Stop spending other people’s money

I rise to oppose Labor’s Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017.

This bill would require the Productivity Commission to prepare five yearly reports on the effects of inequality. A saving grace of this is that this requirement is not loaded with an assumption that inequality is bad and that the government should counter inequality.

The Productivity Commission would hopefully measure the things that matter to people, how equally these things are distributed, and the effect of this distribution.

Some people want more money, more goods and services, and more assets, so the Commission would measure inequality in these things and assess the effects of such inequality.

But consumption is not all that matters to people. Inequality is found in many areas of life.

Some people on death’s door just want to survive, while others with poor health just want to be able to enjoy everyday life.

The lonely among us long for friends, a meaningful relationship and family.

Many yearn to have children.

Some people long to find meaningful employment and have fulfilling careers.

Some people are tired of carrying the tax burden for others.

Some just want a bit of respect.

Some people have a spiritual gap in their lives.

And some people wish they were better looking or still had hair on their head.

Good luck to the Productivity Commission if it has to measure and assess inequality with respect to all of this. Given the problems confronting the governments of Australia, this exercise doesn’t strike me as the best use of the Productivity Commission’s time.

However the critical component of the bill before the Senate today is a requirement on the Productivity Commission, in the performance of all its functions, to (and I quote) “have regard to the need to mitigate the negative effects of inequality on the Australian economy and the Australian community”.

This requires the Commission to accept, before it has done any investigation, that inequality has negative effects that should be mitigated. This undermines the usefulness of having an organisation where staff are tasked to gather evidence and come to their own conclusions.

As it happens, inequality does have negative effects. Namely, envy. But the moral thing for the government to do in response to this envy is to do nothing.

The role of government should not be to do whatever the median voter wants, which could very well be to seize the property of the minority.

The role of government is to protect life, liberty and property — and more broadly, to do other beneficial things that businesses can’t profitably provide due to free-riding.

In other words, liberty should trump democracy. This is in the long-term interests of Australians, including the median voter.

Currently the bipartisan obsession with spending other people’s money has us on a slow path of self‑destruction. I urge parliamentarians, whenever they are thinking about spending more of other people’s money, to consider what Australia will look like in decades ahead if such behaviour continues. Equality in poverty is not something we should aspire to.