I really expected and WANTED to like this book. I agreed with its general message: that younger generations were being disadvantaged in today’s world. With jobs hard to get and housing, both rental and purchased, priced well beyond their means, they faced far greater difficulties than I did at their age.
Jennifer Rayner attributes this to an older more privileged generation (mine) not willing to give up advantages and effectively denying opportunities to a younger generation (hers). And in taking that narrow focus I believe she sets off on the wrong path.
It’s not far into the book that she started to lose my empathy, when I read:
In earlier years, our parents’ generation moved steadily through pay rises and promotions as people filed out of work at 55 and freed up the ranks above them. But having got old themselves, they’re not giving up on those great careers. That leaves me and my peers butting up against a grey ceiling that compresses our potential and frustrates our ambitions. (p35)
And later in the book:
“…wealth is a form of power. If we don’t change tack now, if we allow it to become ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged, this is going to dramatically redraw Auastralia’s social contract.” (p138)
I, and I’m sure many of my generation would be more than happy to “file out of work at 55” to make way for the next generation. In fact something like that is exactly what my generation were led to believe WOULD happen by the time we reached our mid-50s: that retirement ages would lower and we could look forward to a middle/old age of recreation and ease, not having to work until we dropped dead or became too sick to continue.
But instead the retirement age in Australia has been raised from 65 to 67, because we apparently have an aging population that needs to continue working to support itself for longer.
I’ve just turned 58 and I would have LOVED to be three years into my retirement, but I had no choice, and according to current legislation I’ll be working for another nine years, dependent on the continuing availability of work for people of my age, which is questionable considering the difficulties faced by “seniors” when they need to find a new job.
As for the idea of wealth/power becoming “ever-more concentrated in the hands of the aged”, I have to say I know few “aged” people who have any degree of wealth that could give them “power”. But maybe I move in totally different circles to Rayner.
Most of those I know merely have sufficient to keep themselves living non-lavish lifestyles, with food and housing but little room for luxuries. And I can only wonder about my own future. There’s no accumulated wealth for me to fall back on in 9 years when I’m able to retire.
The things I DO have (eg. a basic but comfortable house, furniture and a car) were accumulated and obtained over many years, and in my younger days required restraint and discipline: no phone, no TV, no credit card for the first couple of years, making do with hand-me-down furniture, then moving away from the city where houses were unaffordable to a country town where property was (and is) a fraction of the cost.
I could go on…
The blurb of Rayner’s book states that hers is “the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents”.
If that IS true – how significant is it?
Let’s look at how many generations there have been during that period.
In my own family there would be:
1) my grandparents’ who grew up during the Depression.
2) My parents’, who grew up during WW2
3) my own, the one apparently disadvantaging the next, and
4) my daughters’, the generation Rayner is writing about who are being disadvantaged.
So in all, by my assessment, there have only been two generations that have been better off than their predecessors according to the claims of Rayner’s book.
One of those could hardly have been worse off than their Depression era parents, and the next (mine) could hardly have been worse off than my parents’ generation, emerging from six years of a devastating World War. Clearly there isn’t a long standing tradition of constant economic improvement from one generation to the next.
So pushing aside the weak argument of an historical precedent of ongoing betterment from generation to generation; what would it be that gives rise to the idea that we SHOULD always be better off than our parents?
I suspect it’s related to the belief that economies SHOULD continually grow.
Clearly (though many deny it), within a finite world there’s a limit to possible growth and continual increase can’t be sustained; but how soon can we expect that the limit to viable growth be reached?
Maybe it can’t go on beyond a generation or two and is already approaching its limit?
Possibly the present day difficulties have nothing to do with generational inequity but a lot to do with misplaced expectations and Ponzi scheme economics.
There is so much more in this book to address (I’ve only touched the surface), so maybe I’ll add another post or two later to deal with some of the other issues.
The first part of this book could be dismissed as nostalgia, but I think that would be short-sighted. Dennis Glover revisits his childhood, working-class suburb of Doveton and compares its past prosperity to its present day poverty. He uses this comparison as an example of the broader nation. The experience of Doveton isn’t limited to one small town.
Glover makes it clear that economic changes and “progress” since the 1980s haven’t been as positive as we are led to believe. Economic growth is relative and depends what frame it is viewed through.
Overall a nation may be booming – but what is more important, the creation of wealth or the way created wealth is distributed?
Glover shows that in the national pursuit of “increased productivity” and economic growth, an increasing number are being pushed aside, left as unwilling sacrifices to those pursuits, and are being left out of the sharing of the nation’s (allegedly increasing) wealth,
A statement like: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” can easily be dismissed as clichéd, but Glover shows the reality behind that statement where people who would have once been part of relatively well-off working class families, have now been left with no opportunity of getting secure employment, while others “profit” from the savings made through disposing of an “expensive” workforce.
Members of the one time working class are accused of not wanting to work, and yet the reality is usually a matter of there being no opportunity to work.
As a kind of postscript to the comments I’ve made about Glover’s book, last night I saw a story on the TV news about the future of local Technical Colleges. Apparently the Government is looking at closing the colleges and making their courses accessible online only. This gives them even more assets to sell off (the real estate etc) and also gives them “savings” on teaching and administrative staff formerly employed on each campus.
The constant lies and misinformation we’re fed by politicians and business leaders are exposed and explained. Sadly most people won’t read this book.
They’ll remain hoodwinked by their country’s leaders and resign themselves to the whims of “the market”, that voracious beast to whom the world is made to believe it is subject.
Denniss is very quick to expose the myth of “the market”. He writes:
While the markets are real, it’s absurd to suggest they have ‘feelings’, ‘needs’ or ‘demands’. Markets are a place where buyers and sellers of a product come together. It might be a physical place like a fish market, or a virtual place like eBay or a stock exchange. But regardless of their form, markets never have feelings.
Rich people, on the other hand, do have feelings. And rich people who own billions of dollars’ worth of shares in a company often have very strong feelings. They have feelings about government policies and they have feelings about tax rates,
But the feelings of rich people are quite different to the feelings of ‘the market’. Consider the following example which shows how effectively economic language can conceal what’s actually going on. Both the following reports describe the same event:
[report 1] Markets reacted angrily today to news the government is considering tightening thin capitalisation provisions which have provided foreign investors with strong incentives to expand their Australian operations.
[report 2] Rich Foreigners reacted angrily today at news that they might have to pay tax on the profits they earn in Australia. After the government announced that it was considering clamping down on some of the most lucrative forms of multi-national profit-shifting, some very wealthy Americans threatened to take heir businesses away from Australia if they were forced to pay tax.
While I highly recommend this book, I also find it reflects very badly on the majority of us. It’s the kind of book that seems like it shouldn’t need to have been written. Denniss makes his points seem so blatantly obvious that I wonder why we need to be told at all. But clearly we do, because too many of us gullibly fall for the politically expedient rhetoric that we’re constantly fed by our nation’s leaders.
Denniss says at the beginning of the book:
When public figures and commentators dress up their self-interest as the national interest, to make the absurd seem inevitable or the inequitable seem fair, or even to make the destructive seem prudent, they are econobabbling.
Ever day econobabble silences democratic debate about our nation’s priorities and values and conceals the policy options we have at our disposal. The aim of this book is to expose the stupid arguments, bizarre contradictions and complete lack of evidence which econobabble is designed to conceal.
See here for a lengthy extract: https://www.redbackquarterly.com.au/book/2016/02/econobabble/extract
An interview with Richard Denniss: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2016/02/bst_20160216_0834.mp3