As we know, facts tend to get in the way of a good story. But gossip, rumours, scandals and old wives’ tales can be very real in the telling; and we tend to believe a lot of them until they are debunked. After all, they can be interesting, entertaining, comforting and often convincing.
Our younger generations, especially millennials, have a blunt statement about all of this: get real! Learning to do this without sacrificing our basic values poses a challenge to us all.
In the interest of reality — and guiding well-intentioned adults, their children and their grandchildren into the future — let’s begin by pointing out some of the myths we continue to believe as we prepare to enter the 2020s.
1. Housing is now dangerously unaffordable.
It is; but this has always been the case for newlyweds and low-income earners. Interestingly, Australia’s debt servicing ratio (interest payments as a share of disposable income) for mortgage and other debt is currently as low as it has ever been in four decades. But, yes, housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne were off the chart in 2017: a big bubble indeed.
2. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.
Not by much at all, in fact: The share of income and wealth held by the rich and well-off has only increased by a few per cent since the start of this century. It is also important to remember that this 40 per cent of households is paying 85 per cent of all taxes, so their wealth is being distributed.
3. We are not working harder than ever, with not enough time to scratch ourselves
Not true. In 1800, males entered the workforce at 13 years of age and worked 65-hour weeks, clocking up 80,000 hours of paid work over 25 years, before dying at an average age of 38. Today, we still work 80,000 paid hours in a lifetime; but we work less than half as many hours per week across a longer period of 50+ years. And the hours are still falling. Most of us also have two months’ off a year via vacation, public holidays and sick leave; and we have more discretionary and leisure time than at any time in history.
4. There won’t be enough jobs in the future due to technology, robots and artificial intelligence.
Yes, there will: we are good at creating jobs. Over the past five years to 2017, we created six times more jobs (yes, six times!) than we lost. In addition to our current pool of over 12 million jobs, there are millions more in the making which will replace those lost through technology and digital disruption
5. Marriages don’t last as long as they once did.
Surprisingly, the average length of a marriage — 20 years — has remained the same for centuries. Of course, there was a time when we didn’t live long enough (38 years) to have a divorce! Equally surprising is the fact that the divorce rate is now much lower than it was 40 years ago, with less than one per cent of marriages ending in divorce each year.
6. Crime is on the rise, especially murders.
This is, fortunately, not the case. The murder rate in Australia is not only one of the world’s lowest, at around one per 100,000 each year, but it has also fallen to record lows in recent years.
7. Speed on the road is the number one killer.
No: things like distractions, falling asleep and intoxication are.
8. We need a big population to compete in a globalising world.
No, we don’t. Some 18 of the world’s 20 highest standard of living countries have a population lower than Australia’s 25 million in 2018; and most of them house less than a third of our population. However, with so few people living in Australia at present, we will ultimately need to increase our population to justify our enormous land mass and resources in Asia. With many Asian cities already accommodating bigger populations than our entire nation, the time has come for us to share the load.
9. Immigrants take our jobs.
No, they don’t. More often than not, they take the jobs we don’t like. And if a migrant family arrives, they create a demand for more jobs than they can fill for at least five years in terms of the needed infrastructure and annual consumption expenditure.
10. Australia will run out of workers due to ageing.
No, we won’t. Being too young a population, as we were in the 19th century, was a worse problem; and to get enough workers to support the population, we needed children to start work at under 15 years of age, and often as young as 11–13 years. As this century unfolds, working beyond 65 years of age, and up to 75 or more — often on a part-time or casual basis — is a realistic expectation for a workforce where we are increasingly using our brains over brawn. (And, as we know, the only way to wear the brain out is to stop using it.)
11. We need to make things to create basic wealth.
No, we don’t. A wealth-creating industry is one which is producing products that customers actually want and are prepared to pay for, whether they are goods or services.
Furthermore, we don’t ‘make’ things so much as we modify or convert existing things. By this definition, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction are all, oddly enough, service industries. Humans didn’t create the raw materials on which these industries are based, they were already here; and until governments put a price on water for its usage and taxes on minerals for their extraction, these materials are free for the taking. The term ‘goods industry’ is just a way to separate tangible from intangible products.
These days, the Agriculture industry creates just two per cent of our GDP, and the Manufacturing industry creates less than six per cent; only eight per cent all up. In 1960, these two industries totalled 38 per cent, not eight per cent! Despite this, Australia’s standard of living (SOL) is nearly three times higher than it was at the end of the Industrial Age in the mid-1960s. If anything, our ‘service’ industries are propping up some of the ‘goods’ industries in this new century.
12. We are too-highly taxed.
No, we aren’t. Australia is one of the lowest-taxed nations among the developed countries, with taxes making up 28 per cent of our GDP. By contrast, the average taxation rate is 37 per cent, and many nations are nudging 50 per cent. This is one of the most pernicious lies being trundled out by both sides of politics in Australia.
13. The government should cut their expenditure to balance the Budget.
If they did, we would need to make sure that the government was still providing adequate support for single parents, the unemployed, the aged, the disabled or other disadvantaged citizens. But, yes, we should be getting better value for our taxes than we do. One-fifth of our GDP is produced by governments, and that sector’s productivity has been poor for decades.
14. Australia could become the food bowl of Asia.
If only — but we don’t have enough water. That said, we will probably increase our output this century fivefold, as we did in the 20th century, but that will only feed five per cent of the Asian population at the end of the 21st century.
15. Nuclear is the world’s most dangerous energy ever used.
Wood may actually have killed more people per kilowatt (kW) of energy produced (e.g. via the harvesting process, or due to fire or asphyxiation). While terrifying to most humans, nuclear energy may, ironically, be the safest energy source on the basis of deaths per kW of energy — especially considering the safeguards that are now being implemented as a result of past accidents.
This is an edited extract from The Future for Our Kids by Phil Ruthven, available at all good book stores including Dymocks, Readings or online at Wilkinson Publishing.