The IPA’s 70 year struggle against class war

From its beginnings 70 years ago, the Institute of Public Affairs has struggled against class war.

According to a 1948 issue of the IPA Review, the post war period saw a "revolutionary change" in the distribution of income: "The lower incomes are now enjoying a much larger share of the cake, at the cost of very much smaller shares for other sections—for the middle incomes particularly, a catastrophically smaller share."

According to the Review, middle income earners were particularly hard hit by inflation. Unlike "the wage-earning masses", their incomes did not respond so readily to rising prices. And in any case, they were accustomed to buying a wider range of goods and services than wage earners. One is example is domestic servants.

Before the war many middle income professionals were accustomed to having servants to take care of time consuming household chores. But as the Review’s October 1948 issue explained:

Housewives and mothers in this section of the community find it impossible under today’s conditions to maintain the standards and way of life of the pre-war years, or those which were accepted as the natural order of things by their parents. Domestic help and nursing assistance for the children, even if they were obtainable, are now beyond the reach of the many members of the middle income grades. The average mother is subjected to an unceasing routine of domestic chores, and is restricted to very limited social contacts and a minimum of recreation and entertainment. Nor can her husband—no matter how important his occupation to the community—escape his share of house-cleaning, shopping and tending and minding the children. The business executive with a responsible post must forego work for several days to look after his wife in bed with influenza. The rising young doctor, after performing an exacting operation, returns home to wash the dishes. This is not exaggeration. These things are happening every day. The work of running the home is making serious inroads into the time which in other days used to be devoted to charitable work, and to study, reading, discussion, in fact to all those activities which enrich the mind and enlarge the mental perspective.

Another threat to civilisation was equal pay for women. "The Australian home requires to be specially encouraged and strengthened to counteract the disintegrating influences of modern social trends", said the IPA’s 1944 paper Looking Forward. "A generally higher wage for men than for women finds its justification in the elemental fact that the man must always be the natural breadwinner of the family."

As Christopher Pearson writes in the Weekend Australian, the IPA’s agenda was shaped by the views of its founder Charles Kemp. According to Shaun Patrick Kenaelly, Kemp "wrote virtually everything in [the IPA] Review that was not a signed, contributed article". Far from being an economic rationalist, Kemp argued that the contributions of economics "have only a limited validity" because the real crisis of post-war society was spiritual and moral rather than industrial or economic.

While Kemp’s adversaries on the left celebrated material achievements like full employment and better wages, he saw evidence of moral decline. As he wrote in an article titled ‘Economics — and Faith’:

Men rush into trams and buses ahead of women, youths and girls retain their seats in crowded trains and leave old people standing; the least cared-for member of society is the housewife and mother. These are things which our fathers and grandfathers, for all their supposed lack of a social conscience, would not have countenanced.

A lot has changed since the 1940s but Pearson thinks Kemp got it mostly right. He notes that while Kemp’s "take on morality in the raising as well as the expenditure of public funds would no doubt strike Julia Gillard as incomprehensible and anachronistic, I have no doubt history will have proved him right."

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8 Responses to The IPA’s 70 year struggle against class war

  1. Steve Carey says:

    Wow and to think that our next PM is a great admirer of the IPA. Lets hope that their attitudes have changed for the better. Talk about class warfare. Warren Buffett agreed that there is one and his lot have won it.

  2. hc says:

    Are the views of Kemp you define relevant to today’s IPA? In the main it promotes free markets and big business. The approach is (apparently in contrast to its apparent early views) amoral. You might think that Kemp’s morality is fuddy-duddy and old-fashioned (I do) but, in a sense he was correct and the modern IPA don’t recognise that. Free markets work best if they satisfy a whole set of economic conditions (no public goods, no externalities and no information failures – always deemphasised by the IPA) but they also do need good ethics. Free markets run by business spivs and Eddie Obeid/Graham Richardson types don’t create good social outcomes. You do need honesty and a moral sense. Free ranging capitalism based on self-interest alone (as Adam Smith pointed out in “Moral Sentiments”) produces a bad mass psychology and social unhappiness. Isn’t a core problem in the modern economy and a core problem for the IPA view of society that we have essentially abandoned most ideas of moral behaviour and simply based wealth creation on cheating the other guy or cheating government?

    • Sancho says:

      The next time someone from the right complains about “class warfare”, they need to explain which classes they think are being put at war, because everything else conservatives claim is based on the notion that we’re a classless society of individuals operating freely in a market economy.

      The IPA shouldn’t be getting away with eliding the existence of working, middle and upper classes in everything it publishes, then whining that progressive taxation is unfair to the aristocracy.

      @HC
      The swing from social conservatism to neoconservatism is only contradictory if you take the right wing movement at face value; it makes perfect sense if the western conservative project is in fact “a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the [email protected]

  3. john r walker says:

    Does anybody know how many private not for profit company tax deductible donation status, public affairs type ‘institutes’ there are in Australia these days?
    And is the rate of growth of these things over the past 2 decades known?

    Finally is it still possible for a ‘one man band’ to easily achieve community public interest, tax deductible status?

  4. Douglas Hynd says:

    Tax deductibility can be granted by Parliament to not-for=profits if they don’t meet the ATO assessment. the list of organisations that have achieved this status by legislation makes for interesting reading

    • john r walker says:

      Douglas, is there a list of all of these various types of not for profit think tanks? And given the ease with which the number of cultural not for profits has grown from less than 100 to 1800 in the past 2 decades….. what sort of thing needs a act of parliment?

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