The new gilded age

Only a few months ago, Joe Hockey launched what his friends at the Australian called a ‘bold mission to end [the] culture of handouts’.

‘The age of entitlement is over,’ Hockey explained. ‘The age of personal responsibility has begun.’

Barely had the glorious new epoch dawned when we learned that Hockey’s offsider, Arthur Sinodinos, sat on a board that casually allocated (as you do)  $164,275 to a corporate box at Stadium Australia and $28,738 on limousine hire.

Now it transpires that a $3000 bottle of wine seems so run-of-the-mill  to a NSW premier that its presentation by a lobbyist does not even lodge in his memory.

How many normal Australians, do you suppose, work in occupations where the arrival of $3000 bottles of plonk passes without notice?

But the luxury that Barry O’Farrell apparently accepts as his due is less noteworthy than the response to his resignation from the official courtiers of the political class.

Take Gerard Henderson, the well-known filing cabinet and internet pest. Not since Gollum lost his ring have we seen a tantrum of the proportions Henderson threw on Lateline last night.

I mean, the idea that you would lose your job because you accepted and probably drank a bottle of wine, which you didn’t try to sell and you didn’t even try to pawn it, you probably drank it, the idea that …

I know Barry well over a long period; he’s not particularly interested in wine, as I understand it. I wouldn’t know the cost of a bottle of Grange. I would have no idea it was worth $3,000. If someone gave it to me, I’d probably drink it and I may or may not forget about it.

This is, mind you, from a self-appointed scourge of the elite: a man who pecks out a new fifteen-thousand-word piece whenever he uncovers an ABC presenter pretentious enough to ride a bicycle or live in a city or be a homosexual.

But elitism’s funny like that – it only ever applies to the plebs.

The people with real power never think they’re privileged. They can, like Henderson, knock back a bottle of Grange without even noticing, since they genuinely believe they deserve all the good things in life.

Even as Henderson fulminates about the terrible miscarriage of justice destroying the career of an honourable yadda yadda yadda, another news item passed almost unnoticed.

Yesterday, it was reported that two Australians had been killed by US drone strikes in Yemen. Today, the Oz editorialised, with evident satisfaction, that their deaths showed ‘the extreme danger facing those who involve themselves in any way with international terrorism’.

Note that the two men so casually killed were neither tried nor charged. All we know about their guilt or innocence comes from the pronouncements of the intelligence agencies.

Indeed, the dead men were not even the actual target of the strikes. They lost their lives as collateral damage in an extrajudicial execution program aimed at someone else – basically, a high-tech Murder Inc operation, running through a death list drawn up somewhere in the Pentagon.

So what does our national newspaper conclude about this? It allows that the deaths are ‘regrettable’ and accepts that, of the 3300 people killed by drone strikes, ‘many’ were non-combatant civilians. Then it continues:

But at a time when governments are increasingly averse to putting boots on the ground, drone strikes have proved an effective alternative.

Got that? The strikes kill many ‘non-combatant civilians’ – but they’re still a handy policy alternative, since the people incidentally turned into ‘bugsplat’ (as drone pilots put it) aren’t anyone of significance.

‘For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance,’ explains Matthew 25:29. ‘Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’

Such is the logic of new gilded age.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. What a spot-on piece! What makes people like pontificator Henderson so awful, amongst other things, is his lack of transparency. Who are the people who support him through the Sydney Institute? And then there was Nick Greiner on RN yesterday, without any qualms, telling us all that it wasn’t the bottle of Grange gifted to the Premier that was the problem, rather that he didn’t declare it. Of course it’s OK to grease palms………

  2. For me, the classic demonstration of an entitlement mentality was Hendo’s complaint about not being invited on the show for six years. It seems that no matter how much he attacks the ABC and the people that work there, he expects regular invitations to spout his bitter views.

  3. Gosh! I saw the photograph and thought that the Overland short story competition had gone a tad upmarket, to use an incredibly ugly word.

  4. To be more serious for a moment, that seemingly puzzling passage from Matthew is often used out of context; it actually a parable about how to live that refers to a servant who buried money in the ground rather than using it (admittedly using it to make his master more money). It can be taken to refer to those who don’t do what they can to improve things, those who value safety over risk, and those who pay lip-service to doing good and who do nothing of any real value.  

    I don’t think Jesus is recommending a kind of regressive distribution of wealth (or approving of injustice) but rather it is saying that being cautious and holding back is not necessarily a good thing.  It (Matthew 25) goes on to some of the most beautiful passages which totally contradict the common meaning attributed to 29:

    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

    36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    All quite in accord with the last paragraphs of the article.

    Have a good Easter.

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