There is something wrong with an economic system that tolerates beggars

Today marks four months since I moved to Sydney. To date Sydney has been awesome, I do have a few moans about it, mainly around its sheer size, my lack of a car, and unfriendliness of people, however these points are minor compared to one thing I am still failing to understand.

Sydney is a rich city, it has been blessed by money, looking at the CBD there are an uncountable number of buildings over 200m in height, looking at the news you seen rich people complaining they are being taxed too much, every mall has a many designer fashion stores, and one thing you don’t see much of is poverty. Except in one place. Street corners in the CBD. On almost every corner there is a beggar, some young, some old. There is one question that screams out from this: How can a city that is as big and as rich and is blessed as Sydney have people on street corners having to beg for money to survive?

I am informed that Sydney beggars are not as bad as other big international cities, and when I have raised this point with locals in discussion their reply is often runs along the lines that the beggars should just get off their lazy arse and get a job. Sure there are probably a few young beggars who could and should do this, but what about the older generation the people who have been on the streets for years? Surely this problem is a failing of the underlying social system than that of solely their own doing.

And the problems in the social system must lie on the shoulders of the government. It is the government’s duty of care to look after its citizens in particular the vulnerable and the disadvantaged in society and the homeless must be some of the most disadvantaged people in Sydney. I have yet to meet a rich beggar.

However, the failings of the government must lie back in a lack of tax revenue being raised from the people who are blessed, those who are earning money and are wealthy enough to be demanding tax cuts so they can buy their sixth holiday home. But can we really blame or attack people for being rich or blessed? People often work extremely hard to get ahead so who are we to bring them down for it?

Ultimately the issues of wealth, poverty, tax and a failed social system lie with the failure of our economic system, capitalism. A system that in its most fundamental form demands that in order to make a profit another must make a loss and those who make the largest profits win. And that is seen in its raw form with bankers walking past beggars at rush hour every morning in central Sydney.

In a column in today’s NZ Herald union activist Matt McCarten writes:

The left intellectuals we used to rely on to challenge ideas have retreated into academia. The staunch left survivors parroting on about an economic system built around the needs of people, rather than the needs of some to make profits, is rather quaint and eccentric.

The fight between socialism and capitalism isn’t over yet.

I was challenged last week to put this to the test.

So we organised a left versus right debate on Wednesday at Auckland University on the question, “Is Capitalism working?” Unashamed right winger Matthew Hooton, aided by the NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, with liberal conservative cover from National’s Nikki Kaye, agreed to give us the reasons why capitalism was better than socialism. Unite’s Mike Treen and NDU union leader Maxine Gay joined my team.

The auditorium was standing room only, overflowing in the aisles and outside. We won the overwhelmingly majority of the nearly 400 students present. When the right has to justify its dogma it doesn’t stand a chance with a thinking audience.

It is no surprise that the socialists won in a debate at a university, in the same way the capitalists would win if the debate was held in the middle of the stock exchange floor. However, I do believe that capitalism is not working, and it is not an academic argument, it is an argument that can be shown through beggars on street corners, pensioners who can’t afford the necessities of life, or a decent health system, or the young people of today who are being lumped with huge student loans to be able to get a qualification, a ticket to compete in the corporate world where capitalism turns people into cannibals who will stop at nothing to get to the top of the cooperate jungle.

A new system of economics and life needs to be developed, one that does not tolerate beggars, one that values education and our young people, a system where taxation is fair and leaves no one behind. People can become rich and can be blessed but not at the expense of others. I don’t buy the argument that it is just a fact of life that there will be rich and poor. Sure there will always be unbalances in life, but as socially advanced, aware, and intelligent beings we need to start acting intelligently and ensure that everyone in society is guaranteed shelter, food, health, education and employment.

This is not a left verses right political argument. This is a societal argument. I have no issue with people working for the dole, and I certainly do not like the idea of tax money being given freely to those sitting around watching TV all day. This is an argument about how terribly broken our economic situation is, and how we need to change it before our entire world collapses, the global financial crises was only a small warning sound to a much bigger societal collapse – are we intelligent enough to listen and react to the warning? Or are we truly just deaf, blind, dumb and stupid?