Two sides to socialism (aka “If you have 2 cows, can I have 1?”)

I’ll tell you 2 stories, both true. I once asked a friend if she would ever return to live in Malaysia. She said, “Why ever do that? Australia gives me so many benefits.”

At the time, this wonderful government was giving her both parenting payments and rent assistance. This came to about $1100 + a month. Today, she still receives the same payments, but gets around $1250 a month. The school kids bonus and any free money going around is extra. She also has a health care card, which subsidises the costs of medical consultation, medication, utilities and public transport.

To her credit, she was able to feed her family of 4 adults and 1 child from Monday to Friday on only $50 a week, whilst on weekends, she’d eat out. From her, I learnt quite a number of penny-pinching tricks (good ones too) so  in return, using what I’d gleaned from faithfully reading Money Magazine, I gave her some layman’s financial advice.

“Lose the credit card debt,” I told her. “Your credit card charges around 17% in interest. How long will it take you to pay off what you owe? What you’ve bought on the cards aren’t even income-generating assets and if they were, I wouldn’t bankroll them with cards if I were you.”

She wouldn’t listen and the debt kept piling up. Instead, she confessed to spending up to $400 a month on herself, my then-home and personal belongings serving as a real-life “Pin-interest” with which to decorate her own home. Using her first baby bonus she bought an old car with a 5-year loan attached, and with her next baby bonus, she took the family back to Malaysia for a month-long holiday. After that, she brought them back another 2 times, an average of once every two years.

“Why don’t you put the children in childcare and get a job to help out? At your level of wages, the taxes are negligible,” I advised.

You might say the same thing of me but there is no point I work outside the home since my husband already pays the taxes he does. I’ll have you know: for him to work those hours to pay these taxes, I do the bulk of all home duties and child rearing. In return, I receive no parenting payments, no rent assistance, no school kids bonus, and if I were to have another child, no baby bonus either. Since I’m out of the labour force, I’m also ineligible for the paid maternity scheme, single, childless folks Australia-wide have been seeing red over.

People often preach to me the value of work-life balance, of spending time with the family, but no one acknowledges that my husband is not just keeping me at home, but other mothers too. My friend’s husband works a regular 40-hour week. Mine works double that. Until last year, HRH was upgrading his skills (to pay even more tax in the future) so he didn’t have much time for us when not working.

Anyhow, a family member of hers told me, “She wants what you have, to be taken care of by a man, but married someone who can’t even care for himself.”

“What are you going to do in the event something happens to your husband? How much does his work insurance pay?”

“Sixty thousand.”

“That’s not enough to bring up children,” I said, out of concern. “What more with outstanding credit card bills.”

I tried to get her to put her finances in order and aim for self-sufficiency but that ultimately put a strain on our friendship. The way she sees it, I’m a FAT CAT because I live a much better life than her. She doesn’t see the sacrifices, the years of toil.

The flip side of the coin is story number 2. This other friend is like HRH, a surgeon. He isn’t HRH, because my stupid HRH is too much of a socialist, plus he always likes to take the opposing side just to rile me up. He says I look cute when pissed off.

Let’s return to story number 2. This conversation took place roughly a year ago, in my house.

The country is heading down the drain under this government,” said this other friend.

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

The government penalises you for working hard. People all point to me and say I’m rich and use that as an excuse to take my hard-earned money, but don’t see the 20 years I’ve put in to get to where I am. I had to work very hard to get into medicine, then very hard to get into surgical training, then very hard to stay in surgical training, then very hard to exit surgical training, then very hard to establish myself… when I could have skipped university, got myself drunk every night, found some interesting hobbies and gone on the dole.”

The truth is it doesn’t pay to be responsible.

We, stupid people, have mortgages, body corporate and council rates to pay (so we can fund our own old age), a flood levy to foot (so we can afford to clean up after another flood), the carbon tax to bear (God knows what’s that about), medibank levy and SURCHARGE taken before we even see a cent  of our wages (now no longer offset completely by the taking up of private health cover), private health insurance  to cough up (to reduce the strain on the public health system), flood insurance to protect buildings (to nullify dependence on public funds collected through the flood levy), and a raft of personal insurance policies (to prevent dependence on the government in the event of being sued, falling ill or being struck with disability) and FOR ALL THAT, we’re labelled SELFISH FAT CATS and targeted every time the public coffers run short.

“In hindsight, option 2 probably seems much better,” I said. “The interesting part is you have to provide care for the very people who accuse you of being a FAT CAT and you have to PAY for their care through taxes and various levies. And, none of them will ever hesitate to sue you, because you’re a FAT CAT and they are the “little guys.”

“That’s true.”

“Did HRH ever tell you about one of his consultants? He asked the guy why he drives such an old car. The consultant said he once treated someone, who subsequently tried to sue him, even though everything went well surgically, because the latter simply needed the money. ‘It’s not personal, doc,’ he said as he slapped him with a lawsuit.”

I’m not saying that all patients are ungrateful bogans. Many are very considerate and appreciative folk who bring sushi and fruits and whatever else they sell, as gifts, when coming for consults. But you will encounter those who think you should be taken to the cleaners simply because you are doing better than they are. You will also encounter many who feel ENTITLED to welfare payments because Australia is a supposedly rich nation and everyone, save them, is OBLIGED to help the underprivileged.

At any rate, I don’t see the need for more levies or more taxes. If, in managing the country’s finances, the government were even half as good as a regular housewife is at managing the family budget, they won’t have to keep slapping tax payers with more levies to fund projects.