Before the US housing bubble collapsed and sent economic markets reeling worldwide, GFC may well have stood for any number of things, including perhaps something very rude, if you think of words beginning with F and C. But now it’s part of our everyday vocabulary and has taken on the oblong shape of a political football. That’s an Australian football, by the way - here in the land of Oz we’ve been living in a relatively happy bubble.
The Lucky Country
I don’t mean to dismiss the hardship experienced by anyone here who may have consequently lost their job or been otherwise affected in the downturn. However, this week the Australian dollar hit another all-time high. If it gets any higher we’re gonna have to arrest it. This week it was also announced that unemployment levels have gone back to the lows they were before the downturn. Business as usual.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 37,800 new jobs appeared in our jobosphere last month. Perhaps that’s to accommodate the floods of Irish economic migrants landing on our shores. I should tell my Spanish friend to move here too – like most other young Spaniards, she can’t find even a crappy job, despite being university educated, experienced in a range of employment skills, and able to speak English. If only she could afford the airfare.
Spanish university students protesting last week about the country's high youth unemployment rates and government austerity measures (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki).
Meanwhile, the World Trade Organisation has come out and said Australia is a big fat pile of lazy when it comes to economic reform (it’s easy to become complacent when you’re raking in so much money just by digging up things like uranium from your backyard – oops, sorry Japan). So we’ve been advised to keep a tighter watch on things, lest a bust in our gigantic mining boom sees us sliding back into the dark ages of billy-cans and damper. To be honest, I feel like we’d be better to keep the focus on how to factor environmental sustainability into our economy, rather than this obsession with getting richer and richer in case poor old Mother England should ever try to catch up again. Ungrateful bastard child …
Besides, lazy my arse! We might be stereotyped as laid-back, no-worries types, but we’re bloody hard workers. My friend’s English wife has been quickly promoted from her temping job into a permanent role where she is now getting paid about twice what she would be earning back overseas. She’s also been given a laptop and mobile phone to take home with her. Welcome to Australia!
If anybody hailing from a less fortunate kingdom should ask why we’re doing so well, I’d advise you to conveniently forget to mention any such thing as a resources boom, and just tell them that their country is full of dole bludgers whose lax work ethics have created sloppy economies. Just look at Spain – their entire culture is founded on procrastination and three-hour lunch breaks! (I’m kidding, by the way. I think Spaniards really know how to live life properly. None of this Blackberry under your pillow business. It’s all wine and tapas in the sunshine, thank you. (Kidding again – actually, Spaniards work longer hours than many of their European counterparts)).
“The Workaholic” by Patrick Desmet
Competition is Good
Well, that’s what they say anyway, when they try to privatise national assets. But I digress.
I am currently in a bit of a career shake-up. I am incredibly blessed to work in a wonderful retail environment, with wonderful people, where I get to be immersed in my local community, immersed in books, listen to whatever CDs I want (plugging my band, yes!), and feel rewarded plenty enough with things like literature, film and chocolate – gratis. Oh yeah, and I have a really great boss.
But we live in a society that pushes us to achieve our potential (whatever that means), so I’m socially programmed to leave this lovely place eventually. The Great Genius inside me is whispering subliminally into my left ear, “You cannot live in a complacent Bookshop Limbo forever, lest you find yourself suddenly lusting after a sizely superannuation, a company car and a six-figure salary.” (That’s what it says, really!).
But perhaps it’s also the anxious little granny talking. She says, in her polite way, “Honey, I don’t even own my house, I’m gonna have to keep working till I’m a hundred. Why didn’t you become a lawyer, you douchebag?” Ridiculous, I know, to bang on about how prosperous and lucky are we who live in this country, and yet still harbour such feelings of fiscal insecurity. But then, we’re good at hypocrisy, us humans.
Now, I know the industry I’m seeking an entry into (editing and publishing, FYI) is highly competitive. And I’m pretty resigned to the fact that being a little bit creative can in some ways be a curse rather than a blessing when it comes to having a job that is both fulfilling and has a pay packet to match. But when I stick my head out and ask around about job prospects, routes into the industry or any other hopeful query to those who might be able to shed some light, I am pretty much always met with a negative response. It’s just so bloody competitive, you’ll have to work a million hours a week and live off baked beans – and even then you’ll probably never get the job you want. Give up now while you can still change your mind!
What's going to happen to all those bookish people who have lost their jobs at Angus & Robertson and Borders Australia stores? Into the bottleneck they plunge ...
Ugh. Pretty discouraging. But I wonder why this could be? Yes, it’s an attractive industry to pretty much anybody who fancies themselves a reader. But in a country with a booming economy and low unemployment, should it really be quite so competitive?
The Knowledge Nation
Remember Mr Measly – sorry, Beazley – and his “Knowledge Nation?” I think government has a lot to answer for in taking literacy a little bit too far. Trying to educate everyone is great, sure, but not everybody is necessarily destined for university. When I was at high school, the message was simple: if you don’t get an ENTER ranking that’s as high as Australia’s interest rates and subsequently go on to university, then you’re a failure, an outcast, and a waste of space. Good one – now we have a trades shortage. Some of those kids should have gone into apprenticeships (and then gone on to be paid a hell of a lot better than some crappy book-loving schmooze), but instead got nudged into uni (probably by their persistent private school pedagogues) and then sat at the back of the lecture theatre with their headphones in, just like they did in high school. They’ll probably have a mid-life crisis ten years prematurely when they realise they’re in the wrong job. All the while their existence adds to the frustrating bottle-neck in the entrance to the educated job market.
I have a second, still more provocative, hypothesis. Are things also this competitive because women now make up close to 50% of our work force? I’m not for a second suggesting a reversion to the sexism of fifty-odd years ago. But, I do think it’s interesting to think about – that now there are so many more people going for the same jobs.
Everybody's favourite antiheroine: Mad Men's Betty Draper, a university graduate trapped in a (usually) immaculate housewife's body