The Future Will Be Char-Grilled


Rent-seeker (n.) A company, organisation or individual which uses its resources to obtain an economic gain from others without returning any benefits to society. Rent seeking in the aggregate imposes substantial losses on society.

This year I managed to sneak into the rent-seeker’s picnic by pretending to be an economist. Asked at the gate for the password, I said "On the one hand, on the other hand … all things being equal", and they let me in. All the usual suspects were there, but this year, things were different. Not only was there a budget to worry about, but with the threat that the barbie might have to go carbon free, no-one could afford the high steaks. And in any case, there was trouble with the budget. It had been eaten by a black swan, so everyone was hanging around Treasury Pond waiting for it to be passed.

The Golden Fried Chicken ordered in from the open market had already turned up by the time I arrived. When the boxes of GFC were unwrapped, they held no succulent dishes, no, they were full of crumbs. Demand had increased massively and no-one could figure out why the proper supply hadn’t been delivered. Several groups had built models of this arrival, but they’d gone wrong, presumably due to the distorting taxi effect.

The CPRS was on everyone’s lips because it was the reason the barbecue would have to go carbon free. Because of the GFC, the CPRS was looking very dodgy and everyone was wondering whether the picnic would go ahead at all this year. They held on to their meal-tickets and waited for Kevin’s soup kitchen to start serving. Kev got the contract by promising he would serve a four course meal with all the trimmings but recently had reneged. The menu had been cut down to soup, although rumour had it that Kev was planning on handing out free croutons at the picnic.*

According to Kev, the CPRS was only going to cost pennies; accordingly he sent Penny to Circulate Pennies to Rent-Seekers. At this rate, the barbie would be carbon free by 2100.

Meantime, the Professors Emeritus were serving up very thin gruel indeed. One mining geologist had just released his latest cookbook, Recipes from Heaven and Hell. In it, he argued that barbecues were unaffected by carbon, and that in any case, they were always a bit hot and a bit cold. This being perfectly natural, the threat of a carbon build-up incinerating the high steaks was non-existent. The ex-weatherman had used perfect hindsight to show with perfect foresight that no scientific model could compete with a wet finger gauging the prevailing breeze.

I saw the housing guys and said "HIA". They were sipping on crocodile tears, moaning that hanging six stars in every house would drive up prices, disadvantaging buyers and small builders. I found this puzzling, because houses had tripled in price over the past few years, whereas the stars were only going to cost a little extra and were going to last a lot longer than the bubbles, which were bursting all over the place.

The coal guys were there too, saying how they powered the picnic lights, and if the barbecue was going carbon free, the picnic lights would go out and no-one would be happy. On and on they went about how they’d powered every rent seekers’ picnic since the year dot, about how we’d only ever had picnics because of cheap energy. I nodded sagely. Tradition is important, I said, and thought of my father who has asbestosis, my grandfather who died of silicosis, and my great-grandfather who had the black lung. But I could also see that things were changing. They had lugged a big tub full of greenwash to the picnic and were scrubbing every piece of coal until it gleamed.

Aluminium, magnesium and zinc were powering away in their canoe; smelting in the heat, worrying about leakage and demanding a bailout. The big car makers arrived in their Hummer, saying the consumer switch had caught them completely by surprise. The unions were so worried about jobs that they didn’t see the new economy, dressed in green collars, waving at them from outside the fence. The foresters had just published a pamphlet that proved you could get carbon free by cutting down trees. I couldn’t argue with that.

Everyone was saying how the problem with the GFC meant the barbecue couldn’t go carbon free. True, the barbecue was getting hotter and hotter each year, and the high steaks were already a bit unpalatable, but everyone agreed that this year wasn’t the year. All the same, the thought of free croutons was hard to resist. Someone at the back had started a crouton market and trading had already begun. Derivatives and options were being swapped all over the place. There was a lot of hot air being generated so an entrepreneurial type set to blowing up big bunches of black balloons and letting them go. All in all, despite the free lunch being a bit light on this year, the rent-seeker’s picnic was a festive occasion and I will make sure I go again next year.

*Stop-press: Kevin said he might coat the croutons with cheese and add parsley sprinkles, but only if everyone else brought a plate too. India gave him curry but the Chinese thought he was off his noodle.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.