Forget the mining boom, the rivers of Chinese gold, and the population-driven expansion of the economy. If you’re like most of us, your share of the Australian wealth pie is shrinking, not growing. A study commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) shows that a key measure of income inequality rose between 1997 and 2009, reflecting the expanding gap between rich and poor. Forty percent of the population own 84% of the wealth. The bottom 20% own just 1%. Remember that when you hear the next mining executive wailing about the evils of the proposed mining tax as they rip up and export our resources at an ever- increasing rate while refraining from paying for them!
The ACTU study also looked at attitudes to income equality. It found a wide gap in people’ s perceptions. The poorest 20% believed that they owned 10% of the wealth, while the richest 20% believed they owned 40%. Well they would say that, but it’ s a worry that the poor do not realise how badly off they are. If they did, maybe we’d see some Egyptian or Greek-style protests here!
The study asked people to choose between three countries and choose which they’ d prefer to live in. They were showed pie charts labelled A, B and C to disguise them. “ A” was the actual chart for Australia, “ B” was the result of a 2011 perception survey of an ideal economy in the United States and “ C” was a fictitious country with equal distribution of income. Seventy-two percent chose the result of the perception survey, where people were asked to rate their ideal distribution of income, compared to 23% for Australia as it is. When comparing Australia against the fictitious “ equal society,” 66% chose the latter and 30% chose Australia. Finally, the ideal from the United States was rated against the equal society. In this comparison there was a 47% vote for both. (In all cases the rest of those surveyed had no preference.) The obvious conclusion is that people would like a more equal distribution of wealth. Then study participants were asked to rate Australia, disguised as “ A,” with “ B,” which was the actual distribution of wealth in the United States. The income distribution in the USA is much worse than here, and the trend reversed. Australia scored 63%; the USA 22% and 15% showed no preference. This also confirmed the tendency to prefer a more equal distribution of wealth.
That people prefer a “fairer” economy was also revealed in questions concerning the minimum wage and government intervention to aid the poor. While most participants over-estimated the minimum wage, almost all of them agreed that it should be increased; 82.6% for a rise, 12.5% neutral and only 4.9% opposed. This was across all income levels and all political affiliations (as stated by participants).
Why do working people in particular seem to believe they are better off than they are? The mainstream media is full of capitalist propaganda about the resources boom. Retailers pay billions for adverts that imply all of us are cashed up — the better to buy their products and services at inflated prices. We are bombarded with soap-opera images of people in nice houses, in nice suburbs and insulated from images of poverty, disease and desperation, particularly when it comes to Indigenous Australians in remote communities.
Don’t mourn — organise! Keep reading the FSO, where we aim to give you the information and tools to make a difference to Australia’ s wealth gap. Why not buy or renew your subscription? Better still, why not join the Freedom Socialist Party or Radical Women and get active in the fight for a better world? We’ d love to have you on board!