TravelGuides – Pride and privilege: why Australia needs grand designs for containing corporate greed | Frances Flanagan

TravelGuides – Pride and privilege: why Australia needs grand designs for containing corporate greed | Frances Flanagan

The ACTU just lately recognized Harvey Norman because the face of corporate greed after its refusal to pay again $22m of jobkeeper regardless of doubling income to $462m through the pandemic whereas resisting calls for a 3.5% enhance within the minimal wage. The firm has not been alone in deciding to not return the federal government subsidy, a selection additionally taken by Solomon Lew’s retail group, Premier Investments, which loved a 90% revenue enhance within the six months when it obtained $15m in wage subsidies. A total of 25 ASX corporations that obtained the fee have been discovered to have paid govt bonuses totalling $24m within the 2020 monetary yr.

It is tempting to think about that allegations of greed have been an unchanging characteristic of the rhetoric of the left all through Australia’s historical past. But the true story is extra advanced, and extra attention-grabbing.

The concept of the capitalist class as “greedy” was a mainstay of nineteenth-century Australian socialist iconography. As Nick Dyrenfurth and Marian Quartly have explained, the “Fat Man” was a ubiquitous image within the radical press, a chunky and decadent determine who was invariably counterposed with the lean, muscular and enticing picture of the working class man, who stood as image for the Australian individuals. These photos of “Fat” and “Lean” weren’t distinctive to Australia, however diversifications of older satirical representations of “John Bull” within the UK and the US “robber barons”.

They had been additionally greater than mere slurs on the characters of the wealthy. The asymmetry of their our bodies conjured a complete idea of society, the place the “true” underlying supply of financial worth was labour and the supply of social struggling was the avarice of the ruling class. By symbolising the Australian working class as heroic, energetic, good-looking and white, these satirists grotesquely simplified the precise sources of wealth creation (not least the standard homeowners of the lands and waters the place it happened). Nevertheless, their populist imagery supplied a compelling narrative that served to unite and reinforce the political creativeness of what was, in actuality, a multiply divided colonial polity.

Images of ‘Fat’ and ‘Lean’ were adaptations of older satirical representations such as ‘John Bull’, pictured, in the UK.
Images of ‘Fat’ and ‘Lean’ had been diversifications of older satirical representations reminiscent of ‘John Bull’, pictured, within the UK. Photograph: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The want to transcend greed and different human vices was an important, if inchoate, dimension of early twentieth-century Australian nation-constructing. The architects of Federation sought to create a “new province of law and order”, the place industrial strife, greed and dysfunction had been displaced by peaceful relations of civility between residents. Achieving that finish required lively state intervention to put a flooring (within the type of wage minimums), partitions (within the type of tariff protections solely accessible to employers who paid staff “fair and reasonably”) and bridges (within the type of obligatory arbitration) across the animal spirits of capitalism. Greed was not a vice that might be completely vanquished, nevertheless it might be contained via cautious institutional design. Industrial tribunals, for HB Higgins, weren’t mere financial establishments, however entities in service to “human life, the one wealth. It is the noblest goal. We work and be taught.”

Despite the social and financial successes of this technique, it didn’t, unsurprisingly, banish “greed” from the Australian political lexicon. The Great War introduced rancorous accusations of profiteering levelled at companies suspected of hoarding, speculating and benefitting from excessive demand that pushed costs above ranges that had been understood to be honest in peacetime. British ship-homeowners, likened to “vultures preying on the people of their misery” had been a specific supply of resentment for Australian nationalists, each for their revenue-making and associations with professional-struggle sentiment.

Greed speak modified its form and significance within the center years of the century. At the peak of Keynesianism, for many sections of the media and political proper it was staff and unions that had been portrayed because the grasping ones. On the left, as multinationals assumed new significance within the Australian financial system and novel justice claims abounded on the a part of girls, migrants, environmental teams and queer communities within the Sixties, greed turned a extra marginal theme.

When the Gurindji stockmen went on strike at Wave Hill Station in 1966 to protest in opposition to the exceedingly low and discriminatory wages paid to them by the Vestey Brothers (whose estimated internet price of £1.2bn kilos ranked them because the seventh wealthiest household within the UK on the Sunday Times inaugural wealthy checklist in 1989) the language dropped at articulate the injustice was that of human rights and the enduring energy of the “White Establishment” somewhat than of sophistication greed. Tim Rowse has noticed the Gurindji had been concurrently depicted as “citizen workers” and “communities aspiring to autonomy”.

In place of emotive depictions of sophistication relations, the Sixties additionally noticed commentators convey extra technical and summary approaches to dissecting concentrated energy to bear. There had been no fats bellies to be seen within the article printed in 1961 entitled Who Controls Australia?, however somewhat an anatomy of the interlocking directorates, funding preparations and intermarriages of “sixty millionaire families”.

In the 80s, as lots of the industrial relations mechanisms that had been constructed to include greed had been being incrementally unwound, a brand new forged of villains roared again into the centre of the media stage, displaying what seemed to be unparalleled avarice and hubris. The Bold Riders, with their pin-stripe fits, button suspenders, panama hats, Rolex watches and oxygen masks donned in Majorca changed the straining vests, high hats and spats of the nineteenth-century “Fat Men”. A handful of neo-Friedmanites seen them as heroes, however for most, they had been a blinding spectacle of greed and hubris.

More important than the truth that they had been as more likely to be skinny as fats was that little or no consideration was paid to their class counterparts. Christopher Skase ($65m in 1988), Alan Bond ($25m in 1983) and Laurie Connell ($35m in 1988) had been family names, however the identities of working class wealth creators – more and more feminised, service-primarily based, non-white and precariously employed – had been largely diffuse and unclear. Greed within the Eighties thus turned an idea that was readily related to an period, somewhat than a category.

The age of Twitter has given us unparalleled entry to the best way concentrated financial and political energy performs out on an on daily basis foundation. We can hear in first hand on how the wealthy speak to one another (albeit in extremely self-acutely aware and fastidiously curated methods), the nuanced justifications they provide for their privilege and power, and the brand new, and usually extremely subtle methods they give thought to, and work together with, their workforce. We also can witness how that workforce answers back. Whether and how narratives of “greed” may minimize via that immense noise of human communication shouldn’t be self-evident.

Can the idea of greed galvanise the mission of extra pretty distributing energy at the moment, in a rustic the place 11 Australian billionaires received millions from pandemic-fed dividends whereas staff struggled? The historical past of “greed talk” in Australia doesn’t yield any simple solutions. While our counterparts a century in the past undoubtedly talked and thought extra about class than we do at the moment, their idea of “greed” was a part of a political sensibility that was, above all, populist, finding it as a vice of outsiders (a class that included the ruling class, but in addition went past it to racial and ethnic classes).

Consciously utilizing (or avoiding) greed as a time period at the moment could also be much less essential than recalling the audacity of the Federation-era nation-builders who put guardrails round its train. The establishments they constructed mirrored their occasions, to make certain. But the truth that the minimal wage was just lately elevated by 2.5% regardless of the desires of Harvey Norman is an indication that at the very least one plank of that grand design remains to be with us – and holding up properly. It may be very removed from being sufficient although. We aren’t brief on concepts for tips on how to include greed in twenty first century situations. Whether political will will be discovered to implement them is one other matter.

Frances Flanagan is Sydney fellow in work and organisational research on the University of Sydney

TravelGuides – Pride and privilege: why Australia needs grand designs for containing corporate greed | Frances Flanagan