Australia treasurer: Springsteen the key to avoid economic pratfalls

Australia treasurer: Springsteen the key to avoid economic pratfalls
In this April 26, 2012 photo, musician Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band during a concert in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's treasurer says Australians can learn a lot — and avoid economic pitfalls — by listening to The Boss.

Wayne Swan revealed Wednesday that American rock star Bruce Springsteen has long been his political inspiration. He said the New Jersey-born working class hero's music railing against inequality echoed Swan's own public battle against Australian billionaire mining tycoons who oppose his tax reforms.

Swan, named by banking magazine Euromoney as the world's finance minister of the year for 2011, also said Springsteen's songs should serve as a warning to Australians against following the U.S. road toward widening economic inequality.

"The Boss was and remains my musical hero," Swan, who as treasurer is his center-left Labor Party government's chief economics minister, told a Labor forum Wednesday.

Swan, 58, said Springsteen often observed big changes occurring in U.S. working class life long before economic statisticians recognized them.

He said Springsteen's 1975 breakthrough album "Born to Run," as well as subsequent albums "Darkness on the Edge of Town," ''The River," ''Born in the U.S.A" and "Nebraska," talked about the shifting foundations of the U.S. economy before the subject became topical.

"If I could distill the relevance of Bruce Springsteen's music to Australia, it would be this: Don't let what has happened to the American economy happen here," Swan said.

"Don't let Australia become a Down Under version of New Jersey, where the people and communities whose skills are no longer in demand get thrown on the scrap heap of life," he added.

Conservative opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey dismissed Swan's speech as "ridiculous."

"It says everything about this government that it is guided by the principles of a rock singer, rather than any enduring philosophy that builds a stronger nation," he told reporters.

Swan cited economists and sociologists who agree that wealth inequality has overtaken race as the most divisive factor in American society.

Working-class Americans have been losing their share of national prosperity since the 1980s, while the wealthy have been taking more, Swan said.

Median U.S. household wealth declined by more than 30 percent between 2004 and 2010, while it increased in Australia by more than 20 percent in the same period, buoyed by a mining boom fueled by Chinese industrial demand, he said.

Swan said the lyrics of the song "Badlands" from Springsteen's 1978 album "Darkness on the Edge of Town" could be a warning against the growing political influence of Australian mining barons Gina Rinehart — who is Australia's richest person — Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest.

Swan quoted lyrics from the song: "Poor man wanna be rich/ Rich man wanna be king/ And a king ain't satisfied/ 'Til he rules everything."

Mining magnates have been campaigning against the government over the introduction in July of a 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal miners' profits that have burgeoned over the past decade due to Chinese growth.

They also oppose a carbon tax that came into effect in July that requires Australia's largest polluters to pay 23 Australian dollars ($24) for every metric ton of carbon dioxide they produce.

Swan accused the three outspoken miners in an article in March of using their wealth and influence to undermine Australia's democratic processes.

"The rising influence of vested interests is threatening Australia's egalitarian social contract," Swan said.

"A handful of powerful people not only think they have a right to a disproportionate share of the nation's economic success, they think they have a right to manipulate our democracy and our national conversation to gain an even bigger slice of the pie," he said.

He accused Rinehart — whom Forbes magazine estimated in March was worth $18 billion — of "baldly seeking the power to manipulate public opinion" by increasing her stake in Fairfax Media, Australia's second-largest newspaper group.

Swan also criticized Forrest, chairman of iron ore miner Fostescue Metals Group, for challenging the mining tax in the High Court and Palmer for using billboard advertising to announce he would contest Swan's electoral division at the next elections, due late next year. Palmer has since withdrawn his candidacy.

"In the face of all this, we have to stand up and be heard, because when the massively wealthy buy the loudest megaphones, the voices of the people are drowned out," he said.

Swan also revealed that he plays Springsteen's hit single "Born to Run" after delivering to Parliament the government's five annual budget plans each May. He said Springsteen is also the favorite musician of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"We are in many ways the Springsteen Generation," said Swan, who was a university lecturer on public administration before entering politics. "And if our generation has an anthem, it is 'Born to Run.'"