A Businessman’s Warning

The headline in today’s Australian reflects many of the sentiments that I have been writing about in recent years.

This time the warnings come from respected businessman Don Argus.
“Political complacency ‘failing next generation’” the headline reads. What follows is a welcome assessment of how our nation is being let down by the standard of political debate in this country.

Mr Argus suggests that urgent action is needed to “secure the living standards of future generations”. He is absolutely right. At almost every level – fiscally as well as socially – we are borrowing from tomorrow to indulge today.

Our government is racking up intergenerational levels of debt through unsustainable government expenditure. The Labor spendthrifts justify their incompetence by comparing our debt with other nations.

That’s like comparing a ‘bottle a day’ whiskey drinker with a ‘three bottle a day’ drunkard. Both levels of consumption will ultimately do serious damage to your health and wellbeing but the former takes personal comfort from the even larger excesses of the latter.

Just because America, England, Greece and a myriad of other nations have larger debt positions than Australia it doesn’t mean our balance sheet is in good shape. Sure, it might compare favourably at a statistical level but it certainly doesn’t reflect a higher degree of sobriety than the others.

It just demonstrates how important the Howard decade was to creating a strong financial base for Australia’s future and how much damage can be done by a poor government in a short space of time.

Argus is also critical of the level of national debate, which he suggests has become “oversimplified and so heavily geared towards the media cycle”. I’d suggest that public debate is now more reflective of a political soap opera than serious consideration on what is in the best interests of the nation.

It seems that almost any suggestion or idea advanced for serious discussion inevitably results in low level political point scoring, custom made for the evening news.

We even have government ministers doing song and dance routines!

But what about serious debate and the big issues?

Many of us know business is concerned about productivity loss and an inflexible industrial relations regime, but to suggest the Liberals can do better results in a cacophony of ‘WorkChoices’ from the government.

If you question stupid new taxes you instantly are labelled ‘a puppet of big business and billionaires’.

Express concern about the many myths surrounding anthropogenic climate change and you become a ‘denier’.

Of course there are many, many other examples but the point is clear. Public debate is now really only masquerading as a series of labels designed to denigrate and destroy your political opponent on television.

It seems the relative merit of the argument has little or no place in this new paradigm.

However, it is not just the government that is vulnerable to criticism. Argus seems to overlook the fact that business often chooses to endorse political agendas based on convenience rather than on credibility.

I have lost count of the business supporters of the former Emissions Trading Scheme who, now that public sentiment has changed, are critical of the latest carbon dioxide pricing mechanism. Some organisations who supposedly represent business interests became government shills in exchange for executive aggrandisement or greater access to the corridors of power. That is their decision to make but they can’t then expect to be quoted as independent experts the very next day.

It is a similar circumstance in the social arena. The entitlement mentality is taking hold of the populace, where no one wants to lose out from cutbacks in government handouts.

‘What’s in it for me?’ cry the generation who are more interested in the immediacy of satisfaction than preparation for the future.

And who can blame them? The very notion that actions have consequences has been almost lost through moral equivalence and non-judgmental schooling. Building self-esteem is now seen as more important than actually developing the habits and knowledge that prepare the next generation for their responsibilities.

Whether it be housing affordability, investment losses or some minor social disadvantage, it is now expected that government will smooth the way. It’s almost as though the government is saying:

We know you don’t earn enough so please, have a handout to buy a new house while we conveniently ignore the fact these handouts keep the prices of homes artificially high.

Lose your money chasing some scam on the Internet? Sure, the government will pay because we allowed it to happen.

This unsustainable approach to what government is almost demanded to do is what people like Argus are warning us about.

It is infecting almost every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so until our citizenry shakes off the apathy and makes a stand for increasing independence.

While it still may be some years away, I sense that day is coming.

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