Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Renewing John Quiggin’s Clive Hamilton challenge

In late August, I wrote this, pointing out Clive Hamilton’s repeated defamations of generations younger than his own. With the election then just called, John Quiggin undertook to write something in response when things were less busy. I reckon that with the election now over, and even Labor’s long wake showing signs of winding up, about now could be the time, John.

Not than I’m a follow-up fanatic, or anything like that, I hasten to add. I was only reminded of my Clive Hamilton challenge through reading his latest piece of Op Ed generational vilification:

It has been particularly disquieting to witness the total disengagement of large numbers of young people who seemed barely aware that an election was on. Clueless and unconcerned to the last, they mumble about voting for John Howard simply because they could not think of a reason for doing otherwise. The depoliticising of our education systems . . .

Notice what Hamilton is doing here: he is subtly projecting an interest-rate-rise-fearing herd instinct (which no one doubts was a big factor in giving PM Howard a fourth term) on to the completely wrong crowd. Of course, most young* young people (18-25) couldn’t give a rat’s arse about interest rates, but Hamilton perversely twists this precise apathy into such cohort being the scapegoat for “affluenza” more generally.

Conveniently for Hamilton, this scapegoating strategy then becomes self-fulfilling to an extent. Usually lacking secure and/or meaningful employment, Generations X and Y naturally come across as disengaged. But Earth to Clive Hamilton: if you are not hearing the right answers, this is because you are not asking the right questions. In particular, with both major parties regarding the present rate of unemployment as some kind of triumph (an assessment to which Clive concurs, AFAIK), the main economic issue for Generations X and Y is being swept under the policy carpet – so effectively silencing these generations' voice on anything.

A concrete illustration here, concerning a topical issue that is also another one of Hamilton’s favourite (ahem) whipping boys: child pornography. Thanks to staff cuts at the on-the-ground level (and staff bloating higher up), the Office of Film and Literature Classification has something like an 84 year backlog in classifying material accumulated from recent police raids. Naturally, because Boomer Economic Fundamentalism insists that meaningful new entry-level jobs can never be created, (i) existing OFLC staff are being told to work like navvies, and (ii) there is every chance that many, many child molesters and lesser perverts will get off, thanks to the classifying staff shortfall.

Terrible, isn’t it Clive? Those apathetic young people, mumbling into their mobile phones while Rome burns – serves them right for depoliticising their own education system.

* Whereas for non home-owners in the 26-40 age group, interest rates are, or should be, a big issue – as in interest rate rises being strongly in their own interest. Even with a doubling of interest rates, the (arguably consequent) halving of house prices would leave them better-off overall in the housing affordability stakes.

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