Saturday, August 16, 2003

John Howard's "transformation of Australia"

Today’s Age has a feature spread on the property bubble, with a particular focus on the operations of the get-rich-quick seminar promoters. While there’s not really anything new that is said (or indeed, that could be said) on the topic, there are some (unconsciously) insightful vox pops, such as these:

But now "[my dad is] on the pension, always looking for the pensioner discounts. Me, I'd like to further myself."

Mike [surname de-Googled] says he would rather his daughter did a Kaye course than go to university.

“There's no other way forward than making money."

Presumably I am a member of a small-ish minority, in finding these comments not just depressing, but scary. “Scary” because they speak a language of achievement and ambition that explicitly denigrates knowledge. Mike may well be right in thinking a university education for his children would be a poor investment (in my case, this has been spectacularly so*), but this is not really the nub of the knowledge-denigration that I’m getting at. I’m talking about a language where dumbness becomes a virtuous circle – where working-class people pay tens of thousands of dollars to hear, and believe, that Australia is (or soon will be) a new country, of landlords or losers.

This is dumb because, as emphatically one of these “losers” (late-30’s, renting, no job), I don’t see anything to fear. After five years (almost to the day) of watching the disintegration of Australian society since John Howard said (28 August 1998):

I mean, we are all about people being encouraged to get ahead (by buying four wheel drives)

I’m now resigned to my fate. Perhaps there won’t be a pension by the time I’m 65, and perhaps there won’t be a dole to see me through until then, either. So? Surely it’s not (only) my ten or so years of university education that reassures me here, that with increasing income inequality, horrifically high crime rates (and less, certainly, social revolution) will follow. And while in the third-world, small and obscenely-rich minorities have been able to effectively barricade themselves in their gilded houses, cars and workplaces, Australia’s social chasm is looking like being about a 50/50 one, numerically. Which means, quite simply, there won’t, because there can’t be any real barricades.

In summary then, to all of John Howard’s fear-mongered aspirationals – there’s no point owning even one house, much less ten, when some day you are going to get your throat slit, just for the loose change in your pocket. Think about it.

* Scroll to “Risk transfers and middle-aged Scotts of the Antarctic” Sunday, June 08, 2003, or try this link.

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