So. That might be a controversial title. But I’ve just been to see French economist Thomas Piketty speak at the Opera House, and I thought I’d share a little of my thoughts.
In the audience were a lot of economists, some socialists, and two Pentecostals.
Classily, as we were assailed on the front steps by the Socialist Alliance paper, Dreu quoted Oscar Wilde “…the trouble with Socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” Which we laughed at because so does Pentecostalism, actually. There’s a lot of dancing, and giving, and … oh well back to the topic.
I actually find macroeconomics very sexy. Oh, speak to me softly in Keynesian. I did a political economy degree at the University of Sydney, and I very nearly did my PhD in it.
Instead, my PhD is situated at the intersection of anthropology and development, and charts emergent ways that Aboriginal Christian leaders are using their congregations to insulate themselves from the devastating policies that increase Australia’s racial inequality, or “the gap.” During my studies, I spoke with 88 Christians attending churches with Aboriginal pastors. They spoke about the intersection between Dreaming culture and Christianity, and the ways they help people in their community get car licenses, stop smoking, do aerobics and work for NGOs. They are reducing inequality. This is the invisible Australian church.
Anyways, the summary of this Piketty presentation is that global inequality is rising, and in some places around the world has gone back to levels before WW2. Inequality is most troubling, interestingly enough, where there is oil revenue – e.g. in The Middle East, where the top 10% of income earners take almost 60% of the income.
Piketty doesn’t want to predict another war, of course, but at the same time, he provides historical links to inequality (of both income and wealth), characterizing this as “instability” that may give rise to conflict. Which certainly stacks up with development theorists.
There was something very interesting about sitting with thousands of people in the Opera House listening to this presentation.
It felt like church. Although the Today Tonight crew are desperately against more progressive Pentecostal religiosity, the reality is that it provides a collective identity, and a motivation to redistribute wealth. Jesus is a pretty compelling reason to limit your income, particularly for those at the top of the income ladder. And, it turns out, the poor in Pentecostal churches actually do see a material gain in income. If you’re desperate for stats, I can point you to many, from all over the world.
The true problem of our world is that the rich cannot see how rich we really are.
It is a virtue to truly be able to see yourself. This kind of sober judgment doesn’t come overnight.
The irony is that due to negative gearing and 0% tax on wealth inheritance (which Piketty made into a lovely joke), those who could attend this seminar in the Opera House in Sydney are truly the 1%.
I love the city of Sydney. But let’s be honest, it’s no longer tenable to live in. Without inherited wealth or a wealthy benefactor, you’re unable to afford the city at all.
For example, we live three kilometres out of the CBD in the converted basement of our besties: a surgeon and a business consultant. They got into the market well before the heist. But a 2-bed apartment-no-car-space across the road sold four months ago for $1.1 million.
There are thousands of apartments going up in our area. Three blocks away, there is a 2 bedroom faux-terrace that real estate agents predict will sell off plan for $2 million. It might lie vacant until the buyer deems they have made enough profit from it to resell.
The reality is, most Australians simply can’t afford to slap down $1-2 million on an apartment and let it lie vacant.
But this is how it works at the centre of our city.
All the workers that staff the shops, the university students at major institutions, and most of the CBD professionals now travel in from other precincts.
I can only reflect upon my own journey. After giving six years of my life to administrating United Live unpaid, which turned out to be one of the most successful musical exports of Australia (don’t worry, I didn’t get a cent, or a movie ticket, so obviously I was only imagining how important it was for me to be doing those 80 hour weeks, which is reassuring), I walked away without any superannuation, and decided to complete further study. But there is no incentive for young people to pursue the Arts in inner-city Sydney anymore.
My husband works with youth at risk in the Chatswood area. His organization does not take a cent of government funding. They raise it all themselves. Which means that we often brush shoulders with the philanthropic set, usually when they are highly inebriated, which of course helps make them feel compassionate towards street kids. There is no incentive for people to create innovative social services in inner-city Sydney anymore.
There is no incentive in Sydney other than money.
You either play to existing rules, or you’re forced to move out.
The five km radius from the CBD creates the perfect city for Baby Boomers with inherited wealth who want freedom from millennials. And children. And anything else that challenges the idea that this isn’t really “the good life” that they paint it to be.
I’m not suggesting we run screaming down the street aka Chicken Little, but I am suggesting that we look very seriously at the spirit of our city.
Or, if you still refuse my assertion that there are some benefits from participation in a religious community, then at least read Thomas Piketty.