We’ve Defended Smashed Avocados, Now It’s Time To Fight For Houses, Free Uni And Better Jobs
I'd rather fight for something, rather than just rail against out-of-touch opinion columnists in The Australian.
I plead guilty. I bought into the ridiculous smashed avocado war of 2016. I wasn’t a conscript, I was a willing recruit. I saw an opportunity to fact-check an out of touch, arrogant boomer and I jumped on it.
It was incredibly satisfying. Pointing out when people are wrong on the internet always is. But even though it was a cathartic exercise, was it useful? Sure, I dropped some numbers and debunked the idea that young people were locked out of housing because of our desire to consume smashed fruit, but was anyone really taking that argument seriously? Actually, it turns out they were.
Yesterday afternoon on
Boomer FM ABC local radio, listener after listener called in, decrying the wasteful lifestyle of the typical millennial. The whole saga has been ridiculous, but it has helped clarify a couple of important things.
As some of the rigorous, evidence based responses to the avocado inanity have pointed out, young people now are spending more money on housing than previous generations. We’re also spending less on food, alcohol and recreation. But it’s not just the housing market where we’re feeling the pressure. When comes to education and the job market, the evidence is pretty clear that we’re being completely screwed.
It’s also become clear that there is a massive perception gap when it comes to inequality in Australia. For whatever reason, perhaps because it’s so alien from their own experiences, many older Australians can’t comprehend the economic challenges we face. They wilfully ignore the fact we’re loaded up with student debt, struggling to find full-time, permanent work and are spending more of our income on housing than ever before. To them, all of our problems are caused by our own, irresponsible spending choices.
If we needed a terrible hot take on avocados to restart the discussion on Australia’s growing economic problems and how we can fix them, then so be it.
It’s A Shit Time To Be A Young Person In Australia
The housing affordability crisis is pretty well-documented in the media. The median Sydney house now costs about 12 times the median income. Back in the 1970s it was only four times. In the 1980s more than half of 25-34 year olds owned a house. By 2011 that had figure collapsed to 34 percent. Reports have shown that 40 percent of Australians are “locked out of rental affordability”.
The data is clear on every measure. There’s a big problem with housing affordability and it’s hurting young people the most. But the focus on housing sometimes masks the other problems with today’s economy disproportionately impacting young people.
In the ’70s and ’80s, higher education was free. You could study whatever you wanted and walk out of university and into a job without a debt. Even when fees were re-introduced in 1989, they were incredibly cheap by today’s standards. If you started uni in 1990, a law degree would have set you back around $8,000. Today that same degree will cost over $40,000. Even accounting for inflation, that’s an enormous increase.
That larger debt means young people have less discretionary income (because of compulsory HECS repayments) for a longer period of time. Having a debt is an obvious barrier to saving for something else, like a house.
Now lets look at jobs. Even if you went to uni, it’s going to be a struggle finding full-time work. Graduate unemployment is at its highest rate on record. Graduate starting salaries are at their lowest rate ever. The rate of casual employment is also increasing. So even if we’re lucky enough to find a job, often it will be a short-term contract with little job security.
I’m hardly the first person to point these statistics out. Writer Richard Cooke covered similar ground in his Monthly essay ‘The Boomer Supremacy’ back in March. But the fact that, now seven months later, we’re back to arguing about bloody avocados shows people still haven’t gotten the message.
These are pretty intense and unprecedented economic factors that have combined to create a perfect storm. We’ve got the highest house prices ever. We’re got the largest student debts ever. We’ve got the toughest job market ever. The number of smashed avocados we do or don’t eat isn’t going to impact any of that.
Some commentators argue that these issues aren’t about “generational warfare” but “class”. On one level, they’re right. There are obviously well-off young people who have no problems finding working and even buying property. There are also plenty of less well-off older Australians struggling to make ends meet. But capitalism and class warfare can impact certain sections of the community much harder than others.
The gender pay-gap is an example of that. And the economic maelstrom around housing, student debt and the job market is combining to hit younger people particularly hard.
How Do We Get The Boomers To Care?
So much of the outrage around young people apparently buying expensive brunches and soy lattes is clearly grounded in a kind of moral righteousness. For some reason many baby boomers think they have the right to dictate how we should live our lives. They accuse us of bad judgement when they’re the cohort who broke the planet, reap the benefits of negative gearing and elected Tony Abbott Prime Minister.
This moralism isn’t new, we’re just seeing a new iteration of it. We’ve gone from “young people are having too much sex!” and “young people are taking too many drugs!” too “young people are eating too many avocados!”. It’s a particularly silly kind of moralism, but it’s still about attempting to dictate and control our actions.
But as easy as it is to rail against these boomers and simply wish away their existence, it’s also pretty lazy and unproductive. Yes, they’re wrong. Yes, they think they’re morally superior even though they’re the generation that had Woodstock and invented swinging. But the thing is, they control the levers of power. They own the houses. They control parliament. They are the biggest voting cohort.
There’s only two ways to deal with the problem. We can blast them out and forcibly take everything they own, distributing it amongst ourselves. Or we find a way to to convince them, as well as the broader general public, that things have gotten pretty bad and it’s in all of our interests to do something about it.
Personally I’m down with the first idea. First we smash the avocados, then we smash the bourgeoisie. It’ll be quicker, more fun and we can all get ourselves some dope yachts. But it’s the whole “let’s try and work together” consensus thing that is likely to have more chance of success. So how do we do it?
We need to start talking about the kind of Australia we all want to live in rather than the one we’re currently creating. It’s not in anyone’s interests to live in a society with rising inequality and an entire generation locked out of housing and secure jobs. Wealthy, older Australians might resent young people now, but they’re going to resent us a hell of a lot more if the economy takes a dive, unemployment rises and we get even angrier.
Sure, we should debunk dumb avocado hot takes. But let’s use the space created for this debate to articulate why the current system isn’t working and what the alternatives are. A massive social housing program to create jobs and reduce house prices? A return to free education? Stronger rights for workers? Instead of railing against boomers and just hoping they do the right thing by us, let’s actually create the solutions and argue for them.
I’m happy to keep fighting the Generation Wars. But I’d rather fight for something, rather than just rail against out-of-touch opinion columnists in The Australian.