so far away from concern that it may as well be a regular feature of the cityscape.

Indeed, tent cities are becoming a common sight in most of our capital cities. At some point, they will become part of the furniture. There must be something said of a system that asks working and middle-income families to continue to shoulder the burden of a clearly unstable economic architecture. The fact that our political class has so blatantly flogged off any reasonable and responsible intervention in the economy speaks volumes.

Over the course of this cost-of-living crisis, the response from our state and federal governments has been to allow the economic situation to run its course, providing some extremely targeted support to increasingly small sectors of the community in the hope that these lifelines can be construed as “actually helping”.

For a party that is supposedly built on working-class values, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor doesn’t appear too concerned about the millions of working Australians who face the prospect of losing their homes, ending up on the streets, or going hungry to feed their children.

The resounding consensus among the public appears to be that the Government ought to do more to prevent further suffering. But, given that the data points to easing economic conditions, we can assume its best wish will be that the environment returns to a state of normality, enough so that its torpidity will be forgotten by the masses. Only, there are many among us who have long memories.

The collective will remember the time when our leaders told us to work through this catastrophe by ourselves and continue to hand over more of our hard-earned dollars to banks, corporations and vested interests. While this crisis has encouraged many to think deeply about who this government works for (hint: it's not you), the fallibility of the capitalist system has been put on display for all to see.

It's a system that crashes regularly as part of its cycle of development. A system that needs to have a certain portion of the working population remain unemployed for “stability”. A system that drives inequality by pricing out so many from meaningful access to housing, education and good-quality work. The working class has been ignored, yet again. That much shouldn’t be surprising to anyone.

Society continues to treat the symptoms of the capitalist dystopia that we are heading toward at astonishing speed while ignoring the causes. Ordinary people are made to feel like they are to blame, and with this comes the added weight of mental and physical strain that manifests in even poorer health and economic outcomes.

There has never been a more appropriate time to engage in a broader national discussion about the prevailing economic system and how better to operationalise this system to provide improved outcomes for the people who live within it. One of the major obstacles to even considering this idea comes from within the establishment, from among the political class, which benefits from ensuring its survivability.

True and meaningful change cannot come from the belief that our elected representatives will do what is right each time. It's now abundantly clear that the people demand change and it is also time for a larger engagement on how to best realise this change. If the subjective historical experience is any indication, our society should brace for frequent and increasingly severe economic crashes in our lifetime. All of which will only heighten sentiments that the system is broken and that its people are, too.

Navishkar Ram is an avid opinion piece writer, social commentator, lifelong progressive and a local of South-Western Sydney.

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