Voting for a living: A shift in Australian politics from selling policies to buying votes?

This paper explores the hypothesis that growth of government has become self-sustaining through the emergence of a segment of the population that both enjoys sufficient direct support from government and is large enough that political parties shape policies to curry its favour.

The researchers use the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest fiscal incidence study to identify recent numbers of ‘net benefit recipients’ as a proportion of those of voting age.  Net benefit recipients are (roughly speaking) those who receive greater government transfer payments in cash or kind than they pay in income tax and indirect taxes. To the numbers of net benefit recipients, we add ABS data on public sector employment to suggest Australia now has a significant majority of the voting age population comprising net benefit recipients and government employees.

The paper suggests 10 hypotheses derived from the ‘voting for a living’ theory that predict how policy making in Australia is changing.  Observations consistent with all these hypotheses seem common in recent times. Not withstanding many of these hypotheses, taken individually, undoubtedly have other contributory causes.  But Voting for a Living predicts them all, and lends credibility to the fear that Australian democracy has entered a dangerous period of failed policy processes and consequent serious policy mistakes.
The paper concludes with a brief consideration of what changes might reduce the risks of ‘voting for a living’.