Once women joined the workforce it all went downhill from there. It’s no one’s fault. Certainly not the women’s fault. Just a bug in the system. But the system needs changing.
Somewhere it all went horribly wrong.
Back in the 50s, you walked into a job (a job for life by the way!). You got married, the woman became a full-time mum, and on Dad’s salary, young couples could pretty easily put together a deposit and buy straight into their first home.
The was no such thing as a ‘rental trap’.
But things started to slide from there.
Steadily more and more women joined the work-force, with a rush coming in the late 60s and early 70s. Household incomes expanded. By the 80s, women who chose to stay at home were finding that they needed to supplement the household income in some way.
By the 90s, many women felt they no longer had a choice. To support the lifestyle the family wanted, mum needed to work full-time. The kids went into childcare.
And in the new millennium, both mum and dad are working hard. Long hours and long commutes. The kids are in day care – sometimes immediately. But school places are hard to come by, so you’ve got to lock in to the waiting list early, or pay super high-fees.
Life in one of the richest nations on earth.
If you leave the technological advance out of it, it’s hard to make the argument that we’re progressing as a society. And even if you do include it.
I mean, imagine going back to the 50s and offering people a bargain. Over the next 60 years, you’re all going to work harder and longer with more stress and less job and income security. You’re going to see your kids less and your boss more. You’re going to spend more time in traffic.
In return for these sacrifices, I present to you the iPhone 6!
Have we just been taken for a ride?
Where did it all go wrong?
Now it might be tempting to say it’s part of some evil-genius conspiracy. But evil is generally more banal than that.
And the force at play here is the basic engine of modern economics – supply and demand.
Because as household incomes grew, they were able to buy more things. They demanded more things. They demanded better things. Demand grew.
But the supply of many things is fixed. Think land and property. Everyone wants a water front property, but there’s only so many to go around.
And so the price rose.
And so if you were the first household to send mumma out to work, you doubled your income and you could buy a lot more things. You had an edge over everyone else. But if everyone doubles their income, you’re right back where you started, on par with everyone else.
Only now, you’re stuck. Because the price level has risen to reflect everyone having two incomes. And if mumma wants to come home, she can’t. Now you need that second income just to keep pace with everyone else.
It’s the dynamic of an arms race, and in an arms race there are no winners.
And think about the implications of pushing back the retirement age. Sounds sensible. Old people need money for things.
But what happens when all the old people are working? And old people tend to be close to peak-earning, so what happens if all the higher-income earners in society start working longer?
You know what happens. It’s just another leg in the arms race. It just makes it harder for everyone to keep pace.
(I do think it’s good to try and shift the burden off the public pension, but I’m talking about something else.)
And so this is the cruel reality of the competitive world we live in. Any innovation that increases our productivity or earning power just opens the way for new forms of work.
Automatic washing machines? – now mum can go to work in the factory.
Mum supplements the family income? – Now the family depends on that income.
Paperless offices and emails? – Just send me some thoughts on the proposal when you get home tonight.
So what’s the solution? Obviously we need women back in the kitchen where they belong. Breasts make you biologically inclined to doing dishes and vacuuming.
No. Of course not.
I’m hopeful that there is some way that we can keep the benefits of the 20th Century – greater scope to define our own journeys regardless of race, gender or footy affiliation.
But I want to do that without locking everyone into a consumerist arms race.
And so what’s the solution? Well, if it took a cultural revolution to get us here, it will probably take a cultural revolution to get us out.
That’s how the arms race between the US and the USSR was brought to an end. A spirit of cooperation and mutual disarmament.
But there were only two players in that arms race. How do you get 7 billion people to play a long?
It’s not easy.
And I think maybe capitalism just isn’t up for the job. This competitive dynamic is the engine of growth in capitalism. It’s hard to imagine a version without it.
And I’m certainly not advocating communism. But I think we’re looking for a new way of doing things. We’re overdue for an economic revolution.
The old system just isn’t working.
What are your suggestions for an economic revolution?
Are you happy with how things are travelling?