GAME OF FAUX COM­PAS­SION

The Weekend Australian - Life - - LIFE -

You see them here, you see them there. They pop up in the damnedest places. At work. On tele­vi­sion. In your friend­ship group. They are, of course, the lat­est life form to have in­vaded this na­tion. They are the com­pas­sion pos­tur­ers, some­times known as the com­post peo­ple, for short.

Com­post peo­ple are sim­ple crea­tures. They so want to be loved and just a lit­tle bit ad­mired. Their phi­los­o­phy is sim­ple. Pick a topic and de­clare your sup­port for a form of self-im­posed hard­ship you know will never be ap­plied.

For ex­am­ple. “I feel so sorry for young peo­ple to­day try­ing to buy into the hous­ing mar­ket. We bought our house a few years ago and it’s in­creased in value so much that even we couldn’t af­ford to buy it now.”

Nicely played. Gives the im­pres­sion you are con­cerned about the wel­fare of oth­ers when what you are re­ally do­ing is let­ting ev­ery­one know how well you have done in the prop­erty mar­ket. That is a clas­sic com­post play; it de­liv­ers a win-win that means you get the ku­dos of mak­ing the state­ment with­out the re­spon­si­bil­ity of hav­ing to do any­thing.

Next topic, tax­a­tion. This is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated but you’ve al­ready got a sense of how the faux com­pas­sion game is played. The scene is a trendy tele­vi­sion chat show where the guests take turns to pon­tif­i­cate about the par­lous state of the na­tion’s fi­nances. Guest No 1 goes straight for the jugu­lar.

“Well of course I wouldn’t mind pay­ing a bit more tax … I see it as the cost of main­tain­ing a civil so­ci­ety.” Again, per­fectly played. You get to pos­ture your com­pas­sion for oth­ers on na­tional tele­vi­sion by pro­fess­ing your de­sire to pay ex­tra tax with­out hav­ing to do any­thing. How good is that!

Now you know and I know that deep down the com­post peo­ple are feel­ing might­ily un­set­tled by their priv­i­leged po­si­tion, so I have de­cided to help by find­ing ways to as­suage their racked con­sciences. In­deed, I came up with ideas as to how the com­post peo­ple might be able to achieve their stated aims.

Come close, com­post peo­ple, for I have found a way to reg­is­ter your dis­ap­proval of the wicked real es­tate mar­ket. Here’s how you do it. De­lib­er­ately and with com­pas­sion sell your house to a young cou­ple at a price that is — how good is this? — be­low the cur­rent mar­ket value.

That cun­ning plan, my dear com­post peo­ple, will surely set in place a down­ward spi­ral in lo­cal prop­erty val­ues that will al­low oth­ers to more easily get into the hous­ing mar­ket. Pretty damned clever. You sell first. No, I in­sist.

Next is­sue is the vexed mat­ter of tax. Un­for­tu­nately, my dear com­pas­sion pos­tur­ers, those woe­fully in­ad­e­quate mar­ginal tax rates are pretty much set for the rest of this year. But if you feel you would like to pay ex­tra tax then I am sure we could set up a vol­un­tary sys­tem where you can pay ex­tra.

We could call this the vol­un­tary tax fund and the en­tire na­tion could sit back and watch the fund’s value rise as com­post peo­ple scram­bled to make good on their stated will­ing­ness to pay not what is re­quired but more than what is re­quired.

No? Not in­ter­ested? But com­pas­sion pos­tur­ers, you were so adamant about your in­ten­tions. Oh, I see. Life isn’t fair for the com­post peo­ple. They would love to do all of this but ap­par­ently there are tech­ni­cal rea­sons as to why they can’t ever de­liver on their pub­lic com­pas­sion pos­tur­ing.

BERNARD SALT saltb@theaus­tralian.com.au I @bernard­salt

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