“You youngsters. You just don’t understand how easy you have it.” These words were originally uttered when the first Palaeolithic human survived long enough to suffer midlife joint stiffness. Old-age produces pain and envy for the young. These are biological facts.
This is an economic fact: young Western people no longer need to understand how easy they have it because they really don’t.
Over the last forty years in Australia, wage inequality has been on the rise. Young people might have supple limbs and lovely skin, but what they don’t have is housing affordability. The housing price-to-wage ratio in this nation is one of the world’s worst and even our central bank suggests that renting currently makes more sense than buying.
Young Western people no longer need to understand how easy they have it because they really don’t.
Although some oldsters point to the wider availability of tertiary education as a proof that “you youngsters” have it so good, what they fail to calculate is the sum of uncapped university places multiplied by uncapped university fees. Which is: your degree don’t mean much more than zero in this limited job market.
Institutional and financial deregulation have not been kind to the young. Equally unkind has been a recent raft of blowhards who maintain the view: “You youngsters. You just don’t understand how easy you have it.”
Dude, if I were twenty-five in this era, there are two tasks I would regularly perform. First, I’d show my lovely young legs whenever possible to my elders just to goad their bitterness. Second, I’d load up on bar graphs.
I’d tell these stubborn old farts that their wages set by union arbitration helped them build their wealth. I’d tell them that the then functional public transport infrastructure for which their taxes paid made their lives more leisure-filled and I would ask them to remember a time when a house, whose purchase was often subsidised by government schemes, could be secured with recourse to just one full-time wage — not two.
But what I must do, as any citizen must, is recognise the need to gear the economy to accommodate everyone’s reasonable comfort.
Home ownership has not declined because younger people are too fond of their Xboxes to leave home. The national birth-rate has not declined because younger people have suddenly become too interested in taking selfies to reproduce. They don’t buy houses or bear children in great numbers anymore because they can’t afford to.
Deregulation has not been kind to the young.
Money shouldn’t afflict everything, of course. But, it does. You can say for all you’re worth, “we live in a society, not an economy”, but you’d be a little bit of a dill. We only get to live in something that is more purely “social” if the prevalent economic terms allow that pure freedom. To say, as older commentators have been very frequently in recent months, that young people are to blame for their own dissatisfaction is the feeblest sort of mathematics.
I mean. I’m not so good with numbers but I do understand how negative gearing and Howard’s capital gains concession makes property more affordable to the already landed.
Whatever our generation, we all need to understand one thing: the urgent need for economic reform.
And, as a grump in her forties, I am not especially good at tolerating youngsters. But, I find that as long as I don’t start an Instagram account or listen to that god-awful racket they call “music”, I don’t have to tolerate them, do I?
But what I must do, as any citizen must, is recognise the need to gear the economy to accommodate everyone’s reasonable comfort. Yes. Even those twerps who keep plastering their hideous nude selfies all over the shop and calling it “empowerment”.
We rarely particularly like the culture in which we are not immersed. We always prefer our own. I don’t like the blank haste of the Internet and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why an oatmeal proposition like Taylor Swift is so popular. I abhor the term “YOLO”.
But, like most people, I am more than capable of living with a little distaste and confusion. I don’t have to like these acronym-using, liberalism-loving habitués of social media to see that they deserve a go.
Everyone deserves a go. And everyone is obliged to see how that go is made possible by economic gearing and not by a “positive attitude”.
Many older commentators appear to confuse a failure of policy with the moral failure of Millennials. To be fair, many Millennials are similarly confused and keep bleating “you don’t understand my self-expression on Instagram” instead of demanding changes from the policy class.
I don’t need to understand your Instagram. You don’t need to understand why I listen to country music and spend a lot of time in my garden. Whatever our generation, we all need to understand one thing: the urgent need for economic reform.
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Image by xflickrx (Flickr).