Date: June 18 2012
Hey, Australia: the next round's on Gina Rinehart. According to the Australian Business Register, Rinehart's fortune grew by almost $19 billion last year. If Fairfax's calculations are correct, she earned more while taking a few minutes to sign court documents than I make every year.
No matter how diligently we labour, most Australians will never have Rinehart's income or influence. The standard of living may rise over the generations, but not necessarily the level of financial equality. This is not simply because miners put in the hard yakka and others do not. It is obvious that hard work alone cannot make a fortune: some of the most dedicated workers in dangerous or essential jobs earn no more than average wage. Rinehart's fortune is intimately tied to contingent market forces, which value some skills and goods more than others.
Differences of class and status also mean that not everyone has an equal chance acquire financial success, let alone great wealth: one's family, suburb and education are better predictors of income, health and well-being than simple talent or belief in oneself. It is no strange cosmic coincidence that Rinehart's father was also a magnate: for all the few ''pulled up by the bootstraps'' stories, wealth tends to breed wealth.
Put simply, Rinehart's wealth is a reminder of the work we still have to do in this country. Not mining work, but political and economic work, at a national level.
Specifically, it suggests why Australia needs redistribution policies, including the proposed tax on mining.
The aim is not to punish the rich. Tax is a socioeconomic, not a punitive, measure. Calling it ''punishment'' is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand, which conflates positive outcomes with negative motives. The purpose of redistribution is to allow more Australians to have greater opportunities for education and training, and the infrastructure to support their ventures. It is, in other words, using a boom in one part of the economy to help create more booms in others; to transform a brief spike in capital flows into something more enduring.
This is important, because - shock horror - not everyone wants to be a mining magnate or Forbes 500 CEO. The largest employer in the economy is not resources but services: retail, real estate, hospitality, for example.
Another big employer is education. But no-one goes into cooking or teaching to party with the Rineharts.
Even with the freedom to take up a lucrative career, many Australians do not. We choose vocations of relative austerity over the gold mines - and other mines - because we believe the work will be more fulfilling than the cash alone. This work can still be useful to society, but it is more personally than financially rewarding. That is, these careers are also valued intrinsically, defined broadly as pleasure in the doing, and pride in the outcomes. This is what drives many teachers, artists, rights advocates, chefs.
This pleasure is not a reason to halt redistributive taxes, and nation-building. The fact that Australians choose vocational over purely monetary rewards is not an excuse to deprive them of a good minimum wage, job security and high workplace standards.
On the contrary, it is a reason for long-term investment. The importance of a career's intrinsic rewards is a good argument for sharing the spoils: to give more Australians more chances to identify, cultivate, and contribute to, the right careers for them. And this will not happen without government investment in the education, infrastructure, research and development and health of the future - investment funded often by taxes.
For all the absurdity of mining lucre, I do not begrudge the magnates their billions. Once they have adequately paid for the country's raw materials, and the pollution that comes with extracting them, they can pocket their gold accordingly. Like so many Australians, what I want is not exorbitant personal wealth, but a genuine commonwealth.
Dr Young is a philosopher and writer, and the author of Distraction. His next book, Philosophy in the Garden (MUP) will be out in November.
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