If we want a strong economy, we must have a social infrastructure budget

John Fazlon 

The Guardian, 1 May 2018

It’s time for an alternative to the dying neoliberal framework. We cannot risk any further erosion of our social protection system


The government is signalling an infrastructure budget. If infrastructure is a fundamental means of ensuring our economy is able to function and work well, a quick look at Infrastructure Australia’s Priority List gives us a pretty good idea of projects judged as suiting this goal. But our economy will not function well if our society is riven by inequality. A failure to also invest in social infrastructure will mean the appearance of more cracks, more inequality, more disparity, more divisiveness, in society.

There was a time when all of this was glibly glossed over, when it was argued persuasively that if you let the market work its magic, everything else will take care of itself. In this neoliberal frame, infrastructure could be viewed as that which enables the functioning of markets, while also, incidentally, being itself a source of profit for major players in the market.

This frame made it seem that anyone who “fell by the wayside” would eventually just have to pick themselves up, or be assisted by charity, or simply become a casualty of their own purported bad choices. If you were unable to afford housing, it was you who had failed. If you were unemployed or underemployed, again, your fault. But there is a growing awareness that it is actually neoliberalism that has failed people, not the other way around. Neoliberalism is dying. It no longer commands the lofty heights of political consensus. No one seriously believes, for example, the recent claim made on the ABC’s Q&A that inequality is “a measure of freedom”. A determinant of mortality, yes, but not a measure of freedom. Across the globe, it is death and the bearer of death. According to the World Health Organization, the health outcomes of an entire society are adversely affected by the level of inequality.

You don’t build a strong economy by boosting inequality. A strong economy needs a healthy population, a cohesive and diverse society, a high level of participation and a high degree of empowerment. The OECD, the World Bank and the IMF, none of which are generally seen as leftwing thinktanks, are going out of their way to counsel governments against measures that increase inequality.


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