Short-term gain long-term pain

April 10, 2018

Will the rise in robots make the situation worse as machines take over jobs, pushing more and more people out? Picture: EPA/Bart Maat

‘‘Remember the days in the old school yard, we used to laugh a lot’’ — so goes the first couple of lines from an old Cat Stevens song.

I also remember the days the government ran most of the public utilities such as the Post Master General, or PMG as it was, which managed not just the mail, but the telephone and telegraph systems as well.

I can vaguely remember as a child seeing the small room attached to the post office in Stanhope where a lady of indeterminate proportions and cheer sat before the plug board and aside from being the font of all knowledge of what happened in the town and the emergency contact number, she connected the people of Stanhope with each other and the world.

It was a large lumbering government department that ran like it still does in some South Asian countries, cumbersome but clockwork efficient, a letter posted to your solicitor today would be delivered almost the next day and his bill would come back the following day.

The PMG was sliced and diced in 1975 by the Fraser government in pursuit of free market capitalism where we have Australia Post and Telstra as its two main functionaries.

AusPost, where it takes a week for a letter to get anywhere and where until recently we paid the managing director $5million or more a year for it to do so.

After some embarrassing moments last year, we have a new managing director who only gets $3million a year, so that is some saving.

A lot of government departments have been sold off over the years, large chunks of the SEC and the gas and fuel, the State Savings Bank, even our public transport systems and our freeway management systems are all slowly being privatised in order to raise short-term funds that we as the public will then have to lease back over time, which will cost us 10 times whatever they raise in the short-term.

The question I keep asking myself more and more is: are we any better off?

We have 20 different options from where we can buy any of these public utilities in a bewildering array of packages, but is it actually any better now than it was then?

Does it cost any less to post a letter or make a phone call?

The difficulty with privatising is that the companies will invariably only do things that make them money that we will have to pay for.

I was reading just recently an article about economics professor and former Greek Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis, who argues that capitalism as we know it is coming to an end because it has made itself obsolete.

Varoufakis feels that the rise in technology is only going to make the situation worse over time as machines take over jobs, pushing more and more people out.

The difference between the rich and poor only gets wider every day, when a dozen or so of the richest people have as much money as the poorest half of the world’s population.

When the salary of the Post Master General as a public servant stretches from perhaps 10 times that of a pensioner to something like 250 times that as a private sector player with no discernible added benefit, then perhaps he has a valid argument. The difficulty is, our government is in overdrive in pushing for big business and privatisation to grow and in selling off government assets will help move that along.

The miners’ needs are taken priority over those of our farmers, our environment and even our welfare.

So it begs the question: is the experiment in free market capitalism a failure?

Do the career politicians, straight out of university and into a ministerial posting, actually have any idea how the economy works other than as an experimental model?

Should I be looking to pursue a pension where I can retire in my old age at an ever-decreasing fraction of what the rich government business managers are earning, contemplating what variety of can of Pal I shall open for dinner this evening?

Or should I chase down one of these $5million a year jobs in a former government business so the rest of you can cheer me on?

Steve Hutcheson is a retired engineer and former UN aid worker who lives near Rushworth.

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