When I attended Paddy McGuinness's funeral and listened to his new-found mates on the Rabid Right seeking to beatify him, I had to remind myself of the Paddy I knew.
When it came time to write his column he'd return from the pub and work himself into a rage. About anything; it didn't matter. Once he'd reached the point of incandescence he'd sit down at the keyboard and the words would pour from his fingertips. Then he'd go back to the pub.
I, too, find that being a grumpy old man helps keep me going. And nothing annoys me more than hearing the comfortably off trying to convince themselves - and anyone who'll listen - they're really battlers.
The self-pity of the well-off will always drive me to the keyboard. And what an outpouring of it we've seen in response to Wayne Swan's praiseworthy decision to impose a $150,000 limit on eligibility for the baby bonus, family tax benefit part B and the dependent spouse tax offset.
I'm not rich! How dare those socialists say a family on $150,000 a year is rich! I'm living on that and we're finding it quite a struggle with higher interest rates and rising petrol and food prices.
Calm down. For a start, it's a bum rap. The Rudd Government has never said people on $150,000 are rich. Who has said it? The media. This is one case where the messenger does deserve to be shot.
The media love using words such as "rich" and "poor" because they're short and fit easily in headlines, but also because they're emotion-charged words guaranteed to get the customers going.
But rich is also a convenient word for those affected because, if they can convince themselves they're not rich, they're half way to convincing themselves it's unfair for their benefits to be taken away.
Of course people on $150,000 a year aren't rich. James Packer is rich - even Malcolm Turnbull. Chief executives are rich.
That's a red herring. What can't be denied is that people on $150,000 are high income-earners. That's a statistical fact, as much as you may prefer not to know.
Figures updated from the official Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia surveyshow that, for 2008-09, the median income of "households" will be about $80,000 a year before tax. And households earning $150,000 or more - starting at almost twice the median - are in the top 15 per cent of households.
The top 15 per cent aren't rich, but they're certainly not battlers. They're not even anywhere near the middle; they're up near the top.
That's the combined, husband and wife income of a family. Ostensibly, Swan's new means tests are based on combined income. But, as I'll show, in practice they're based on the income of the "primary earner" (you're not allowed to say husband these days).
If we switch to looking at the incomes of "individuals", $150,000 a year before tax takes you not into the top 15 per cent, but the top 3 per cent.
Top 3 per cent and you still reckon you're a middle income-earner struggling to make ends meet! If so, you must be bad at managing money.
The average earnings of adult full-time employees are now $60,000. So someone on $150,000 is pulling in 2½ times average. And you're asking the rest of us to feel sorry for you? You reckon the bottom 97 per cent of taxpayers should be paying you special benefits?
The carry-on we've seen from people pulling down a paltry $150,000 a year borders on the obscene when put beside the troubles of the people who really do have cause for complaint, single pensioners living it up on $270 a week. That's a bit over $14,000 a year - less than a 10th of what the well-off whingers are getting.
But how can people living on two or three times the average income genuinely believe they're middle-income strugglers? Writing for a paper with a clientele like this one's, that's a puzzle I've struggled with for years. It comes down to four factors.
First, the cost of housing in Sydney is quite a bit higher than in other parts, whereas incomes are only a bit higher than elsewhere.
Second, this city, like all cities, is becoming increasingly stratified, with the better-off living in the better located suburbs and the battlers living far away in the hinterland. This means the better-off and the battlers rarely get to see how the other half lives - although, thanks to the media, we all get to envy the lifestyles of the (genuinely) rich and famous.
Third, most people manage to keep themselves dissatisfied with their income by always comparing themselves with people who have more and never with people who have less (who, remember, they rarely see up close).
Even if you're doing well enough to live in Mosman or Vaucluse, it's not hard to point to all the people in your street who are doing better. (In fact, you probable have an exaggerated view of who's doing better because the others conceal how heavily indebted they are.)
Fourth, a lot of people on high incomes keep themselves in a perpetual state of feeling they're having trouble making ends meet by increasing their spending commitments in line with every increase in their income.
That is, they do no voluntary saving, which means they have no buffer when, as inevitably happens, we go through a period of rising interest rates and prices. If that's you, stop kidding yourself: you're a bad money manager, unworthy to be a member of the bourgeoisie.
Because the new income ceiling for the family tax benefit part B is paid to stay-at-home spouses whose own income is negligible, it follows that, in effect, the ceiling applies to the "individual" income of the primary earner. The same logic applies to eligibility for the dependent spouse tax offset.
With the baby bonus, in practice the ceiling is a combined income of $75,000 during the first six months after the baby is born. This maximises the chance that the wife isn't earning so that the test applies just to the individual income of the husband.
It's not consistent to want lower taxes while also whingeing about means-tested benefits. That's why the sainted Bob Menzies was big on them.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald