The more you earn, the more you burn

Work is central to any society. Many, certainly in developed nations, question the validity of the notion of work. After all, don’t we dream of an island life, cocktail in hand, footloose and fancy free? How would we fund such a lavish occasion without first having earned the money to pay for it? Work has evolved throughout centuries from forming the basis of an agrarian society to a capitalist one. With a transition from the production of necessities consumed by oneself or production of surplus, consumed by others. Through observing a work deficit, welfare States a changing labour force and a capitalist economy we begin to unravel the complexities of the role of work in modern society.


A work deficit
 

With the global economy at an all time low, families across the world suffered incredibly during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. With people being laid off and not enough work, people’s living standards dropped dramatically with many unable to afford basic necessities. I recall the story of my 95-year-old grandfather, who starving at the time, was caught stealing a few potatoes and running across the rail tracks. Juxtaposed to my current situation where most days include a lavish meal with friends at a trendy establishment. In the developed world unemployment is relatively low with most members of society able to participate actively in the workforce. This in turn increases living standards and the ability to afford to maintain material subsistence.

In developing countries many jump at the opportunity to undertake any form of paid labour (hence increased sex work and slavery), while work opportunities are rare. In Australia there are increasing numbers of internships being taken by students in order to get ahead and get their first break. The sad reality is that many of the popular employers harvesting this unpaid labour can afford it. When you think of slicing a tiny percentage from one person’s bonus that could probably pay an intern for a year it begs the question, are internships fair? How do we as a collective balance too much work with not enough work? These examples illustrate the importance of a stable economy in not only producing excess but simply creating paid employment for people to maintain material subsistence.  


Support from the State

Welfare States across the world are characterised by the measures with which any Government allocates taxes in order to support its citizens. In Sweden we see a society safeguarded on many levels by the lenient tax system affording many Swedes reasonably priced childcare, sickness benefits and retirement fund models. In contrast, Australia is a ‘wage earner welfare state’ based on the stale concept of a nuclear family, with male breadwinner financially supporting his family while women typically care for the home and family. Welfare is distributed when citizens of a society cannot work. Possibly due to illness, misfortune, trouble securing work, retirement or incentives to care for family members and reduce time spent working.

While the age-old debate over ‘lifters vs. learners’ continues, it should be noted that work benefits citizens beyond the financial return. Work brings routine, discipline, respect and drives self-actualisation through interacting with various people and situations outside your normal lifestyle. The concept of valuing what you spend if you have earned it is too beneficial. Studies have shown that those who are employed are less likely to engage in anti social behaviour. This can range from unlawful activity (crime, drugs) to unhealthy pastimes that can lead to a deterioration in healthy both physical and mental, thus causing a raft of direct public health costs. Of course it can be argued that overworking is detrimental to health, on the whole, not working where you are not incapacitated, is more detrimental.


The changing labour force

The reality in the modern world is that women no longer need to rely on men to financially support them, divorce is on the rise and there are same sex marriages, single mothers and even single fathers. It is estimated women will acquire considerably less superannuation than men due to the role they take on as caregiver when they bear children. Is all of the cooking, cleaning, caring for children and potentially partners factored by the State? After all, we do still require a labour force to be produced in order to ensure labour productivity and a stable economy.

Due to WWII and the birth of the baby boomers our population and resources will be skewed toward retirees over the next few years. It will be important for retirees to have access to pensions and sufficient superannuation funds. This a policy masterstroke by the Labour Government ensuring that citizens are forced to save a portion of their salary across their lifetime in order to reduce the pressure on the welfare system come retirement. Technology has certainly created a shift from the industrial economy to a service economy. While many complain that they have lost their jobs e.g. car manufacturers, while being replaced by machines it could be argued many jobs have been created, particularly in the technology sector. If you can’t stop technological progress it appeals the solution is to embrace it.  


The more you earn, the more you burn
 

Its human nature to never be satisfied. I have personally experienced the same ability to enjoy life whether being paid a nominal fee or a competitive full time salary. You seem to find more things you don’t need to purchase with a ‘surplus’. Financial speculation can drastically increase income based on speculation and little labour productivity, which becomes detrimental to income equality. Consider the wealthiest few people earning more than millions of Australians. So is this race to enjoy a high salary really worth it after all? I am another living experiment of work life balance. After having worked many a full time role I fell into a four day work week and boy has it been refreshing. For what has been largely an incremental decrease in salary I find myself able to do the things we as a society enjoy, such as caring for my grandfather, enjoying the fresh air and achieving self-actualisation through more reading and writing.  


Can’t live with it, can’t live without it…

So it would appear that work is a valuable component of any society. Whether it affects social cohesion through a work deficit as seen throughout the Great Depression or whether citizens need to rely on the Welfare state to support material subsistence. It has been proven that work ismore bountiful than simply being a mechanism to earn a living. It unleashes potential, brings order, routine and discipline and can ensure we cherish time off and don’t take our freedom for granted. This of course not always the case when corporations are overworking people. We see a changing role in the labour force that includes the changing role of women, an ageing population and the rise in technology. Respective policies such as Australia’s wage earner welfare state largely founded on the basis of the nuclear family must be revitalised to reflect the changing nature of the labour force.

We must support policy instruments such as superannuation to eventually support retirement. Finally we must adapt and embrace with the birth of new technologies and their effects on the labour force and work. Society should analyse the effects of a capitalist ideal and consider the collectivist notion that includes spending more time caring for friends and family (and oneself) and less time supporting the pursuit of profit. Working is ideal to ensure a stable standard of living and of the formulation of oneself, however, it’s when the balance begins to erode the sense of self and supporting others that we should really question our approach to work.

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Social functioning spend

Or “the budget” as most of us may be familiar with.  I touched on this in an earlier post as I have now entered the world of taking an interest in “the budget”. It really isn’t branded appropriately because what the budget aims to do is increase social cohesion, or functioning.  That is, the reduction in anti social behaviour (largely crime related) and increased welfare of citizens.

I was privileged to attend the NSW budget briefing delivered by the NSW treasury secretary and what an inspiring man.  Treasury have a pretty tough job – keeping millions of people happy through maintaining our living standards through effective fiscal planning!  He said if he could summarise the FY15 budget in a sentence, it would be through Ross Gittins’ (SMH economics editor) remark the new Premier ‘Mike Baird is nothing if not game. His first budget as Premier is a model of fiscal rectitude.’.  The >$60b tax payer funded fiscal plan takes us through to a surplus, which is ideal to maintain our strong economy.

Protecting and supporting fellow Australians

The NSW Government has said it will invest heavily in:

  • Child protection “Keeping them safe reform” – which is a sound strategy as a supportive childhood often leads to increased wellbeing as an adult.  Which in turn produces labour that is productive and enhances economic stability therefore leading to increased wellbeing due to sufficient living standards.
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – ensuring that those who are less able have greater choice as part of their care plans. This scheme also seeks to support carers in their quest to support themselves and others.
  • Home owners grant extension – likely due to promote property ownership which in turn leads to greater labour productivity through motivating citizens to work to pay off their mortgage.  In turn, also creating a more stable lifestyle ensuring adequate housing and a potential profit making asset when sold to downsize upon retirement, or later enter an aged care facility.  The ageing population, as a result of the Baby Boomers post WWII, will put pressure on resource allocation through increased demand for aged care facilities, more health services and increases in welfare / pension distribution and reduced labour productivity.

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Revenue sources

  • Payroll tax reductions – ensuring revenue can be raised from a variety of sources and that low income earners see increased take home pay as the cost of living continues to rise.  In ACT for example, Land Tax is one of the greatest revenue raisers.
  • Asset recycling – will play a large role in heading to surplus by, for example, outsourcing infrastructure projects to international investors.  For example, the $400m Pacific Highway upgrade.
  • Private investment opportunities and partnerships – It’s no secret Australia’s federal treasurer has slashed health funding from 26% of the total budget to just 13%.  However it should be noted that there are greater incentives in place to keep people out of hospital and the health care system.  Another example of state’s increasing revenue bases from outside sources include private investment into the new Northern Beaches hospital to be built.
  • Potential for revisiting older models e.g. use of funds / source of funds.  Fuel excise at 3% goes straight back into maintaining and developing road infrastructure.

The end of the mining boom

One of the stand out components of the NSW budget delivery is the huge impact reduction in demand for Australia’s natural resources that are being mined which has affected Gross National Investment (GNI). This relates to income and subsequently affects expenditure, thus reducing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) i.e. production.

In good hands

In order to maintain a strong economy based on equal parts production (supply) and consumption (demand) we need strong labour productivity.  This in turn will continue to drive Australia’s largely globally envied living standards, ‘the lucky country’ and ‘the Australian way’.

Innovation in the public service is key with bureaucracy and old ways of doing things no longer feasible.  In order to serve the citizens of NSW effectively public servants must embrace change and new, more efficient and innovative ways of creating best practice service delivery and “unleashing talent”.  An example more recently of this has been the roll out of Service NSW branches, a one stop shop for many of your administrative needs e.g. licence, etoll, seniors card.

The NSW treasury secretary ended by saying he sees tax as needing to be fair and efficient and that effective roll out of the forecast budgeted projects requires collaboration, trust and clarity.

My take is that as long as we stay passionate about being educated, work hard, buy a property and stay healthy we will be all good! And for those of us who may be disadvantaged and unable to, those who can will support you.  Any criminals who impede achievement of these ideals will be punished….

I think we are in good hands…

A prisoner for life?

I had the privilege of attending one of the most explosive debates on recidivism and the reintegration of convicted criminals back into society at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas last weekend. When I first read that a double convicted murderer, Erwin James, was coming to Australia to speak I wondered what it would be like to hear his experience of 20 years behind bars for taking the lives of two men.

When he walked on stage and began speaking, I could see remorse ingrained in his face which was permanently furrowed, he never smiled and spoke softly and slowly. I didn’t know how I was going to feel about his views and whether I would agree…whether he deserved the treatment he got in prison and again on release…by the end of the discussion I had some respect (for a murderer?) for his struggle and for his views on recidivism.

Erwin James’ life became troubled at age 10 when his mother was killed in a car accident. His father, unable to cope, became an alcoholic and was abusive toward Erwin, at one stage pushing his head into the fire for smiling.  Erwin was convicted of burglary at age 10 after stealing from a sweet shop…he then left home to sleep on the streets, unable to handle his father’s rage.  He was moved into a boys home where he fast learned the tricks of the trade leading him on a downward spiral and a life on the streets filled with crime.  He by no means was justifying his crimes but painted the picture of a troubled childhood which played a role in his perception of right and wrong.

He didn’t talk much about his crimes, understandably, but wanted to focus on ‘life on the inside’ and whether society wanted criminals to be able to effectively reintegrate into society upon release.

Erwin suggested that if prisoners are in there forever we don’t need to pay as much attention to recidivism but the fact is many prisoners are released and the chances of reoffending are high, at least 60% in the UK,  50% in Australia.

He described prison as a place where you ‘live inside your head’, initially he was in a cell for 23hrs a day.  It was here he would try and work out why he did what he did. The prison psychologist helped him understand that all people are born loveable and aren’t inherently bad people…and so he began to untangle his dysfunctions.  He recalls seeing a photo of himself as a young boy with a cowboy hat on and wondered where it all went wrong.

It was a long and difficult 20 years with many prisoners taking their own life (1247 he recalls in great detail) ‘a place of fear where people were struggling’.  He was moved to a longer term maximum security prison and was able to then use workshops, the chapel, a gym and saw more possibilities.  He joined an English class which was important to be able to exercise his mind again.

Prison was a land of hierarchy and unwritten rules with someone being stabbed every other week.  He experienced a major riot and a siege but he hung on to hope and books.  The prison psychologist told him that he owes it to his victims to ‘do the best you can in here’.

He became known as ‘the guy who could write a good letter’ and started writing letters for other inmates to lawyers, family, complaints for people.  He started to feel good that he was able to contribute to a community and knew that if he ever got out he would want to make a positive contribution to society.  He saw writing as an enabler, allowing him to find a way to live again and walk the middle line between his past and future. He was chronically inhibited in prison and needed to feel secure again.

He was asked to write for the Guardian Newspaper a column on ‘life inside’.  This was an opportunity for Erwin to apply himself and have a second chance at life and is where he has been employed since.

Prison as a deterrent

Naturally, the question was raised that conditions in prison should be tough so its a deterrent to those choosing to commit crimes.  Erwin explained that he absolutely agrees that prison shouldn’t be a playground but that ultimately these people are going to be released and if we don’t want them continuing to harm members of society upon release they need to live in a way that is not going to impact their actions upon release.  ‘Prison crushes you, undermines, erodes and corrodes you and dismantles your humanity’.  You may get released but the debt you owe the victims and their families even after 20 years inside will never be repaid, and having that on your conscience is a true life sentence.

Early intervention

The question was raised around Erwin’s troubled childhood and it was agreed that early intervention from social services and the right education and support is key to ensuring criminality doesn’t result.

Victims and their families

Erwin at no point felt that his crimes should be excused, he raised some interesting views on what next after serving your time… A criminal record will always stay with him and even minimised his chances of getting a visa to come to Australia to speak.  However he just tries to ‘do the best he can’ with what time he has left on the outside.  Inside he hoped that he would live to see just one more sunny day…

Can people change? Can we forgive?

In Norway there is a prison called Bastoy that sees only 16% of its inmates reoffending upon release.  However, it is argued that Norway with its relatively small population, egalitarian nature and high quality of life within the community play a role.  Its here prisoners are given responsibility, for example through farming on site.
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/04/bastoy-norwegian-prison-works

Hearing first hand from a convicted criminal was enlightening.  It changed my perspective on our prison system.  Ultimately there are some criminals that will continue to reoffend and cause major harm in the community and shouldn’t be released and Erwin acknowledges this.  Conversely, there are many people imprisoned that commit fraud and other smaller crimes that probably don’t deserve to live in such circumstances and can be rehabilitated and deterred in different ways. However, there are others that will be released and upon spending sometimes decades in a hardened prison won’t be able to function in society as we know it.

People are people ultimately and its up to society as to whether they want to keep prisoners in there for life, or even capital punishment like in the US, but the fact remains many prisoners are currently released so its up to us to decide how they are treated in prison to reduce recidivism.

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/A_life_inside.html?id=SZIbAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y

http://news.com.au/national/thomas-kelly-killer-kieran-loveridge-gets-four-years-jail/story-fncynjr2-1226755733724n

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/my-conversations-with-a-coldblooded-killer/story-fnixwvgh-1226758834186

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/derrick-deacon-explains-what-freedom-feels-like-after-25-years/story-fnixwvgh-1226766427689

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/simon-gittanys-new-life-in-jail-and-what-his-girlfriend-will-see-of-him/story-fnet09p2-1226770560480