Interview: Crowded Lives
Activists: Life With Brian
Industrial: National Focus
Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Economics: Beating the Bastards
Media: Three Corners
History: The Brisbane Line
Trade: The Dumping Problem
Review: Frankie's Way
The Locker Room
Spicey and Tart
Tony and Pauline
PNG Bags Plastic
Fighting Words Craig Emerson
Beyond the Block
The famous nostalgic novel and film Gone With the Wind, is a story of a white southern elite in America who live through great struggles over love, desire and ambition, where slave owning is still ok.
Anyone familiar with the story will know there is also a famous house called Tara, a grand old mansion, which is symbolic of the ambitions of the story's characters.
What has a fictional southern slave owner's mansion to do with the economics of modern Australia?
In Australia, housing is also a hugely symbolic statement about the sort of economy we live in.
Ownership of a modern and affordable home was for instance a strong desire of the post-war generation.
It was made much easier by major technological advances in housing design and construction made during and soon after the Second World War.
These advances made it possible for many returning servicemen and women to own and often build their own home.
By today's standards, many of these 1950's and 1960's houses, built with fibro and iron may seem modest and very basic.
But these houses were spacious, affordable, easy to build, and extend or renovate as families grew and changed. They were in short a significant advance over the small and overcrowded dwellings of the 1920's and 1930's.
They also gave people more secure tenure.
In this way, affordable housing was a major material down payment on the possibilities of the post-war world.
And along with the welfare state, public libraries and pools, and free education, affordable housing was an important part of a more egalitarian post-war Australia.
Home building was literally making housing for heroes. And the heroes were ordinary people like you and me.
Contrast that with the recent period of home building, and who have been the heroes of this boom.
The housing celebrated in this boom is not affordable, it is large, conspicuous and expensive.
Since the 1980's with tax-free status, and greed is good as the banner of society, owner occupied housing has become a major statement of who we are as individuals.
Quite simply where we live and what live in have become the symbols of individual success. The more it is worth, the more we are worth.
We may not live in Tara, the mansion of Gone with the Wind, but the fortunate few do.
Modern housing is not in short the homes the post-war generation were making.
The heroes of today's housing are not you and me, but the rich and the famous.
To make housing affordable again will probably require us to start questioning the heroes we celebrate.
The Things that Money Can't Buy
The federal parliament is currently undertaking an inquiry into poverty in Australia.
Much of the inquiry has so far been bogged down in debates about the definition of poverty.
This obsession with what poverty is may seem a bit ridiculous.
After all, we all know poverty when we see it.
But understanding what poverty is turns out to be very important.
The fault line in the current debate has been between those who argue that poverty should be defined as significant deprivation, and those who argue that poverty should be defined in terms of standards that are somewhere below community norms.
Both definitions share a view of poverty in material terms, in the things we consume.
And almost always, we calculate poverty in terms of monetary terms, since money is what we need to buy the things that keep us clothed, fed and housed.
And this sort of material poverty has been perhaps the major problem for societies for most of human history.
In our society, a lack of money is a pretty good indicator of poverty.
But there are lots of things that money can't buy.
There are many resources and much of our enjoyment that we get through social networks.
Think about all the things we get from friends, family and workmates.
For instance, can you compare a great summer barbecue shared with friends or family with any amount of money? Or what about the pleasure of a day at the beach?
Of course wealthy people often have access the more of these networks than do the poor. The old school tie is one example of how elite private schools have provided resources to their alumni.
But we often forget in thinking about poverty that we have do things to get money - we have to go to work.
In the 1950's and 1960's, it was often expected that technology and better social organization would mean that we would have to spend less time working to get the money needed to live without poverty.
The 40-hour week was giving way to the 38 and even the 35 hour week. It seemed reasonable to hope that a 30 hour week was not that far off.
There was going to be less and less overtime and more and more barbecue and beach time.
But in the last twenty years, its gone the other way.
Average working hours have been going up, work is more pressured and households have been forced to have more than one person in full-time work.
The chances are that if you are reading this you are likely to be at work, on the way to work, or on the way home from work.
In short, while many have experienced rising material affluence, most of us have become increasingly time poor. Time poverty affects us materially too. How much time poverty exists we just don't know. We know workers in Australia now spend more time at work than in just about any other advanced economy. And time poverty is almost certainly getting more severe every day.
Consider the horrible term quality time. We have less free time, so are forced to try to make the smaller amount go further.
Perhaps it is time to start asking whether material poverty in things we consume is the only issue that we, and our political leaders, should be concerned with?
Michael Rafferty is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Western Sydney
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