October 19, 2016

Horse 2177 - The House That Smashed Avocado Built

Smashed Avocado inadvertently became the topic of talk-back radio earlier in the week, after a column from the Weekend Australian by demographer Bernard Salt was published. In particular, one of the paragraphs towards the end seems to have attracted a media pile on.

But all of this is mere ephemera. It gets worse. I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home? How often are they eating out? Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.
- Weekend Australian, Bernard Salt, 15th Oct 2016.

I know that Bernard Salt's column in the Weekend Australian was supposed to be making fun of both the self righteous sorts who sneer at young people and of young people themselves but it seems that this column has inadvertently struck a raw nerve here. In making fun of the inner city types who might pay $22 for a grilled smashed avocado sandwich, he's exposed the poignant fact that many young people have been priced out of the housing market altogether and no matter how hard they work, they will never afford a house and be condemned to renting forever.

The actual material in the article is mostly grandstanding and given that it is in the magazine and not the newspaper proper, I think that it's supposed to be satire. Indeed, I did a search to see if I could actually find a smashed avocado sandwich for $22 in Sydney and found nothing.
Foolishly, I went to Twitter and asked for suggestions and was bombarded with candidates including The Gourmand Deli and The Grumpy Baker which are both in Vaucluse, Collier's Sandwich Company which is in Woolloomooloo, Republic Sandwiches & Salads in Darlinghurst and Monty's Sandwich Shop in Bondi Junction, and none of them offered any sandwiches for more than about $12. Clearly this article has been written in the land of hyperbole but not in any suburb in Sydney (though maybe Melbourne might have $22 sandwiches).

There's just something very very hollow about an article accusing young people of being spendthrifts and wastrels from someone who happens to be a partner at KPMG and who got their Master of Arts degree from Monash University in the days of Whitlam's free tertiary education and then advises those same young people to stop indulging in something which a) doesn't exist to b) solve a problem which they never caused.

Taken to the only conclusion which can be reached here, maybe if these young people worked harder on developing time travel to 1974 instead of working away in jobs which pay less than at any stage since real wages peaked in 1978, then maybe they could afford houses which have risen in price from four times the yearly average salary to more than ten times the yearly average salary, in the same period.
I mean quite clearly the problem here isn't falling wages, or university education which governments want to raise to the cost of six figures, or the fact that manufacturing has been sent off shore; clearly the problem in Australia is breakfast.

Who are these young people who think that paying $22 for a smashed avocado sandwich is a good idea anyway? It's probably not the sort of young people who have been saddled with student loans, or students for that matter and it's almost certainly not those people who live in the scum western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. The young people who are likely to be in the sorts of suburbs where you are going to find a $22 for a smashed avocado sandwich, are the young people who already live there; presumable if they already live there, they're not exactly short of money in the first place.

Economic fortune, especially in spread out cities like Sydney or Melbourne, is one of the biggest self sorting systems that exists. Because people's incomes tend to dictate where they live more than any other factor, it means that places where we live are becoming increasingly filled with similar people who earn roughly the same incomes as we do. If the $22 smashed avocado sandwich exists (which I doubt), then it's going to be sold at a sandwich shop which is frequented with people from roughly the same socioeconomic group that Bernard Salt comes from.
"How can young people afford to eat like this?" Because they come from phenomenally wealthy backgrounds; money isn't an issue for them. "Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home?" Well, why should they? They come from phenomenally wealthy backgrounds; money isn't an issue for them.

The thing that the rest of the media has missed, Including the ABC, is rather obvious fact that this was published in the Weekend Australian, which by demographic has an older readership than all the tabloids and indeed than the Fairfax mastheads of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Mr Salt's column appeared in a publication which is really only being kept alive because it is Rupert's own little baby and therefore the doyenne of News Corp, and because it's read by the political circle in Canberra in lieu of any other proper journalism. The Oz frequently reads like a wish list from the Liberal Party's donors and it basically spends its whole editorial life in singing to the choir on the conservative authoritarian right.

Bernard Salt can afford to sneer at young people because if he's regularly going to a sandwich shop which can put a smashed avocado sandwich on the menu for $22, then obviously he's doing all right; thank you very much. The irony is that the newspaper that he writes for, made a concerted campaign to cut penalty rates on Sundays; which would have reduced the wages of the very people who are bringing him overpriced sandwiches. How can young people afford to eat like this when you want to pay them less?
The lesson here is for young people. Give up bothering to raise the funds to put towards a deposit on a house. All of this is mere ephemera. It gets worse.

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