We have been all been sold a pup. And a coat rack. Also an extensible walking stick with a built in LED light. Plus wine, soap, cereal, funerals, alien abduction insurance, thirty dollar packets of cigarettes (discretely of course) and endless acres of inflatable mattresses. And of course the chance to attract ever more semi-naked women. If you are a modern living breathing human being of any age, shape, or habit: you have been sold endless â€˜stuffâ€™. â€˜Up Up and Away.â€™
The great democracy that is portrayed in our advertising is not Australia. Most of us understand this (if we ever bother to think about it at all). We know that when we are being targeted as a consumer we are not being â€˜advisedâ€™ impartially. Advertisements are generally seen to be all about trying to get you to do or buy something. So when we are being addressed by an advertisement we donâ€™t expect a deep and meaningful message. Consumers expect (and distractedly demand) instant answers to simple questions. â€˜Things go better with Coke.â€™
The key is that advertising is consumed automatically and distractedly.Â Advertising is experienced as a lived reality (as opposed to being sought out and rationally considered). So while our modern 24/7 multi-media commercial extravaganza does certainly provide a hundred and one wonderful ways of advertising opportunities to buy expensive goods that you might not otherwise know you need â€“ it also has significant consequences for the way in which we consume all other sorts of information. â€˜Aveagoodweekendâ€™.
Despite rumours to the contrary our modern commercial marketplace is not a â€˜democracy of ideasâ€™. Where the Jesuits say they need to instruct a young and growing mind for seven years before being assured of their eternal devotion, our modern advertisers manage much the same invisibly, thirty seconds at a time, in an eternal drip-feed of background advertising. We grow up constantly bathed in a background radiation of commercial imagery and inducement. We become accustomed to instantaneous satisfaction being defined and seamlessly delivered, all the time, everywhere. In the advertising world there are no complex insoluble, irrational, or non-commercial answers. â€˜A diamond is foreverâ€™â€™
We know consciously that, in the main, advertisers do not give a damn about the validity or quality of information. They are solely focussed on promoting a particular response. Validity and quality of information are merely aspects considered in the light of how persuasive a message might be. So anything problematic will be dismissed, but more significantly, if no problem exists then one will be instantly invented. â€˜Put a tiger in your tank.â€™
So our days are just crowded with a thousand and one messages that sometimes relate to very real problems, but sometimes just advertise wonderful answers to invented problems. In fact, in the â€˜advertising worldâ€™, we expect that anything can and might happen. We expect a â€˜super-realityâ€™. And we are always ready to suspend disbelief at the drop of a hat. While we know we are being â€˜sold a pupâ€™ most of the time, we all still pay passing regard to the fleeting parade of images â€“ just in case. This is because while most advertisements are so obviously selling the wrong breed of puppy in the wrong way at the wrong place at the wrong time. We also know that every now and again we just might see a dog that we might want to buy.
In this way, from preschool until pension, we are all exposed to a hundred and one invented problems and we become aware of their immediate and apparent cures. Even while we semi-consciously screen out the majority of advertisements and simply dismiss the ones that are telling a story we donâ€™t want to know, we are becoming entirely familiar with the â€˜common-senseâ€™ of our commercial world. Advertisers tell you that you are bald, tubby, unattractive, smelly, sick, bored, tired, overworked, exploited, and drive the wrong car to the wrong suburb to sleep in a badly renovated and decorated home with a dysfunctional family. Then they offer you an instant cure for any one of these problems. â€˜But wait: thereâ€™s more!â€™
We all know (as an intellectual and academic fact) that behind the seemingly random and chaotic flood of advertising images we are exposed to every day is a massive industry that is devoted to identifying every emotional quirk and habit that we are ever likely to experience. We know that half of what we are being told is total BS but we brush it off as being mere commercial flim-flam. Yet this knowledge is something we have to dredge up and consider. It is the sort of thing that we only really acknowledge when we are consciously considering one or many of the eternal flow of advertising images and inducements that float in front of us during every one of our days. â€˜Beanz meanz Heinz.â€™
So why have I commenced this article with such an extensive tour of the bleeding obvious? We all know that when we consider carefully our relationship with all of the commercially driven information providers in our society that a lot of the stuff we are being told is nonsense. However in the process of learning to live in an information and advertising saturated world we have all also become habituated to many aspects of â€˜commercial common-senseâ€™ that are downright nonsensical. â€˜Big bubbles: no troubles!â€™
In the commercial world complexity is entirely masked and ethical questions are represented as simple economic equations. Stereotypical imagery and generalisations abound. And the right answer is always likely to be a simple and inexpensive answer. So we have been taught from the time we a very small to mistrust complexity and expense. The modern Australian electorate over the last two decades has been conditioned to think and react as consumers. We have been educated to expect simple answers to difficult questions. â€˜A Mars a day helps you work rest and play.â€™
So we come to the end of two decades of continuous pandering by our politicians to our commercial sensibilities. And what is the result? The Australian voter has been transformed from being a citizen into a consumer with an investment in an economy. To facilitate this change many of the old ways of talking about being a citizen have been jettisoned and our political world is now saturated with new phrases that stand for our new modern ideas. They are mainly ways of thinking that have been borrowed from the advertising and commercial marketplace. Now econospeak is used to excuse and justify behaviour that cannot be talked about in open and stark terms. â€˜Have a nice day.â€™
Part two: econospeak
Econospeak is used to mask and justify inequity. It enables euphemisms to be coined to stand in for long discredited ideas and to hide that you are actually advocating on behalf of apparently objectionable outcomes.Â Econospeak is simply a social code that has been developed to propose that the economic interests of a very few rich individuals in our society are identical to those of the public at large. Itâ€™s as much a â€˜vibeâ€™ as it is a series of catch phrases. It is a way of speaking that presupposes that we are all first and foremost self-interested and economically rational beings. In other words; it presupposes that we are all greedy bastards.
For example the term â€˜aspirational voterâ€™ actuallyÂ refers to a class of voter who is so heavily invested in the current boom that they see their commercial self interest as outweighing all other considerations. â€˜Tax cutsâ€™ or â€˜tax reliefâ€™ or â€˜addressing bracket creepâ€™ all variously stand in for the objectionable concept of â€˜trickle-downâ€™ economics. â€˜Rationalisingâ€™ means cutting benefits, services, and complexity. â€˜Hard-working Mums and Dadsâ€™ is shorthand for â€˜indebted working consumersâ€™. â€˜The economyâ€™ means all of the important parts of our society. â€˜Common-goodâ€™ means fiscally expedient. Etc.
For twenty years our politicians have simply refused to grapple with any of the really big questions that face our country over the longer term. Rather they have decided to simply pander to our commercial sensibilities and mask their expediencies with econospeak gobbledygook. For five years we surfed the wave of a renovated economy, then for another ten we lived off a mining boom. Now our good fortune has largely evaporated. We have gradually exported all of our economic capacity and so now the mining boom has dried up our property market is the only part of our economy left standing.
When viewed from the outside there is no denying that Australia is on a sticky wicket. Our banks have borrowed trillions of dollars and then leant it out to hundreds of thousands of overextended borrowers at historically low interest rates to pay hyper-inflated prices for property at a time when our terms of trade have gone south and economic activity in our country is on life support. Then the response of our political class has been to simply not look at it. I mean what could possibly go wrong?
Now weâ€™re all collectively so deep in a hole that we are obliged to keep digging regardless. There are no other readily apparent options. So econospeak is used to support the pretence that we are not actually in a deep hole, but instead we are all enjoying sweet economic sunshine, and that all of this activity is socially beneficial anyway. In fact, we all need lots of very deep holes for the public good. In other words econospeak is the stuff we whistle to make us feel better as we walk past the graveyard.
Like a frog in a pot over a flame Australians have become so deeply invested in the illusion that everything is absolutely and completely hunkey-dory that it looks like we are entirely unlikely to leap out of the pot until we are deeply scalded. Understandably our political class has decided they also will simply pretend that house prices can and will continue to rise forever.
Part three: Gravity is hereby suspended until further notice
Yes it might actually be ludicrous but it is easier and less painful in the short term to simply pretend that we can all forever float high above the ground, and move ever higher, instead of planning on returning to earth, or even thinking about the possibility that we might all jointly â€˜plummetâ€™ together. After all Australia is an island. Different rules apply!
So jointly we get together in our media and pretend that having a wildly overinflated housing bubble instead of â€˜housesâ€™ is actually a good thing. Moreover for the period of the coming election campaign we will all once again wear a false grin and argue that it is perfectly normal to be spending a million dollars plus on a house when you earn one tenth of that amount per year (before tax).Â Nothing to see here.
A suspension of credulity is required. Itâ€™s obviously too late for any sort of remedial action. Many hundreds of thousands of Australian familyâ€™s are now so massively indebted, just to live in a suburban house, that any downturn in the market will tip them into bankrupt. Everybody is now exposed to the whim of the marketplace. Any aware individual with even the slimmest facility with basic mathematics has to suspend credulity just to remain relatively free of existential angst. Itâ€™s emotionally safest to simply nod at the continued assertions that black is white and up is down â€“ for the good of us all.
Anyway, for the very first time in the history of capitalism, houses might just forever go up in value. Just this time. Here in Australia. There is at least as much a chance of this as there is that pigs might fly and I have seen pictures of flying pigs. So maybe?
So it goes without saying that nobody serving in our parliaments today could possibly advocate that we should all back away from the huge Ponzi scheme that is the Australian property market. Our country, as a whole, is now so heavily invested in property that a recession would likely see several of our banks fall over, and half of the â€˜on-paperâ€™ wealth in our country evaporate instantly.
So certainly no federal politician can afford to even mention a bubble. Especially since the same econospeak ideas that they blithely and endlessly repeat are also endorsed as realities by our corporately owned and controlled media. The idea that everyone in Australia can own a million dollar house, and aspire to owning lots and lots of stuff, and that those who own lots and lots of stuff are happier, are all truisms in our press.
So no politician or pundit will point out that our banks are ludicrously overextended and that the majority of the investment funds across the world are now short selling Aussie bank shares. Most of all nobody will admit that the whole trickle down mythology of the last twenty years is bankrupt and has led to a massive growth in inequity and social and environmental damage. Even as we approach the edge of the cliff, at speed, no politician in our land will advocate a need to reverse direction. In fact, any that did campaign on a platform of raising taxes and slashing the price of housing probably wouldnâ€™t even get pre-selected.
This is because the assertion that if we cut taxes it will stimulate the economy persists in our social discourse as a social fact. Despite it being plain wrong in every way imaginable. So this caustic and socially destructive mythology underpins and promotes the ongoing debasement of social responsibility by the political class in virtually every western world country. Yet still the idea of trickle down economics rules in the minds of our politicians and in our press.
The simple idea that cutting the tax of a corporation or individual will lead to the money that is â€˜savedâ€™ being â€˜reinvestedâ€™ in a socially beneficial manner is not just incorrect; this prescription for â€˜growthâ€™ has caused economic chaos wherever it has been implemented. In country after country it has prompted greater inequality, greater social indebtedness, housing booms and major busts, and extended periods of austerity and hardship for the poorest and most disaffected in the community. All throughout the world. All for no apparent benefit except for further helping to enrich a very few of the already wealthiest individuals.
Over the last twenty years in Australia we have seen a slow dismantling of the social democratic contract that once existed. We have allowed our politicians to reform what government means. They have been allowed to pretend that our society is now nothing but an â€˜economyâ€™ and that the good of the many is reducible to the financial health of the few â€“ and we have been gullible enough to buy it.
Top marginal and corporate tax rates have been massively reduced and at the same time the cost of living has soared. The cost of housing has ballooned and has swallowed up all of the spending money that Australian workers once had to spend, and then a bit. Paradoxically, the higher the housing market has soared, the less money we have all had to spend, and the average worker has had to work ever harder and longer just to enjoy a reduced quality of life. Why?
The top ten percent of Australians are now living an incredibly luxurious lifestyle while everyone else is working ever harder just to support their jet-setting habits. We have come to a place where our Prime Minister can have an undisclosed amount of money in a series of secret overseas accounts, in a tax haven, and it is considered to not only be acceptable, but unremarkable.
We have collectively sold our soul to a marketplace blind to both the environment and the long term interests of our society. We are all far more indebted. Our future no longer appears as rosy as it once did. We were the lucky country yet perhaps that might be fading? Certainly history is betting that our housing bubble will burst sooner rather than later.
However our common exposure to this looming threat is as much our own fault as it is that of our political masters. We were the ones who bought simple answers to complex questions because it was far easier than thinking for ourselves. We have been provided with political masters that will pander to what we want to hear.
In America the housing bubble burst when the average price of a house got to five times average yearly wages. In Ireland it burst when it reached eight times.
Think about how much the house you are in now is worth on the current market. Then divide that sum by what you earned last year. Itâ€™s not a difficult sum to do. The bankers and money men throughout the rest of the world have done that very same piece of arithmetic. That is why they are short selling our banks.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
Poor fellow my country!
Originally published by James Moylan in The Aim May 9, 2016