Why politics is failing us

The western, market-driven world exalts profit over human and environmental well-being and benefits few, not many.

By George Browning

July 12 2016Post the recent Australian election, a tsunami of analysis has begun as to why the Australian electorate voted as it did.

Clearly there is disillusionment with major political parties. Listening to Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop the reason appears to be the stupidity of the electorate for believing Labor’s “Medicare lie”. The reality is far more serious. The electorate is sick of political parties putting their party first — automatically opposing a proposal from the other side. A political trend greatly expanded by Tony Abbott. The electorate also perceives that the dominant economic mantra increases the equity divide.

There were two dominant mantras of the recent federal election:

  • Jobs and growth. This mantra would have us believe that all will be well if only we can increase consumption, make the market more efficient and spend less money on the vulnerable. The mantra assumed we would believe that in creating more wealth everyone would be more prosperous, happier and more secure. It would all trickle down. This mantra was not believed, because it is untrue. The richest amongst us more often than not contribute no value for their wealth, they simply trade money. Prosperity is not delivered through financial profit. Profit guarantees winners and losers. The equity gap in the western world has never been greater — and is growing.
  • Put people first. This mantra is not convincing for an entirely different reason. Emphasis on equal access to education and health regardless of wealth is absolutely right. However Labor’s appeal to the electorate that they are the party who will deliver progressive reform remains unbelievable as long as reform within the party remains out of reach. Factionalism within the party which requires putting factions first has no part in “putting people first”. Strong unions are as important today as they have ever been, but a union culture which appears to the public to prioritise power over service is a major hindrance to a healthy 21st century political system.

What the electorate intuitively understands, but has difficulty articulating, is that the western, market-driven world exalts profit over human and environmental well-being and in the process benefits few, not many. (Increasingly the middle class are now numbered amongst the vulnerable). It values consumers not communities. It insists economic growth is the highest priority. It puts value in training rather than education, in innovation rather than science.

Emphasis on the competitive rights of an individual at the expense of community and the relationships that give life its value, is taking us down a path of decay. In response, the vulnerable in America turn to Trump and in Australia to Hanson on the assumption that “conservative values” will protect them. This will prove a sad and divisive outcome for it is the right wing’s worship of the market and emphasis on the individual above “common good” that is at the root of the problem. What passes for conservative values are not conservative at all: “conservative” means conserving, keeping available for the good of humankind that which should not be exploited for profit through greedy practice, or fear of the other.

In this context An other Kingdom: departing a consumer culture should be basic reading for all who seek leadership. Inspirational and practical, it makes a compelling case for a different path, a path of neighbourliness and a different mantra. Written by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight (Wiley Press) and only 100 pages, it is a circuit-breaker to tired and outdated thinking.
It is not helpful for either side of politics to aim greater efficiency in what is a failing mantra: we need to walk a different path.

George Browning is the former Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. He is the inaugural chair of the Anglican Communion Environment Network, and president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

This piece first appeared on Bishop George Browning's blog. Find the blog at http://www.georgebrowning.com.au/