Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Clive Hamilton - welcome to Paul Watson’s perma-rotisserie

Clive Hamilton, Executive Director of the Australia Institute, is a baby boomer dripping with hubris. While I did a bit of a number on him only recently, as he is self-evidently not listening – based on the content of last night’s "Four Corners" – I’ve decided to give him another turn on Paul Watson’s Rotisserie. In fact, not only that, I think it’s about time this blog got its very first Mascot of Relentless Derision, and Clive, purporting to come from the Left, is eminently suited for this role. (Attacking the Right is too easy to be ultimately satisfying).

First, who is Clive Hamilton? I mean, apart from being Executive Director of “Australia’s foremost public-interest think tank”. Oh, and apart from being described “in the press” as “Australia's most influential economist on the left” (same URL). The last one’s a bit of a mystery, BTW, as Googling "Australia's most influential economist" "Clive Hamilton" doesn’t result in a single result from the said "press".

Well, from last night’s “Four Corners”, Clive is clearly (i) a man who wears expensive rimless eye-glasses, and (ii) sees a pricey Canberra restaurant as an appropriate place to conduct a TV interview in which he tut-tuts at people who spend more than they earn (if this choice of setting was intended as irony, it didn’t come across that way). You would be entitled to assume, then, that Clive is not a great practitioner of what he preaches – or alternatively, that his employers throw almost unlimited amounts of salary at him. I’m not discounting the latter possibility, BTW, when you look at his stellar employment history: nicely complementing his raking-in of insta-kudos as a visiting academic, he has sucked-in the big and fat but anonymous SES dollars at not one, but two obscure Commonwealth sub-departments: the Resource Assessment Commission and the Bureau of Industry Economics. If you ever needed to know the ins and pouts of the 1990 national wool clip, then I’m sure that Clive was once your man.

From microns on the brain to microns for a brain. As for Clive’s latest feats of mental nanoscopy, there’s this:

CLIVE HAMILTON: Luxury used to be something that was the preserve of the rich - the very rich. Nowadays, ordinary people aspire to, and feel they have a right, to a little bit of luxury, or even a lot of luxury. If they're willing to go into debt, they can have luxury for a short time. There are people now who spend $100,000 having a new kitchen just for display - just to express who they are to their friends and visitors. So there's this bizarre sense of people defining themselves - their very identity - by the goods that they consume. That's what luxury fever is.

That “luxury fever” – funding conspicuous consumption by debt – is something new is a blatant lie. In Clive’s childhood, many a new big-ticket home appliance would have been bought through hire-purchase. So what’s with the “nowadays”?

What is different "nowadays" firstly, is using home equity – i.e. unearned and untaxed windfall wealth resulting from house price inflation – to fund consumption. Baby boomers are, of course, the prime movers here – GenX either rent, or don’t usually have the “spare” home equity, while the pre-WWII generations (as “Four Corners” correctly pointed out) are much more averse to re-drawing on a paid-off mortgage.

Secondly, there is the rise of the outer-suburban aspirationals, a category that does include some GenXers, but is hardly typical of it. I'd suggest that none of the display home visitors interviewed on “Four Corners” has ever set foot in a university. Certainly the converse is true, among me and my group of friends.

For his part, Clive is clearly one who doesn’t believe in fouling his own cosy little boomer nest – the lone demographic detail mentioned in the program was “young people” having trouble with their mobile phone bills. The rest of Australia, particularly from Clive’s POV, is one big demographically homogenous “we”, “three times richer than [our] parents or grandparents in the 1950s”. I’d trade my precarious current existence for a life in the full-employment 1950s, any day.

But rimless eye-glasses and east-west fusion cuisine were unknown in the 1950s, so I’m sure there’s no going back for Clive.

P.S. See also Jonas’s take on the awful Sydney adland exec’s on $300k.

P.P.S. Even though (surprisingly) Clive doesn't get a guernsey in this piece on GenX "adultescents", his DNA is all over it. About a third of 18-30s still live at home, so this makes them . . . rich? (That some or most might be uni students is not even mentioned). Special mention goes to David Chalke, for this nasty piece of generational vilification:

These people in their 20s are in the business of deferring commitment. They don't save because they don't aspire to settle down. Even if they become connected to a partner, they still rent, because they want money now to spend on themselves. They don't think in terms of a career - just a series of jobs, because they get bored easily. They don't invest, because they want instant gratification.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?