By Marta Woolford
By depicting people as “commodities”, it’s easy to describe them as “burdens” — or worse, in Joe Hockey’s words, “leaners”. Marta Woolford argues that the Abbott Government’s obsession with neo-liberal ideology has disconnected it from the public it is supposed to serve.
THIS MIGHT sound strange – especially to present day neo-liberal governments – but I am not a commodity.
So much discourse in politics centres on people being either an “asset” or a “liability”. But I’d like to argue that people are neither. Depictions of “asset” or “liability” portray people as individual (not community) “things” that are debated, traded, quantified, wanted, discarded — without feeling or understanding of what it means to actually be “human” and live in a complex, dynamic and ever-changing society. Mind you, humans are not the only ‘things’ that are discussed in this way — our environment and the natural habitat continue to battle with capitalist greed.
The issue of commodity and capitalism becomes especially controversial when people have a physical/mental disability, are unable to work (such as parents and children), are born into disadvantage; or move towards retirement. When a person is depicted by governments as a commodity they are described to society as a “burden” – in the words of Joe Hockey – “leaners”. Treating people like products means that when the “product” gets old or breaks they are no longer needed. Thus they move away from being valued for their workforce contribution to a much more narrow conception of being depicted as useless and a “cost”.
Now if this were private enterprise, then I would understand, but governments are meant to represent their people and find a balance between economy and the person — not just represent big business.
The biggest problem when governments are disconnected from their electorate and instead connected to private enterprise is that they develop policies that reflect this exact thinking. The value they place on people impacts the policies they make and how funding is distributed.
Take, for example, the Liberal government’s interpretation of the recent ‘Intergenerational Report’. The ageing population is depicted as a “cost” and a “future economic burden”. The resulting policies focus on cutting costs rather than looking at long-term sustainable solutions. I have not heard one present government conversation take into account the whole person and acknowledge the lifetime of contribution this “old” person has given to society.
Now I am no expert, but if I can come up with contributions, so can our politicians, such as:
Lifetime of contributing to the economy: wages & employment
Lifetime of contributing to the economy: purchases of goods and services
Developing & sustaining communities, cultures, and social growth
Now, the last point – having children – in my opinion, should be one of the most respected contributions. Children are not just cute little people that keep the family name going and make us proud when they win a school award. Children are the next working, tax-paying, infrastructure building, and culture sustaining generation. Older people have contributed not only in lifetime earnings but they have also secured the continuation of the world we know.
An “intelligent conversation” should consist of firstly looking at people as the whole person rather than as items that can be traded, changed, and upgraded. An “intelligent conversation” would take into account the multifaceted aspects of being human and what humans need to continue to be educated, work, and live happy, prosperous and rewarding lives. The outcome of which will reflect directly towards a sustainable and prosperous economy.