How ‘Shouldland’ politics can influence public policy

I apologize in advance, but I am going to get a little political in this post. I normally steer clear of these debates, but this recent speech by the Australian shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, has sparked my interest in how should politics can influence public policy.

Joe Hockey is on the conservative side of politics in Australia. On April 17th 2012 he gave this speech to the Institute Of Economic Affairs in London, titled ‘The End Of The Age Of Entitlement’.

He argues that “the social contract between government and its citizens needs to be urgently and significantly redefined. The reality is that we cannot have greater government services and more government involvement in our lives coupled with significantly lower taxation… Equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome is my preferred model for contemporary society.”

He might be right about the ‘equality of opportunity’ statement, but he is wrong about what he thinks it means. Mr Hockey describes himself as a “child of a father who came to Australia in 1948 as a refugee from Palestine and built himself into a successful businessman… I know that being successful in Australia is… the result of hard work and diligence.”

He has let his personal journey in life greatly influence his should beliefs, and attempts to enforce them on the entire community. He has bought the lie that conservative philosophy should be applied to a range of issues and government policies to give incentives for people to work hard and become financially secure: If you are financially well-off then that’s because you deserve it, if you are poor then it is your own fault.

Often in life financially security has little to do with hard work. Our society is increasingly differentiating between the haves and the have-nots, and this has little to do with hard work. Other factors, most notably the family and socio-economic class that you are born in to, have much more of an impact on your potential financial situation than hard work. 

There isn’t an ‘equality of opportunity’ in our society. Mr Hockey is in his position in life because of the inequitable opportunities that he was given to start his life. Access to better education and health are just two things that he had, and now wants to deny the majority.

He promotes living a simpler life; “your parents look after the kids, you look after your grandkids and you save as you work for 40 years to fund your retirement”.

His influence on public policy is very much clouded by what his beliefs on families should be. Just because his extended family unit is intact, and so is the family unit of his friends and colleagues, doesn’t mean that this is true of everybody. This underpins his conservative beliefs – that everyone should live like him.

A politicians belief on how things should be, based on both his conservative greed and his unrealistic traditional values that he wants to enforce on others, adds to our collective inability to escape from Shouldland.

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One Response to How ‘Shouldland’ politics can influence public policy

  1. trokspot says:

    great post! i teach sociology courses at a university, and it’s often extremely difficult to get people to see some of these broader factors (the sociological imagination) at play, especially when it comes to this notion of competitive individualism – those who have success must have gotten there through hard work, while those who are not successful must be lazy or incapable. it’s always hard to get people thinking about advantages that you mention such as access to education and healthcare (among a variety of others!).

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