The “party” that is neoliberalism has been giving our society gift after gift.
We’ve had corruption and self-interest at the highest levels, as PwC executives had their snouts in the trough on both sides of the consulting equation, giving legislative design advice to government then flipping that information and advising their corporate customers on ways around said legislation.
We’ve had executive wages grow exponentially over recent years, irrespective of their performance, or that of the company they lead. (Hi, Alan Joyce of Qantas!) We see executives engaging more consultants and labour-hire at the expense of full-time wage earners.
We’ve had companies making extraordinary profits, helped by government supports such as JobKeeper (Harvey Norman excelled at this one.)
Yet workers have not benefited from the neoliberalism party. They’ve just had to buy the drinks then clean up the mess the next morning.
Workers have seen their share of the economic pie decrease over time. From ABC News in March 2019:
In the two years preceding 2019, Australian workers received the lowest share of total economic output since the 1950s - less than 47% of GDP. This is a decline of 11% since the 1970s. Corporate profits have increased 10% in that same time.
Wage stagnation—which is one of the design outcomes of the neoliberalist agenda—is another problem. The economy might have a high level of headline employment, but due to low levels of worker organisation (unionisation has been demonised for years) combined with individualised contracts and wages that are set for multiple years in advance, workers can’t leverage the high rates of employment to broker a better deal for themselves. The cards are stacked against them.
Today, we received another gift courtesy of the neoliberalism inherent in our economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia has determined that what our economy needs is yet another interest rate rise. Never mind that this generation of Australians are facing the highest home prices of all time, and that as a share of household income, mortgages are eating more than has historically been the case.
Canceling Netflix and not getting Uber Eats once a week is not going to make a dent in the additional mortgage repayments required of a household. Where is the extra money to be found? Surely we are nearing the point where the RBA is expecting people to find blood from a proverbial stone.
I predict a major economic calamity for Australia, and it’s not going to be pretty. My only hope is that it destroys whatever credibility neoliberalisms might have. At least then, something will have been gained from the misery.
Will our giant monuments to mass transportation soon appear as white elephants dedicated to the god of hubris? Gigantic airports, ocean ports for cruise liners, and all the planes, trains, ships and automobiles that use them - will they all become stranded assets slowly losing the war against entropy?
Will our stadiums and shopping centres, designed to pack people into shared experiences, point to an irrelevant way of life?
Will our next generation of people wonder what it was like to have global experiences be the norm, and consider the way we would gather en masse to watch sport and entertainment a strange and incomprehensible way of life?
Are we moving back to a local lifestyle? Is this the beginning of the end for the global village? Was this era of multi nationalism and free global movement a blip in the history of mankind, rather than part of the continual upward trajectory we had assumed it to be?
Are we about to enter a modern version of a dark age?
How can so many watch and enjoy inane, superficial television shows? Why does the population focus more on sporting events than geopolitical disasters? Why is consumerism celebrated and the rise of social media ‘influencers’ followed with such passion?
I feel as though our civilisation is being incessantly dumbed down. Our attention is the commodity that every company, every ‘influencer’, every entertainment option wants to attract, and competition is fierce. Rather than recognise the value of our attention, we seem willing to give it away for little to nothing in return. I would like for us elevate ourselves and dedicate our focus and attention on things of genuine importance. Yet we prefer being closeted by the warm embrace of ignorance, simplification and superficiality.
It’s tempting to resign myself as a misfit within our society. To disconnect from others. To adopt a misanthropic view of the world. To think about ways in which I might step out of the society in which I find myself.
This, however, would be the choice of weakness on my behalf. Instead, I need to dig in and find ways to stay interested in the world. I need to find others who are similarly frustrated by the banality of everyday life and engage intelligently with them. I need to find outlets of interest that will help me cope with the frustration of being part of a society, swathes of which I don’t identify with nor understand.