Crazy Frogonomics

The GFC could have been the finale in the Neoliberal opera. But it wasn't. Instead the fallout was surprisingly modest. The banks in the US and Europe were bailed out, almost no one went to prison, and the price for bad behaviour was paid for by taxpayers. In Australia stocks dropped and unemployment ticked up but a technical recession was somehow avoided. Economic lightning was not followed by political thunder, no one stepped in to reform the system, so the underlying institutions of the economy remain the same today as they did before the crisis. 

The great wave of economic growth in post-GFC Australia has been uneven, heavily favouring the already wealthy, specifically those with access to large amounts of cheap credit. Inequality is at a seventy year high. And the Melbourne City region has the most unequal incomes in Australia, where the top 20% have an income that is 8.3 times as high as those in the bottom 20%. The ABS claims the Victorian capital will be the largest city in Australia within fifteen years. Meanwhile the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle tells his electorate that Melbourne is the 'most liveable' city in the world, sighting the title with all the glee of a boy who's won a lolly raffle. The Economist magazine does create a graded list of 140 major global cities, it is true, and for the last seven years Melbourne has been at the top. But things are not as they appear. The list is actually designed for multinational companies negotiating how much they should pay their executive staff while away on assignment. And because it's not aimed at regular working people housing affordability is not part of the metric.  

Not only have all boats failed to rise on the tide some people are drowning.  The reality of life in the soon to be biggest city in Australia is not always perfect, obviously. Melbourne traffic flows like sludge in a moat, the trains are a B-, and Tullamarine sucks. Outside suburban supermarkets there are beggars. Below bridges sleep minors. The literal horizon is filled with self-erecting cranes, lifting one nondescript apartment building into the skyline after another. But even they are not really homes because more people then ever will never be able to afford to buy into them. There are over one million vacant residencies across the country. Many of those apartments are just blocks of money in storage. At the other end stick there are over one hundred thousand homeless. The concentration of wealth upwards seems to have changed the general culture also. Flashiness is in vogue. It was always about but now it's less frowned upon, it's sort of encouraged even. That's what the tall poppy syndrome was really all about. Australia's idea of itself was one of a nation of more or less equals. And to virtue signal your money was, by that definition, un-Australian.

At several moments during 2007-08 everything felt like it might come undone. But the crisis turned out to be just a blip on the otherwise uninterrupted trajectory of Neoliberalism. Now, ten years later, the international system is strapped together with debt like never before and quantitative easing is never ending. Inside Australia, privatisation experiments have failed to produce better outcomes for consumers and cuts to penalty rates get passed off as innovative business models. Everything is the same as before the crisis only more so.  Yet today the GFC feels like nothing, nothing more than a vague annoying memory, holding about the same import as a Crazy Frog ringtone.

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