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The Forum > Article Comments > The CIS should take a BEX and have a good lie down > Comments

The CIS should take a BEX and have a good lie down : Comments

By John Falzon, published 15/6/2005

John Falzon defends St Vincent de Paul's recent report into income inequality.

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“a BEX and have a good lie down”, huh? The author might be entitled to this patronising superciliousness if not for the fact that the language of his own report was far more heavily spiced than Saunders’ response.

Falzon says he’d welcome informed debate on this issue, but his arguments read like a checklist of dishonest logic (see for example ‘how to lie like a politician’$44. )

Examples include:

emotional bullying: “no amount of trickiness will convince these battlers that they’ve never had it so good” and “those who must survive the daily grind in the lowest quintile”

red herrings: “It is not without irony that they would prefer Vinnies and other charities to stick to dishing out the soup instead of asking questions about the causes of deprivation” As far as I’m aware, Saunders and the CIS has never argued that church or charitable groups should stay out of the debate on causes and cures of poverty (indeed, CIS hosts clerics on this very issue on its website), only that Vinnies’ undoubted charitable virtue “doesn't justify its researchers making wild assertions without a shred of evidence or argument to back them up.”

straw men: “For those who consider poverty and inequality to be mere abstractions…”

appeal to authority: “if [Ozanam] was alive today and sought to work for a more just and compassionate society, I have no doubt that he would also come under attack.”

hyperbole: “a headlong dash into the chasm of inequality"

begging the question: Saunders argues that growth in the real value of the income of those in the lowest income groups is a better measure of their welfare than changes in their share of income. Falzon does not answer this point.

false alternative: “Investment in affordable housing, health, education, transport and childcare are uppermost in our considerations of how Australia can move forward with a national strategy involving all levels of government. The CIS, however, seems to be fixated on welfare.”
Posted by Rhian, Friday, 17 June 2005 12:50:58 PM
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As a former state MP, I praise the on-ground work of volunteers from St Vincent de Paul. But the national offices of this group and other welfare providers miss the point when they complain about income and wealth inequality. We human beings are competitive creatures. Incentives have always played a crucial part in our individual and societal development. To have high achievers earning more than others because they work harder or smarter is not an inequality problem but is an incentive that those on welfare should take note of.
The fact that the gap between rich and poor is widening is, in itself, of little relevance. What is far more important is whether those at the lower end of the gap receive sufficient income from government to live a fair and reasonable life, be financially capable of contributing to our Australian society, and be given the opportunity to work harder in order to better themselves.
If the government is making these people's lives too hard by not providing enough welfare support (not just money but also including services, etc), then St Vincent de Paul and others should strenuously lobby the government to up the ante. But to criticise the government because our free enterprise system is creating wealth for a lot of hard working people is irrelevant. Worse, such an attitude (that people earning lots more than others is wrong or bad) is focusing our attention on the gap, not on the laws or policies that have failed to adequately look after those in need.
Complaints about the widening gap does nothing more than fuel the politics of envy: very emotional stuff that the media love but which doesn't address core problems.
Provided those at the lower end of the wealth gap have reasonable opportunities offered to them by government and society to allow them to move up the wealth ladder, then our system is working fine. But to criticise the size of the gap is pointless and, in the end, self defeating, since it trivialises the incentives all people need to better themselves.
Posted by Bernie Masters, Monday, 20 June 2005 1:49:09 PM
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Bernie you miss the point when you emphasise that we humans are competitive creatures. We are also cooperative creatures. We would not have evolved societies if we were primarily competitive.

Cooperation plays a much bigger part in our social development than competition does and is something that we need to emphasise.

One of the problem that the Vinnies report points to relates to your self-serving sanctimonous claim that the rich work harder than the rest of us. Really? How do you know this? Does having the money to buy property and watch it increase in value equate to working hard?

contrary to you claim, the widening gap is very relevant because it is a disincentive for those at the bottom to try and achieve the mind-boggling incomes that some of those at the top are bringing in.

The widening gap increases the structural barriers and limits the opportunities for those at the lower end, to work harder in order to ‘better’ themselves.

I am also pondering your assumption that ‘bettering' oneself is necessarily related to increasing one’s income. Perhaps there are other things to value in human achievement?

The accusation of envy is a tired old insult and quite irrelevant. You are wrong to say that those at the lower end have reasonable opportunities available to them.

How do you know this? Have you been at the lower end of the gap recently? Why don't you get out there and work at the coal face with the Vinnies people?
Posted by Mollydukes, Monday, 20 June 2005 6:48:38 PM
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