Equal opportunity programs versus lower taxes

In an earlier blog, Mike Pepperday argued that equal opportunity programs enhance individual freedom – indeed that equality of opportunity (EP) is an essential pre-condition of effective choice and self-reliance.

I instinctively agree with Mike. And I suspect most Australians would agree in general terms that there is no inherent conflict between increased spending on EP programs and self-reliance.

But it does not follow they would approve of EP programs such as on early child development, active labour market programs, education, health, housing and public transport if it meant higher taxes. This is despite the findings of many polls such as ANOP and AES that Australians want to see more spending on health, education etc.

On my understanding of opinion polls,

© a high proportion of Australians seem to believe that we already have equality of opportunity and an effective meritocracy e.g. there is a fairly widespread view that able-bodied working age Australians who are in poverty are to blame for their situation to some degree in this country, while only 15 to 20% disagree with the proposition that people are rewarded for their skills and effort,

(a)Australians don’t trust governments to deliver the promised goods, especially when they are constantly being told by the media and certain think tanks that these things dont work and governments are in any case incompetent or corrupt;
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(b) even if they did trust governments to deliver, they would want to know exactly where the money was being spent and what was in it for them; that is, the benefits would have to be fairly universal rather than (as in the case of equal opportunity programs) targeted at low socio-economic groups such as aborigines and working poor.

For these reasons, I doubt that any Australian government, whatever their rhetoric, will be able to make much progress in advancing EP.

I note that in today’s Sun herald, Turnbull says that he wants to do away with a lot of tax concessions and deductions (presumably he means middle class welfare) and use the money for tax cuts. He goes even further and argues that any excess budget surpluses should be returned to the public. He asks: “why do we assume the Government will invest that money more wisely than the people who earned it”? Turnbull is buying the Murdoch line. It is also the view of Henry Ergas who is now advising Turnbull.

So if Labor sticks to its guns (which I doubt) and chooses to invest excess surpluses in social programs and infrastructure rather than in further tax cuts, we may be able to determine once and for all whether Australians want increased social program or lower taxes.

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[…] Garth Turner wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIn an earlier blog, Mike Pepperday argued that equal opportunity programs enhance individual freedom – indeed that equality of opportunity (EP) is an essential pre-condition of effective choice and self-reliance. … […]

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

So if Labor sticks to its guns (which I doubt) and chooses to invest excess surpluses in social programs and infrastructure rather than in further tax cuts, we may be able to determine once and for all whether Australians want increased social program or lower taxes.

Except that their guns include reasonably substantial tax cuts (or anti-bracket-creeps) in any case.

(a)Australians dont trust governments to deliver the promised goods, especially when they are constantly being told by the media and certain think tanks that these things dont work and governments are in any case incompetent or corrupt;

You are surely exaggerating here. Perhaps five percent of Australians are familiar with the output of any, let alone ‘certain’ think tanks. And when I read, eg, the Age (which I try not to), the message is overwhelmingly in favour of governments doing something (even if the author often seems unsure what exactly). Any organisation that supports anti-vilification laws can only be described as utopian in their attitude to government.

The Herald-Sun is more sceptical but only when it suits it!

(b) even if they did trust governments to deliver, they would want to know exactly where the money was being spent and what was in it for them; that is, the benefits would have to be fairly universal rather than (as in the case of equal opportunity programs) targeted at low socio-economic groups such as aborigines and working poor

This is surely partly true but I wonder – I think the implicit assumption underlying point (c) is pertinent here – Australians believe at a high level in reciprocal obligations. I think widespread support for targeted interventions in both those last two groups could be easily justified by someone who took the time to decide what exactly they sought to achieve and how this might practically be achieved. In fact I would go further and argue that the ‘working poor’ would generally be widely sympathised with – just not necessarily to such a point as to support unconditional transfers.

In summary I think there is a lot of improvement (and low-hanging fruit at that) to be had in the rhetoric of these programs, but I think a more fundamental problem (which partly creates the first) is that there are precious few ideas policy-wise.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

“Australians believe at a high level in reciprocal obligations”

I disagree Patrick — Australians are basically bullies that only believe in reciprocal obligation for those they consider social out-groups (blacks, long term unemployed etc.). When it comes to the huge amount of middle class spending which spikes every election time, we never hear even the slightest squawk about reciprocal obligation. Why not have some sort of parental obligation for the baby bonus? What about family tax benefits, school subsidies etc? That’s one of the problems with social spending — people always think it is a good idea as long as (a) it doesn’t come from their own pocket; and (b) the spending is on them. Furthermore, since large numbers of middle class people seem to consider themselves poor these days, they seem to believe that the spending on them is justified on rather imaginary equity grounds.

Alastair
Alastair
13 years ago

Equality of Opportunity is important. I’d support programs that assisted this, even if it meant higher taxes.