Work Choices, Welfare to Work and Christian values

In a letter to the Australian published today I raise two distrinct issues – both controversial.

The first is whether Work Choices and Welfare to Work offers the ONLY way of boosting labour force participation or whether, as I believe, there is an effective alternative. This is an economic issue best left to academics to debate in another context (I spell out my economic argument in a forthocing journal article. New Matilda will have a brief summary of my views in its next issue).

The second issue starts with the premise that there is a viable alternative which can produce similar employment outcomes but with a different set of winners and losers. It then asks: which distributional outcome is more compatible with Christian values?

I know nothing about theology so I am hoping some Club Troppo bloggers will be able to throw some light on this second issue. The text of the letter follows below.

“The Editor,

Tony Abbott concedes that Work Choices will allow some employers to “threaten people’s income growth” but he says the legislation is compatible with Christian values because of its capacity to create and save jobs (Abbot to tackle Rudd on faith, The Australian 27-28 January 2007).

I am no expert on theology but there is a chink in Abbott’s logic. Few economists doubt that Work Choices will be positive for the job market – but few also doubt that there are effective alternative ways for governments to create and secure jobs, such as through social investment of the kind which improves the capability, mobility and productivity of workers.

The difference between the two courses of action choice is simply distributional. In the case of Work Choices, the cost of job creation is borne entirely by our most vulnerable low-paid workers. Under the alternative, the cost is borne by better-off taxpayers. Which of these distributional outcomes is more consistent with Christian values, Mr. Abbott?

Mr. Abbott may be right to think that there are more votes in Work Choices than in a policy which requires higher taxes but that has little to do with ‘morality’.

End of letter.

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