In his Australia Day address, social researcher Hugh Mackay said that “the Australia I love today – this sleep-deprived, overweight, overmedicated, anxious, smartphone-addicted society – is a very different place from the Australia I used to love,” writes Ross Gittins in the Canberra Times.
He identified three big changes: the gender revolution, increasing disparity in wealth, and social fragmentation.
He approves of the first, but laments that we’re “learning to live with a chasm of income inequality” and that social fragmentation means Australians are become “more individualistic, more materialistic, more competitive”.
The third big change, he said, posed the biggest challenge – preserving social cohesion.
Earlier this year, the playwright David Williamson lamented that, since the advent of neoliberalism, “the world has become a nastier, more competitive, more ruthless place”.
“There’s no perfect society, but I don’t think it needs to be as brutal as it is now.”
As we move on from our officially required season of national navel-gazing – “yes, but what does it mean to be Australian?” – these concerns are worth pondering.
Economists object to being blamed for every ill that’s beset our country in the past 40 years. Where’s the proof that this economic policy or that has caused a worsening in mental health, they demand to be told.
It’s true that few developments in society have just a single cause. It’s also true there’s little hard evidence that the A of “microeconomic reform” caused the B of more suicides, for instance.
But there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. After all, the specific objective of micro reform was to increase economic efficiency by making our markets more intensely competitive. The economists’ basic model views us as individuals, motivated by self-interest, and the goal of faster growth in the economy is aimed at raising our material standard of living.
Unhappy, unhealthy lives aren’t fair exchange for higher incomes (Canberra Times)