Rich or poor, you don't deserve what you've got
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Rich or poor, you don't deserve what you've got

Them dole bludgers, eh? They just lie around on welfare, living the life of Riley (if Riley was cool with living significantly below the poverty line), choosing not to get work because they're not prepared to put in a little effort.

Sure, they whine about not being able to afford rent or afford new shoes for their kids, but they just brought all this upon themselves by not applying elbow grease to the bootstraps by which they should be pulling themselves up, right?

Bold and risk-taking millionaire entrepreneurs generally have wealthy parents.

Bold and risk-taking millionaire entrepreneurs generally have wealthy parents.

Photo: iStock

Meanwhile our business leaders and industry magnates are out there making shrewd decisions, taking bold risks and showing the excellent judgement which has propelled them to the tippity-top. When they say government spends too much on social services or that Australia needs corporate tax breaks to be competitive we should listen - because they'd hardly be super-rich if they weren't also wise, surely?

And boy, life would be so much more straightforward if either of the above paragraphs were even remotely true, because the fact is that you have far, far, far less control over your life and wellbeing than you'd like to think. And by "you", I mean "literally everyone".

Take poverty, for example. One of the biggest predictors of lifelong poverty is being born into it: as the Department of Social Services put it in their 2014 review of intergenerational welfare, "children from families that are dependent on income support are at an increased risk of receiving income support."

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Australia has historically had an enviable level of social mobility, but that's changing now as more of our wealth (and our most desirable bits of our cities) are locked up by the very rich, leaving less money in less well-serviced areas for the have nots.

Conversely, we like to praise bold and risk-taking millionaire entrepreneurs, but you know what they have most in common? Wealthy families.

It turns out it's a lot easier to take risks when you know mum and dad can bail you out, and it's easier to get that seed funding when it's a matter of asking your auntie or your best mate's dad if they have some spare investment capital gathering dust. You have options that people who don't know rich people just don't have.

And this lack of options plays out in other ways too. For example, data emerged during the government's 'No Jab No Pay' campaign revealing the majority of parents who don't immunise their kids are doing so not because they hold incorrect beliefs about health risks but because they lived in poor areas with limited transport and limited health services, where doing follow-up vaccinations was inconvenient and difficult.

In other words, structural issues determine people's lives far more than personal choices do, because the options individuals have available to them are dependant on their background and circumstances.

In fact, the more you know about a person's background, the more accurately you can predict the shape their life will most likely take.

For example: my son was born in Sydney four months ago to white middle-class uni-educated parents, so immediately you can make a bunch of surprisingly specific predictions about him based on the luck of his parentage.

Chances are he'll do well academically since he has parents who value education; he's unlikely to ever be discriminated against on sexist or racist grounds, and he's likely to live beyond his eighties since he'll have access to decent health care. In fact, you can even take a punt as to what his most significant health risks will be as an Australian male: obesity and depression.

He's probably not going to be super-wealthy, since his folks most assuredly are not, but he's very likely to end up being the sort of solid, upwardly mobile person that the government of the day will praise for contributing to society. Since his current choices seem to be focussed on what toy he's going to dribble on and how quickly after a change he's going to refill his nappy, I'm confident in saying the aforementioned outcomes have little to do with his excellent decision making.

Of course, this isn't going to stop the certain sections of society damning dole bludgers for their terrible choices any more than it's going to prevent our world leaders largely being people who've successfully exploited the benefits of inherited wealth for political gain. But it's worth remembering that the range of successes and failures available to individuals are largely determined by the situation into which they entered the world.

In other words: sorry, lifters. You're just leaners who fluked into better options.

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