Remember, economic debates should still be democratic.

by Richard Denniss in Medium

Dr Richard Denniss, Chief Economist of The Australia Institute, joins JOY radio to discuss: What happens if… we rebuild the economy?

“I think we’re at a really interesting point in Australian politics,” says Dr Richard Denniss, Chief Economist of the Australia Institute.

Deniss has joined JOY radio’s Dan Roberts & Jan Di Pietro to talk about the economy. He highlights, we shouldn’t simply focus on the size of our economy — what we really need to do is decide what shape our economy should take.

“I think what we are seeing now is that we do have choices. We just have to have a democratic debate about what it is we want.

“And the real disagreement we are having is: what kind of country do we want. What kind of things do we want more of and what kind of things do we want less of?

“For years we’ve been told these are economic questions — but my argument is they’re not economic questions at all, they’re entirely democratic questions.

“It’s a democracy, we get to choose what we want, but for decades we’ve been told that there is no choice and we just have to leave it to the market. That is nonsense.

“We’ve gotten ourselves into a weird predicament. Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, our GDP is about the same as Russia’s — there are 120 million people in Russia, it takes that many people to generate the same wealth as 25 million Australians do — our economy is about the same size as theirs, and we feel poor?

“This is no accident, feeling poor is a part of the trick. We’re told your poor, you’re stressed, we’ve got unemployment and wages are low — we better fix the economy. Then, we go and cut wages and taxes.

“And unfortunately, it’s all up to us. We’re a democracy, we’re free to choose. And if we keep choosing lower wages and low taxes, no-one is going to step in and stop us. There’s no umpire, no one is going to tap us on the shoulder and say ‘I think you’ve gone in the wrong direction for 27 years, it’s time to stop’.

“We can keep doing it, if lower wages and less revenue is we want, or we can look at the score board, look around the world and see that there is another way.

“When I was growing up, Australia really prided itself on being the land of the sickie, the smoko and long weekend. That’s who we used to be.

“Not anymore. Australians work some of the longest hours in the developed world. In fact, around half of Australian workers have no paid sick leave and no paid holiday leave. We lead the world in the casualisation of work, we have incredibly high rates of reliance now on private schools — far higher than in America even — and our health system is still very good, but it’s nowhere near as universal and freely available as it was when I was a kid.

“Neoliberalism has really trained us to think that everyone else is out to rip us off. It’s made it so if we have decent income support for people who lose their jobs, we say ‘oh we better make it really stingy or everyone will be lazy and be a bludger’. Or if we provided free medicine to people we say ‘oh you watch everyone will rip it off, they’ll take more medicine than they need’.

“Well that’s not what used to happen when we did have these things and it’s not what happens in other countries. So neoliberalism has trained us not just to feel poor, but it’s trained us not to trust our fellow citizens which is a devastating consequence.

“A large number of people have been led to believe the system is broken and the system is corrupt, and I don’t think it is,

“I think Australia has great democratic structures in place but we don’t teach kids at school about it, our media doesn’t teach us about anything, it just makes us angry about things, and it means we can’t really engage effectively in our democracy — because we don’t really understand the rules.

“Anyone watching sport needs to understand the rules to really know what’s going on — well I’d say to understand politics you have to have a sense of the rules. People shouldn’t feel stupid for not knowing them, they should feel frustrated they got through 13 years of school without being taught them.”

Listen to the full interview: What happens if… we rebuild the economy?

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