Historically, Australia has had a reputation for egalitarianism as evidenced by the absence of a rigid class system or structure and a relatively conservative bourgeois materialism. Egalitarianism, in this case, refers to a philosophical school of thought that emphasized equal treatment and equality across political beliefs, economic status, religion, and gender (McMurtry, 2015). Generally, egalitarianism focuses on income distributions and inequality. Karl Marx considered egalitarianism as a critical tenet of his Marxist philosophy, believing that social development should be geared towards the achievement of a humane, stateless, and classless society based common ownership. However, Karl Marx did not view egalitarianism as a system of greater equality amongst the social classes similar to Weber. Instead, Marx considered egalitarianism as the abolition of classes derived from divisions between productive property owners and workers, arguing that an egalitarian society should be about creating enabling conditions for individuals to pursue their desires and interests (McMurtry, 2015). This paper will explore whether Australia is an egalitarian society based on the Marxist perspective of egalitarianism.
Karl Marx proposed two major principles that can be considered his contribution to the egalitarianism debate, one of which was ‘To each according to his contribution’. This principle of distributions is widely viewed as the defining characteristic of socialist societies and refers to a system where compensation for the individual reflects their contribution to the economic output or social product with regard to productivity, labor, and effort (Van Krieken et al., 2016). Based on this principle, Australia cannot be considered an egalitarian society since its memans of compensation and distribution are starkly capitalist, with private property owners receiving unearned incomes from profits, rent, and interest merely because they own the property rather than due to contributions made to social products. The effects of globalization on Australian society have challenged Australia’s reputation as an egalitarian society, specifically due to increasing income disparities. For instance, as of 2013, the richest 1% of Australian owned approximately 20% of the entire national wealth, while the wealthiest 10% of the population owned more than 50% of the country’s wealth (Herscovitch, 2013). On the other hand, the poorest 30% of Australian do not have any net wealth without factoring in consumer durables.
While Marx agrees persons in worker societies should be compensated based on their individual contribution to the society, he also argue that the individual producer should receive exactly what he gives to society back from the society after making deductions for social activities. Further, Marx also argues that the individual should have the freedom to choose occupation or work that best suits them (McMurtry, 2015). In this case, it is expected that the individual’s intrinsic interest in their work will blur the distinctions between pay and work, thus creating new forms of production that will unleash productive and liberating activity. Again, based on this conception of egalitarianism, Australia cannot be considered an egalitarian society. There is increasing evidence that the period of sustained growth in the Australian economy at the turn of the millennium led to significant underemployment, with a growing mismatch between individual kills and job requirements. As a result of this underemployment, a significant proportion of Australians are not in satisfactory employment and are working jobs that do not make full use of their skill sets (Mendolia & Siminski, 2016). Increasingly, there are less well-paying jobs for Australians despite the low level of unemployment.
Karl Marx was also a proponent of the principle that ‘from each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’. This principle proposes that society should have free distribution and access to products, services, and goods; in which this arrangement would be made possible as a result of abundant products and services from the unfettered productive forces of an egalitarian society (Van Krieken et al., 2016). This principle of Marxist egalitarianism is highly visible in the progressive taxation system in Australia, in which 2% of the population accounts for 26% of total income tax in the country and account for 15% of all taxable income. In this case, the Australian taxation system takes from each citizen according to their abilities. On the other hand, Australia has the second most efficient welfare system in the world after Switzerland, spending 25% of its taxes on unemployment payments, disability pensions, and aged pension (Ozdowski, 2012). Thus, the Australian welfare system gives to every citizen according to their needs, which is a key tenet of egalitarianism according to Marx. Therefore, based on this Marxist principle, it can be argued that Australia is an egalitarian society.
Australia’s progressive tax system can also be interpreted in another way, which is that the disproportionately high taxation burden on the wealthy is an insurance premium to avert possible economic or social revolution. The transfer of income from high earners to low earners and those who do not have an income is organized in a socially-approved and voluntary manner (Dyrenfurth, 2015). Nevertheless, as Australia’s economy becomes more integrated with the global economy, there has been a general shift in the wealth generation demographics. In this case, Australia has been looking into tax and welfare system reform as the government begins to grapple with an increase in the number of needy people and a shrinking tax base due to the aforementioned underemployment. Further, more people are gaming the Australian system to evade taxes and claim welfare payments (Dyrenfurth, 2015). In turn, this has made Australia a less egalitarian society according to Marx’s principle of ‘from each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.
To conclude, it is arguable that according to Karl Marx’s perspective of what entails egalitarianism, Australia is not an egalitarian society. This conclusion is based on the fact that increasing income inequality means that Australian citizens do not receive from society and the economy what they contribute to economic production. Further, although Australia has one of the world’s most progressive tax systems and welfare systems, increased gaming of the system also means that Australians are giving less according to their ability. Therefore, Australia cannot be considered an egalitarian society.
- Dyrenfurth, N. (2015). Mateship: a very Australian history. Melbourne: Scribe Publications
- Herscovitch, B. (2013). A Fair Go: Fact or Fiction? Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies
- McMurtry, J. (2015). Structure of Marx’s World-view. Princeton: Princeton University Press
- Mendolia, S., & Siminski, P. (2016). New estimates of intergenerational mobility in Australia. Economic Record, 92(298), 361-373
- Ozdowski, S. (2012). Australia‐Emergence of a Modern Nation Built on Diversity and ‘Fair Go’. Political Crossroads, 19(1), 25-46
- Van Krieken, R., Habibis, D., Smith, P., Hutchins, B., Martin, G., & Maton, K. (2016). Sociology. Melbourne: Pearson Australia