How do we define fair? A summary

Can we establish some principles that would frame the development of policies to produce and support a fairer Australia? How do we define fairness?

Perceptions of governments’ roles in Australian society differ from the USA and UK. We had no aristocracy and few private capitalists, so much of the funding of infrastructure and services came from Governments. Our citizens still expect, or hope for, leadership and good services from our public and political systems. The UK collectivist culture influences our services more than the USA rights and individualism model, and still influences both how we see ourselves and act towards each other.

Despite two decades of neo-liberal cant and the efforts of governments to lower our expectations of the public sphere, there is still a residual wish for governments to take care of certain problems, which translates into anxieties when they don’t.

Policies need coherent themes that appeal to our sense of fair play and recognise the importance of social connections. In the last election many pundits assumed greed drove their fellow voters therefore they believed individual financial well-being was the only effective voter bribe. This set of assumptions creates a dearth of new ideas from those in ‘progressive’ ranks that believe the basic greed and self interest neo liberal paradigm. This set of beliefs suited the promoters of shifting global capital and was reinforced by the fall of the command economies. Policies, third way style,at best, were about mitigating its worst effects leaving the basic assumptions intact. The basic tenet of Individualism is distrust of others, so emphasising self reliance as the only safe option diminishes demands for collective services.

Many of us would like something else to believe in. Offering alternative policies that emphasise connectedness and common responsibilities can counter the feelings of isolation that neo liberals rely reduce demand for collective services and social awareness.

Where there are high levels of generalised trust in strangers and institutions, groups can manifest both social cohesion and risk taking. So our policy making must take into account how our proposals affect both the expectation and delivery of institutional and social trust, rather than doing the opposite. Current policies create distrust by excessive shifts of risks from the collectivity to individuals under the rubric of offering often unwanted and excessive choice . The demand we ‘buy’ public or private services, with implication that private is better, has been deeply embedded in the political cultures of the past decades. Markets have been touted as the best means of providing us with certain goods and services that were once in the public sphere. This logically connects with low trust of political institutions so such changes have not improved the relationship of government to its citizenry and creates widespread anxieties and unease. . these destroy civil society so we need new frameworks for policy making.

Some suggested general principles:

1. Make a clear public commitment to a fairer more equitable society.. Inequality, perceived as unfairness, creates low trust in government and other people.

2. Acknowledge that democracies are complex systems of institutions and processes, not just a response to expressed majority desires.

3. Recognise minorities as core components of the majority, with diverse needs that must be appropriately served.

4. Promote citizenship that involves both rights and responsibilities but these have to be based on mutual respect.

5. Encourage private sector rethinking away from adherence to market forces and profit as the only bottom line towards acceptance of wider social and enmvironmental responsibilities.

6. Recognise that a good society needs services in the public sphere that act for the public good and counter the ill effects of differential access to markets. Public provisions must not just be residual but good enough for all to want to use.

7. Commit to the proposition that we are all interdependent, so share responsibilities for children and others requiring ongoing levels of care and support.

8. Acknowledge that relationships between citizenry and state are different from those of customer and shopkeeper and should engage us in a wide, complex set of connections that encourage us to do unto others as we would be done by.

9. Retain clearly differentiated roles for the market, state and community sectors, so all can both perform their different functions well and balance the power of the others

10. Recognise the differences in power both at individual levels and within institutions, so there is need for the protective role of government as regulator.

11. Understand the fallibility of all institutions and decision making and therefore ensure that free speech, ability to criticise and be listened to, and the funding of advocacy are given priority.

12. Apologise for errors and recognise and remedy past injustices, such as indigenous dispossession.

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