Belt Up About The Economy Already


You know, I didn’t start the new year with any grand plans or extravagant wishes. I wasn’t entering 2013 with any hopes for life-changing events or earth-shaking revelations. All I had aimed for, all I was seeking, was to finally get through a year without succumbing to a soul-crushing sense of weariness and despair. And yet, less than three weeks into the new year, my hopes have been dashed. And it’s all Penny Wong’s fault.

Now I am not the kind of man who enjoys being rude to women — I am a satirist, not a Young Liberal — but when I read this piece by the "honourable" senator, I couldn’t help it.

"For the love of God, Penny, shut your wretched yelp-hole," I cried.

Here is the sentence from the article that caused a great howl of misery to rise from my very core: "Why don’t we take the opportunity to aim for an economic debate grounded in facts?"

Oh, I shuddered, but not because I don’t like grounding things in facts, mind you. I think more things should be grounded in facts. If our government was grounded more in facts and less in a loose collection of brooding resentments and untreated personality disorders, we’d all be a bit better off. No, what really activated my almonds was Wong’s revolting suggestion that we "aim for an economic debate".

An economic debate? Now? Haven’t we had enough of those? These days it seems like you can hardly take a shower without an economist popping out of your conditioner bottle to make a forecast about consumer sentiment. Everywhere you look in modern Australia it’s revenue this and interest rates that and Martin Parkinson denies the other. The economy looms over Australian society like the great evil spider Shelob loomed over Samwise Gamgee in the pass of Cirith Ungol. While Penny Wong might be eager to happily walk into her web to be paralysed and prodded by goblins, I think it’s high time that we as a nation stabbed the economy right in its flabby venomous abdomen.

Just think, what has "the economy" ever done for you? Remember the time the bank kept calling you to demand you pay your overdue credit card payment? That was the economy’s fault. Remember when interest rates went up and you lost your house? The economy. Remember when interest rates went down and your savings weren’t worth as much and you lost your house? Economy again. Yes, from unemployment to bill shock, the economy is literally responsible for everything awful in Australia today.

And yet we go around acting like it’s so important. "Ooh, what will it do to the economy?" we fret whenever anything happens. "Oh, we can’t do that, it might affect the economy!" we blather in response to every initiative. "Shhh, the economy’s sleeping, take your shoes off!" we whisper in corridors. This is no way to live.

Wong herself begins her article by saying, "A lot has been said and written in recent weeks about Australia’s economy". Exactly. A lot. Your exact words, Penelope. So given we’ve had a LOT said and written, isn’t it about time we STOPPED saying and writing things. Surely we’ve reached economic saturation point. There must come a time when we decide, collectively, that we are going to stop talking about year-on-year GDP growth and start talking about, I don’t know, anything. Birds. Flowers. How to make a lattice crust. Harrier jump jets. There’s a big world out there, and we are missing it because we’re too busy nervously eyeing chart after chart and sending shy admiring fan mail to Jessica Irvine.

So what I suggest is, we stop talking about the economy. It’s not like we’re doing any good anyway. We’ve been talking for years about the economy, and it just keeps getting worse and worse, according to the latest figures from Joe Hockey’s Institute For The Study Of Numeristics And Build-Your-Own-Teddy-Bear Workshop.

A careful look at the data indicates that for every article written about the need for tax reform, 18,000 automotive workers are retrenched. Not to mention the 500 textile workers who get the sack for every time Ross Gittins explains economics in a way that ordinary people can understand, or the entire towns that are wiped out whenever Terry McCrann has a seizure on his laptop.

And besides all that, it’s boring. You know this. In your heart, you know that you hate hearing about the economy. You know that the phrase "ten-year bonds" puts you to sleep as if Wayne Swan himself were reading a Dan Brown novel to you. You know that it’s only while trying to understand the terms of trade that you seriously consider hanging yourself. You know that the stock market does not actually exist. The economy is guaranteed to dull, deaden and stultify any conversation within seconds.

What’s worse is that nobody who mentions it has the faintest idea what they’re talking about. That’s the dreadful secret of economics: nobody understands it. As a field of study it exists solely to provide sheltered employment to people too socially maladjusted to become IT consultants. When you hear an economist dribbling away about deficits and downturns and soft landings, they are literally just making it all up. They have no more clue than you or I have — and clearly we are wildly ignorant about the whole thing.

Because the fact is, human beings have nothing to do with the economy. The economy is not a proud stallion that, despite resisting the bit, can be tamed by a firm hand and a kind word. It is more like an enormous crocodile that lives in a swamp outside your house and agrees not to eat you as long as you keep throwing puppies to it. And look, fine, we can keep feeding it our puppies, it’s for the best, but we don’t have to spend every day discussing the crocodile’s bowel movements and worrying that its skin’s been looking dry lately. No, we’d quietly ignore the crocodile and get on with our lives, and that’s what we need to do with the economy.

Break free of econo-fascism, people. Breathe the sweet air. Drink deeply of the beer of freedom. Know what it is to lead an authentic life, free of the petty, boring, inexplicable constraints of fiscal mindfulness. But most of all, whenever you feel the urge to discuss the economy — and this goes double for Finance Ministers — please, please, please, shut the hell up.

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.