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Towards a new social democracy

By Corin McCarthy - posted Thursday, 26 November 2009

I’m a 34-year-old social democrat who believes in equality of opportunity.

Some might choke on this declaration given my support for raising the GST, school vouchers, deregulated HECS fees, income tax cuts and less labour regulation.

Those people confuse the means with the ends.


Traditional social democrats have long supported organised labour, substantially higher tax and spend policies and regulation of markets as the primary driver of opportunity and equity. Until recently I’ve often been a fellow traveller on that path.

And yet, the evidence should lead those inclined to social democracy to different more radical solutions.

A recent Treasury paper found that those with only year nine schooling have workforce participation rates 20 per cent below those who complete year 10.

Kids who then complete more schooling earn more in later life and kids who go onto higher education earn substantially more and have much higher employment participation, fewer periods of extended joblessness and better opportunities.

The real question facing social democrats is whether traditional methods for solving long-term joblessness, child poverty and family violence work. Can governments create opportunity and improve lives?

The rise of the jobless family has been marked and is concentrated in the communities we traditionally associate with disadvantage, especially Aboriginal families, single parent families and those with low educational attainment. Indeed even in 2005, 14 per cent of children lived in jobless homes. This is not to blame but to observe.


Indeed, traditional disadvantage for children as measured by joblessness in the home has not been significantly reduced even by the economic boom years in the last decade and a half, since the last major recession in the early 90s.

This should be the scandal of modern politics.

It’s not an infrastructure deficit in Australia that’s the primary failing of the Howard government, at least to social democratic eyes, it’s that the relative employment, income and wealth of the disadvantaged didn’t improve enough during the Howard years and in many circumstances went backwards.

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First published in The Australian under the title "Markets bring mobility".

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About the Author

Corin McCarthy was an adviser in opposition and government to Craig Emerson MP. He also advised Labor’s 2007 election campaign on small business issues. He has written widely on these issues in The Australian and On Line Opinion. He currently works as a lawyer in London advising on major infrastructure projects. These views are his own.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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