Monday, June 16, 2003

The Saffy generation

A silly perma-news* item in today’s Oz sent me off searching to find howlers in the past predictions of Australian “futurologist” Phil Ruthven.

In 1998, he said that Generation X is going to generate a new Golden Age of wealth, starting in 2006. In fairness to Phil, this could still happen – but speaking as a member of this generation, I just hope that he hasn’t bet the house on it, if you know what I mean (there’s more about Phil and houses very soon). When one’s entrepreneurial nouse is going to be relied upon, to ramp up an economy that has grown a bit too relaxed while under the stewardship of risk-averse baby boomers like Rodney Adler** I’m not sure whether I’m being groomed and flattered into a mindset that I’m a big boy too, now – or just that my future lies in the Big House. Either way, I await filling Rodney Adler’s boots in 2006 with some trepidation.

Phil Ruthven did at least get some things right in 1998; like Gen X remaining in education as long as they are supported, knowing that the job market is going to be patchy. And this, as well:

Ruthven has become well known for his belief that owning a home is not as advantageous as renting. He advocates using the money not ploughed into a home loan for the life of a loan to be invested offering better returns than the property market. He believes Generation X will be the first to take considerable advantage of this option.

And indeed, I myself have taken take considerable advantage of the home-renting, rather than buying “option” – something which the stats also corroborate. Not only that, this “cunning” X’er has even managed outwitted Phil’s 1998 belief in the supreme investment virtue of the stockmarket (same URL). As someone once said, when futurologists start saying that the Australian stockmarket is undervalued because it had only returned 10.6% annually in the last five years (remember this was 1998), the it’s time to get out, as fast as you can. Okay, so my only “investment” is actually a prehistoric, pre-fare-rise 10-trip tram ticket, which, through amazing thrift, still has one journey left in it. But my penultimate point still holds – when people start regarding the fact that the yield on their parked money is only 7% above the inflation rate as something quite lacklustre, I really do run for the nearest exit – it’s to do with something called the vomit reflex.

Anyway, as we now know – Phil wuz wrong. Not only has the stockmarket been craptacular while the property market has boomed over the past two years, those members of Gen X with jobs have also had the pleasure of seeing 9% of their paypackets creamed off to be invested in the said craptacular stockmarket. Perhaps the experience of watching their superannuation shrinking before their eyes is what Phil had in mind when he spoke of the investment savvy-ness of Gen X’ers. When the government has the foresight and wisdom to cut its 15% tax off the top of a compulsory and deflating “investment”, then you’ve just gotta admire its fiscal literacy (however much it otherwise hurts).

Meanwhile, as I twiddle my thumbs waiting for 2006’s promise of rational exuberance (You can bet I’ll be whipping out my old tram-ticket to celebrate and validate, when and if this day does come!), one thing that Phil said in 1998 does seriously worry me. Okay, it’s again the journo (one Jefferson Penberthy), and not Phil who made the explicit point, but I assume that Phil concurs with this:

In popular culture, they are the generation represented in the cult TV series Absolutely Fabulous, by Saffy, the bespectacled, disapproving daughter - the tightly together little person whose patience is so sorely tested by the neurotic antics of her manic (single) mother Eddy and her friend Pats. You remember Saffy, the one without a personality? Saffy and her generation are going to save the world.

I have met*** a good few Gen X women (and, very occasionally, a man too) like Saffy – and they scare me to hell. Like cars that run on premium unleaded, “Saffies” are mysteriously made to require more money being sunk into their running costs than the average X’er. Also like premium unleaded, Saffies just didn’t even exist a few years ago – or, if they did, they were something specialised and out of the way. Now Saffies are everywhere, making the workaday and normal (like me) look . . . a bit left behind.

Of course, squandering baby boomers are 100% to blame for the invention and rise of Saffies. It’s simple, bio-Newtonian forces of inter-generational action and reaction. But that’s cold comfort to me now, especially in the lead up to 2006. And when Saffy-ness jumps the inter-generational Wallace Line and takes hold among baby boomers (either repentant or just-never-got-it), then nothing will be able to stop it. Which, alas, has happened, and as long ago as 1998:

Deep down, Rodney Adler, you see, is a Saffy, beneath all that Eddy’n’Pats facade:

At FAI Insurances, 38-year-old Rodney Adler says the risk-taking instincts in the generation of his late father Larry have been "trained out" of his peer group


# Rebecca DiGirolamo "Generation X saves itself" The Australian 16 June 2003 (no URL)

* “Perma-news” is the media’s plastic indoor plant – evergreen, and typically made from the near-indestructible combination of two-thirds recycled press release, and one third vox-pop cum happy-snap of a friend of a friend. Because having too much perma-news in the paper would make it look … well, fake, its hardiness is not to be confused with actual abundance in the news jungle. But here’s a hint – if you wing a gimmicky press release out at Sunday lunchtime, your baby will have the best possible chance of being born into the following morning’s shrinkwrap on the doormat.

** Same URL as previous; but note it was the journo, not Phil, who made Adler the poster-child for his point.

*** Hell, I’m even related to a good few (all in the non-connubial sense though, fortunately).

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