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Issue # 1408      29 April 2009

Culture & Life

Rich and poor

I see the Australian Ombudsman’s latest report cites telcos as the worst industry as far as complaints are concerned: a record 15 thousand were lodged against them in the last 12 months. The telecommunications industry’s response was to proudly announce in their defence that they had decided on a policy of 98 percent compliance with the code of laws governing the industry.

The logic of this escapes me: does announcing that you are complying with 98 percent of the road rules exempt you from the other 2 percent? Somehow I think not.

Talking of industries that are a law unto themselves, have you seen the ads and notices advising people to check the on-line regulators for advice on which private health insurer is good value, sound, reliable etc. These “independent regulators” are in fact paid by the private health insurance industry, so no Guardian reader will be surprised to learn that it has now emerged that these regulators are also paid more if they give an insurer a good report.

It’s called “self regulation” and it is capitalism’s preferred system – now I wonder why that would be?

Did you see where the Business Council of Australia (BCA) put forward its own proposals for dealing with the financial crisis: eliminate welfare for the working class and middle class. What would be the benefit of this? They were very frank: it would “boost profits”. Now think about that for a moment: how would giving the poor and the unemployed etc less income help business to make more money? I can think of only one way: by providing a pool of very poor people who would work for extremely low wages rather than face starvation.

The BCA represents big business. Like we have said before, they are all heart, aren’t they?

Have you noticed that packaged food products seem to have shrunk in size lately? The prices may have stayed the same, but you get less for your money. Standard capitalist practice you might say, except that a considerate government, in anticipation of the impending introduction of unit pricing, has apparently advised food companies to downsize their products now so that the smaller amount you get for your money is already established when the new pricing system arrives.

And some people still think Labor governments are on the side of working people!

Bourgeois governments that nevertheless claim to represent the people must be getting a little jittery as the economic crisis deepens and workers’ anger grows: in France employees of US company Bridgestone Tyres pelted their bosses with eggs as management arrived at work. And French workers involved in renegotiating benefits for laid off workers actually took the bosses of Sony and 3M hostage.

In Brazil, in capitalist terms one of the world’s bigger economies, there are now so many living in the favelas (appalling collections of slums on the outskirts of Brazil’s towns and cities) that conservationists have been moved to point to the depredations the slum dwellers are making on the surrounding forest as they seek firewood, roofing materials and anything else that might improve the comfort of their shelters.

The response of the Brazilian government has not been to provide decent housing, or even fuel, but to erect high walls around three sides of the favelas, effectively giving people access only to the urban streets, and to the legal and illegal “businessmen” who operate there.

Somehow I don’t think turning the slums into huge prisons was quite what the environmentalists had in mind.

Mind you, there are people to whom the idea of imprisoning the poor would be quite appealing. During the recent G20 summit in London, some of the city’s rich showed their true colours by flaunting their wealth at the throng of protesters: the nobs actually waved wads of cash at the protesters from their balconies. This goading of the crowd so enraged the protesters that the nobs had to go about subsequently in mufti or face a fierce kicking as an arrogant rich pig. Serve them right, too.

This behaviour is not new, of course. Flaunting your wealth and even throwing coins to the very poor has always been a favoured activity of the filthy rich. The same rich people will fight tooth and nail to prevent the same poor from gaining an extra penny an hour in their pay. There is no benefit to the rich in pay rises to the poor!

The rich are always contemptuous of the way the poor are so concerned for one another. Proportionately, the have-nots have always been far more generous than the haves, and with much less self-interest in their generosity. Sentiments and actions the rich will never understand.

Meanwhile the rich go about their pleasures secure in the knowledge that they are specially privileged people and that that is how it should be. In Britain they have just opened a branch of a world-wide chain of super-exclusive stores for the super rich. Here, after discrete screening (to weed out common type people), the rich can shop for luxury goods, exclusive designer items and the like, free of the prying eyes of the envious multitude.

It reminds me of the days when rich passengers on ships or even on trains, travelled in first-class compartments while the common herd travelled in second or more commonly third-class parts of the vessel or train. There is a famous Punch cartoon showing a London underground Tube carriage full of rich folk returning from the opera, men in silk top hats, women in evening gowns, jewels glittering – and two very grimy workmen on their way home from a hard day’s graft in a factory.

“Blimey, Fred”, says one of them. “We’ve got in a first-class carriage by mistake!”

“Cor!” says a soot-begrimed Fred. “And me wiv odd socks on!”

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