Australia

Post #46 – 45 Things This Aussie Initially Observed About England

As I write this, I’m sitting within the walls of a typical English house in the southern county of Hampshire, with a faint breeze outside and the sun beaming down. The flowers are in full bloom, and the bumblebees are buzzing away. Yes, there’s much to like about England, but there’s also some bits that are baffling – and some that are just a downright offence to common sense. One of most famous individuals to be influenced by the sights and sounds of England was the great poet George Chapman, who many in this country consider the rival poet of Shakespeare. He said this of his fellow countrymen in 1636,

I know an Englishman. Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.

Much the same can be said about contemporary English folk – they shy from praise, but will squirm and sulk at the first sign of critique or self-reflection. So this post today will combine a bit of both – the peculiar and bizarre of all things English I have observed, firmly from the perspective of an inquisitive Aussie. I find it eternally fascinating what aspects of culture, mannerisms, ideology and lifestyle have managed to make it all the way to Australia – and conversely, what hasn’t.

I’ve briefly been to England a few times in the past, and this time around I’m attempting to live and work here. However, my travels here have never been very exploratory, only ever in the winter, and never any further north than Luton. So to say my comprehension of this complex and multifaceted nation is limited would be an understatement. But nor is it an attempt to be so, and these are just my initial understandings of this country. So here they are – as an Aussie these are the things that really stand out for me, divided up into five key sections – Mannerisms, Society, Food, Alcohol & Gambling, and Transport.

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Post #45 – The Five Stages of Australia’s Housing Bubble

So recently I blogged about some of the common myths surrounding the Australian housing market. That post also hinted that I believe our housing market is entering a very fragile phase, where finally, after many false prophecies of collapse, our luck might finally run out. I am predicting that the Australian housing market will enter a volatile period within the next 9-12 months, with a drop of approximately 20-40% in the next two to three years after that. And I’m going to borrow the theory of an obscure and oft-forgotten 1960’s economist by the name of Hyman Minsky to explain exactly how this housing market bubble will pop and collapse.

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Hyman Minksy

This man’s ideas have never really been applied to a housing market though, dabbling predominantly in the world of finance. However, I believe that the financialisation of the housing market in Australia means that the leap between his theory and the housing market in Australia can be made. Let me quote BBC News to give you a brief introduction to this man:

American economist Hyman Minsky, who died in 1996, grew up during the Great Depression, an event which shaped his views and set him on a crusade to explain how it happened and how a repeat could be prevented…

Minsky spent his life on the margins of economics but his ideas suddenly gained currency with the 2007-08 financial crisis. To many, it seemed to offer one of the most plausible accounts of why it had happened.

He referred to his theory as the Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH), and argued that lending goes through certain stages in a capitalist economy. Considering housing in Australia is no longer just a roof over your head, but rather seen as an investment and an asset, it’s easy to apply his different approach to finance to the housing market here. This is how it flows:

1. THE HEDGE POSITION: Your expected inflows are expected to be less than your committed outflows for the foreseeable future. You’re good.

2. THE SPECULATIVE POSITION: Your committed outflows are larger than your inflows, but enough to pay interest. You must refinance to pay the principal. You’re playing with fire, but still… you’re good.

3. THE PONZI POSITION: Your interest payments are greater than your inflows. You’re fucked.

I’m going to outline the steps below, and explain how they can be applied to what we have seen, and what we are currently seeing in the Australian housing market.

PHASE I: RECOVERY

This is the first stage, when banks and borrowers are cautious. They’re usually cautious because the inherent contradictions of capitalism have once again fucked things up, the housing market is a shambles and everybody is broke. You can take your pick which economic downturn you’d like to focus on. For example, (more…)

Post #44 – Budgets, Brexits, Battlelines and Briefcases

There is a Civil War brewing. No I’m not referring to Yemen, Ukraine, the U.S or even the upcoming antics of Captain America. I’m referring to a Civil War over a quantitative expression of a plan for a defined period of time – better known as a budget.

Federal budgets are those funny things in politics that have the power to destroy – or further solidify – the career of the Chosen One that hands it down. A memorable budget is usually characterised by an image, a particular event, or a symbol. Take the example of the Abbott Government’s much-maligned 2014 budget, personified so eloquently in the grainy footage of then-Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann huffing down Cuban cigars. He was henceforth disparagingly referred to as ‘Smokin’ Joe‘, and his career prospects tanked along with the budget. The man many thought might be our future Prime Minister was undid by a shitty budget (more…)

Post #43 – 10 Myths of the Australian Housing Market

Every time I try to suggest to my family and friends that the Australian housing market is in a bubble – the likes of which no developed Western nation has ever seen before – I’m dismissed as a bit of a ‘crackpot’. Amongst the sneers and chuckles, I’m told that the Australian housing market is ‘different’. Yes, different. What makes it ‘different’ is something nobody can really tell me – but here are a few of the excuses I’ve heard:

ARGUMENT 1: WE’VE GOT BIG HOUSESLargest in the world by some counts. According to our former Treasurer Joe Hockey, this means that Australia has a fundamentally different ‘asset’ class. Here’s exactly what he said:

A lot of Australians put a lot of new capital into their homes – renovate their homes, upgrade their homes – and we have the largest homes on average perhaps in the Western World, and the world more generally. So it’s a very different asset class in Australia than in other jurisdictions.

This means, naturally, we have to pay more for our houses – because they’re bigger than everyone else’s.

DEBUNKED: Hockey is correct in saying that a bigger house costs more than a smaller house. However, it doesn’t excuse why a median house price in Sydney is $1 million, whilst in Houston, a city of comparable size and wealth, it’s about $US146,600. Americans tend to challenge us for the title of most obnoxiously big houses in the Western world, so we’d hope to see some correlation there. But we don’t, the maths just simply doesn’t add up.

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Post #42 – Evangelical Christians Are Literally Ruining My World

 

The other day I had the (mis)fortune of getting into a protracted conversation with an evangelical Christian friend about climate change. Walking to our cars’ from the train station after work, we innocuously stumbled into the conversation as we rattled on about the large storm that hit Sydney over the weekend just gone.

We both noted the intensity of the storm, our personal experience whilst it was happening, and the damage that was done. Then as an off-hand comment I stated that the “weather is going crazy these days, eh?” – more a rhetorical question than anything else. But also, deep down I was seeing if he would take the bait. You see, I wanted to know if he took the threat of climate change seriously. I remember this individual being a wiz in our science class back in high school, but I also knew his deeply-held religious convictions. What I wanted to test was my hunch that evangelical Christians don’t give a shit about climate change, or worse, they actively challenge the science.

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Post #41 – Welcome to the ‘Surveillance Society’

“At some point we have to draw a line”, proclaimed Australian federal MP Scott Ludlam – referring specifically to controversial changes to data retention laws put before the Australian parliament for debate. A few months later (despite all his Youtubing, tweets, Facebook jibes and rousing proclamations in the Senate) the changes he (and many Australians) opposed passed through both houses of Parliament and became law. Maybe, just maybe, Ludlam is fighting the wrong battle here.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves if we ever had any privacy to begin with – maybe, just maybe, we started being a surveillance society a while ago. ‘Why bother [fighting it]?’ was the question posed by Richard Thomas, the UK government’s Information Commissioner who believes the surveillance society is already ‘a reality’… and that was back in 2006.

So on the one hand, Ludlum is saying we risk becoming a ‘surveillance society’, but experts are adamant we’re already there. What gives?

And even if we are already a so-called ‘surveillance society’ – where the government and big business can check our every move – is it really that big a deal?
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Post #40 – Beefcake-Bro Culture: The New Wave of Bogan

I left the suburbia of Penrith a few years ago for the big smoke of Sydney. At the time I told people the reason I was moving from the place I was born and raised was for convenience and accessibility. What I didn’t tell them was that I secretly couldn’t stand Penrith anymore. Despite being only an hour from Sydney’s CBD, in many respects it feels like its a million miles away from the beaches, the sky-rises and the trendy inner suburbs that define Sydney’s core. It certainly wasn’t the locale of Penrith that didn’t sit easy with me – the snaking Nepean River with the majestic Blue Mountains as a backdrop, the fresh air and wide open spaces mean Penrith provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nor was it the ‘typical westies’ that (sometimes) unfairly characterise the outer western suburbs of Sydney. No part of Sydney is immune from these so-called ‘uncultured’ characters, and I find the down-to-earth larrikin nature that inflects the good people of the Western suburbs refreshingly welcome in comparison to their Eastern counterparts. However, what ultimately drove me from my hometown was the rise of what I refer to as the ‘Beefcake-Bro Culture’ – a new wave of disturbing bogan culture festering in the youth of suburbia.

The re-birth of Australia’s muscle bro culture in not unprecedented – Australia has seen a rise and demise in both the surfie culture of the 1960’s and the ‘get big’ gym phase of the 1980’s amongst its blokes. But this new era of ‘roided boganism contains a much more dangerous and volatile streak amongst the suburban youth of today. It really is a perfect storm of factors that has given rise to the latest manifestation of boganesque masochism rampant within Australian youth culture, but particularly apparent in the Western suburbs of Sydney. It’s not just cultural either, with economic, political and ethnic factors also contributing to this ‘Bro Culture’. From Ambarvale to Abbottsbury,  Bankstown to Blacktown, Castle Hill to Campbelltown, and Parramatta to Penrith, Beefcake Bro Culture reigns dominant. Here are the factors that have given birth to this new wave of blatant boganism:

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Post #39 – How Skype Helps Large Mining Companies Not Give A Shit

I have family and friends alike who have been fortunate enough to cash-in on Australia’s mining boom. Even though it looks like the ‘boom’ might finally be petering out, there’s still money to be made. But the golden goose doesn’t seem to be laying the golden eggs anymore… and I personally blame Skype.

You see, Skype and other forms of new technology have helped the mining industry break barriers that have existed ever since this country has had white folk in it. These barriers have been…

  • Isolation – Australia is a fucking big country. Its vast distances meant that a mining town (i.e. Broken Hill or Ballarat) was permanent and therefore needed investment and infrastructure. Otherwise labour wouldn’t be enticed to live and work near or at the mines.
  • Community – This investment fostered a sense of community and camaraderie in these mining towns, so much so that the employees banded together.
  • The Workers – United together they formed associations and unions to increase economic and political influence for the betterment of their lot in life, their community, and last but not least…
  • The Nation – The royalties, tax collection and economic stimulation played a large part in making Australia one of the richest and opulent nations’ the world has ever seen.

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Post #38 – Common Sense (or Lack Thereof… ) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

After being under wraps for over five years, it arrived a couple of days ago. The long-awaited full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was released to the general public… and it’s fucking huge. Like, literally huge (30 Chapters all up). Across the expanse of the Pacific, people have been trying to sift through the text and figure out what it has in store for all of us… and thus far, it’s not pretty. But the question is, what can we make of it all? Well, the TPP signifies a new era in free-trade agreements, in that “the agreement goes beyond traditional trade issues such as tariffs and import quotas and includes giveaways to powerful business lobbies”. It’s a new kind of monster, the likes of which we have never seen before.

WHY THE HOSTILITY, MAN?: This is why the TPP faces such stiff opposition – both here in Australia and abroad. But like other things we the people despise, it will most likely pass into law across the Pacific over the next year or so. There’s a feeling of inevitability and helplessness wrapped up in these convoluted and secretive trade agreements our governments keep buying in to.

There was a man who understood better than most why we accept these bullshit trade agreements, and he died in the process of essentially, calling ‘a spade a spade’. He was a visionary in (more…)

Post #36 – Why We Should Ban Credit Derivatives

I think we should ban credit derivates. In fact, on one occasion they nearly got me killed. But just what are derivates, and why are they so bad? Well… I’ll get to that in a minute.

To keep this post as deriveting (ha!) as possible, I’m going to adopt at least one more bad pun and pop culture references to illustrate my point. I believe there are six major reasons we need to ban credit derivates – and those points are as follows:

  1. The first is the obvious detriment of counter-party risks.
  2. The second is that they are a sneaky way to hide credit risks from the markets.
  3. The third argument will revolve around regulation being good-for-nothing.
  4. The forth will be an examination of morals (i.e. that thing bankers don’t have) and how credit derivatives play to our worst characteristics.
  5. My fifth point will focus on how these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as Warren Buffett refers to them – play a major role in the financialisation of labour and the further commodification of the working class.
  6. Last but not least… payback. The conglomerates involved in credit derivatives, and let’s look at the big picture here – there are only a few major players in the game – refused. (more…)