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The moral life

The sight of a Minister of State stuck to his seat when he could have resigned and saved himself and everyone a lot of hassle and aggro is far from frustrating. It is a form of political torture, especially felt by those who may well happen to care for the government and country that the minister claims to represent.

That this kind of behaviour is not a first, adds further insult to injury. There were several ministers from previous administrations who invested offshore and never got caught while in office. But only in Malta could a Leader of the Opposition claim political credit for firing retired ministers posthumously, by asking them to leave politics when they had already done so.

No one can deny that excessive and concentrated wealth has the upper hand amongst the political elites and their entourage of most nations—including liberal democracies. Some would be shocked to see a Maltese name popping out from amongst the great and the good mentioned in the Panama papers and previously in Swissleaks. But we all know that Malta is not exempt from such predicaments. This is, after all, a global affair.

In an emotional video that has gone viral on social media, Senator Bernie Sanders asks: “What does it mean to live a moral life? When we talk about morality and when we talk about justice we have to understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little. There is no justice when the top one tenth of one per cent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom ninety per cent.”

Even when they are (officially) at each other’s throat, Labour and the Nationalists have come to share the same kind of politics, which they falsely attribute to the middle ground

I could hear Bernie’s detractors saying that he is indulging in class envy—which any high school student studying political history would recognise as a common criticism levelled at anyone describing him or herself a socialist. However the same student will also know that if this were just a touch of old class envy it won’t matter to anyone in societies like ours because ultimately the envious have no power to do anything about it.

Here the point goes far beyond envy. Like any social democrat attracted to the Scandinavian model of a solid welfare state run on a successful mixed economy, Bernie’s biggest worry is not wealth per se but the slow and gradual normalisation of an undemocratic establishment wielding power through excessive wealth.

Some would retort that this money was well earned. Indeed, money earned must be taxed, because in a democracy where we all have agreed to live a form of associated living, we have rights but also responsibilities to each other. Any wealth that is earned fairly and squarely is not immoral. But then again what is so moral about a system that allows so much money to be stashed away from public accountability and taxation?

Recently Ed Miliband said this to The Guardian: “for 30 years, since Reagan and Thatcher, the basic view has been, ‘Be nice to the super-rich and their wealth will trickle down.’ That is the big lesson of Panama for me. It doesn’t trickle down; it gets stashed.”

Some dismiss Miliband as a lefty, not business-friendly, and with a habit of losing elections. But I clearly remember Ed getting a lot of flak from the British lefties and the Unions when he supported business, particularly small and medium sized businesses.

When I think of Panama and Malta, the real tragedy for me is that this kind of discussion is not happening because even when they are (officially) at each other’s throat, Labour and the Nationalists have come to share the same kind of politics, which they falsely attribute to “the middle ground.”

We’re told that the fight is not about old ideologies but delivery and good governance. What they actually mean is “good management.” And who doesn’t need good managers?

But what about good leadership? What about vision? What about grasping the nettle and challenge those privileged few, the one per cent, who seem to remain above democracy because they have enough wealth to reign supreme under every administration?

Aren’t civil rights a good indicator of a vision? My view is that civil rights are a must and cannot be taken for granted. They’re the wheels of democracy. But why shouldn't a car have wheels? Haven't we voted for those wheels? Maybe we had to vote for four wheels because the car had three wheels before. Fine… but wheels are a given to a car. How about the engine of democracy? A well-oiled economy is imperative. Now we’re talking.

Ultimately this leaves us with one question: Now that the wheels and the engine are in place, could we turn our attention to the political quandary that Bernie and Ed are highlighting when they speak of social justice and equality?

This is where our dear politicians seem to get stuck, especially when in their enthusiasm for a brave managerial world, they forget that those who fuel the car and drive it are the small businesses and those living on a wage. The tragedy is that most of us remain at the mercy of the super wealthy who, when the opportunity comes, do not bat an eyelid while stashing their money offshore while leaving everyone else high and dry.

 

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