For a guy named after a condiment, Bernard Salt sure has a lot to say about cheese. Dairy is a key signifier for Salt, whose piece yesterday on smashed avocado and cheese as a proof of profligacy in the young followed a less popular one in February on chevre. Actually, he’s been working the cheese for longer than an artisan of Cheddar, with reference to the “goat’s cheese curtain” as a metaphor for postcode wealth appearing in The Australian in 2012.
Those young people, said yesterday’s article, which soon produced a platter of raw responses. They’re spending their housing future on cheese and avocado and toast.
Let’s pretend for a minute that Salt, a professed “futurist”, is not just some discount Malcolm Gladwell who doesn’t know when to leave a vintage joke alone. Let’s even pretend that domestic dairy goat stock is being drained in a volume that makes it ripe for such critique — a shame that it isn’t; goat’s milk is a low-allergen, fairly sustainable food. Let’s even pretend that Salt retains the right to call himself a demographer, while preferring the anecdotal strategies of Nick Cater — that guy convinced that caffe latte is a toff’s drink and has not been long on the menu at McDonald’s — to data. And let’s ask: just what the feta is with this hatred of Millennials?
Bad things have fermented when even The Guardian gives voice to old wedges who should know better. Like Salt, economist Stephen Koukoulas recently blamed the poor morals of the young for the poor conditions many of them confront — it was their love of soy lattes, in place of smashed avo and feta brunches, that was keeping them out of the property market. It wasn’t the economy, which is, apparently, just fine. So, why are there so many aged camemberts so currently intent on pointing out the folly of the young?
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The “facts” of this young-people-don’t-know-how-good-they-have-it house price rot seem barely worth a sniff. But, to add to the dozens of pieces written in response to Salt: there is hard evidence that buying a home has become harder than the hardest pecorino. The late iteration of capitalism in Australia has caused our income-to-house-price ratio to land among the shittiest in the world. Any person striving to buy for the first time into this $6 trillion market does so against investors.
[Razer: renting is a mug’s game, ‘freedom’ is a lie, insecurity is a hellscape]
It’s not Salt’s cheese and avocado toast, nor is it the latte preferred by Koukoulas or Cater that keep you from the warmth of your own hearth, out in a cold rental market with a quarter of the population. If there’s any profligacy, it is that of successive governments who spend on negative gearing and capital gains concessions. Wage stagnation doesn’t help one bit. Nor does sluggish land release. Nor do old duffers who must know that we live in a nation that rewards the investor class by punishing its income source — some, but not all, of whom are young.
So why are they doing it?
This is an old, possibly even a natural, prejudice. We have been inclined to hate children since the first Palaeolithic human got the first midlife Palaeolithic back ache. Certainly, I began to dislike young people very ardently just as soon as I stopped being one of them. This ancient objection became easier to revive in the present, when so many Millennials started to wear raw denim, which is a stupid fabric.
But, you know. They have their itchy jeans and their coloured hair and their hashtags. Salt and I had our grunge attire and our Tarantino and our Kraft single slices. I mean, we don’t have to like these people who seem so convinced that they can change the world by taking a selfie, but we don’t have to go about blaming them for their own financial decline.
I guess if we’re writing for The Australian, we do have to keep locating an undeserving poor. This publication has spent years blaming indigenous Australians, welfare “cheats” and greedy asylum seekers for any damage to the portfolios of its 300 readers, so I guess editor Paul Whittaker has asked his writers to keep the culprit fresh. This week, its scapegoat is smashed avo with cheese. But that still doesn’t explain opinions like Koukoulas’.
I guess his faith in the natural justice of a free market is so total, he needs to invent a glitch. Like folks who say that the problem with late capitalism is only its cronies, Kouk says it’s down to those lazy kids. It’s never a structure that is fundamentally spoiled, but always a few rotten apples. The market is sustainable, and the only problem with it is soy latte, a few over-ripe bankers or a range of specialty cheeses. Let’s not talk about taming the market. Let’s find some people to tame.
I can quite understand that young people — who are not the only group affected by absurd housing costs — have the shits with this moralising inanity. But I do wish they wouldn’t moralise back. I am certain that Brigid Delaney does enjoy her avo and cheese brunch, but I wish the writer, who has long opined on the insecurity of the young, wouldn’t say so publicly. It is simply not helpful to contend, on the behalf of all the 25%, that sourdough has narcotic properties. I do not enjoy spending money to sit on upcycled school furniture, nor have I ever before today used the term “brunch” as a verb. Nor do I blame “the baby boomers” for the fault of a market that needs taming.
[Razer: from hipsters to racists, everyone suffers the ‘idiot reflex’ of outrage]
It’s as common, and as damaging, for young journalists to confuse a terrible market with a terrible person as it is for older ones. A piece in BuzzFeed that details 7 Ways Young Aussies Are Being Screwed Over By Older Generations is typical of the youthful response. Here, the author explains that old people squandered “your” public education, as though scholarship could only ever be the right of a single generation. Jesus. People who once purchased The Big Chill soundtrack on cassette are not the enemy. The enemy isn’t even human. Even I, a pretty cheesed-off cheeseless person who spends 50% of her income on an unfashionable rental, can see that. And I don’t have youthful skin to cheer me up.
For as long as we speak from the easiest identity categories, we can’t hope to repair the divide between an investor and non-investor class. It’s not brunch. It’s not coffee. It’s not old people, young people or those asylum seekers who are driving up the prices. It’s a shitty system that fell into being and one that urgently needs reform.
So quit pelting cheesy moral balls at each other, and start planning a way out of this awful fondue. We can resume this ancient intergenerational battle when we all have somewhere secure to live. It was not ageism, nor any other kind of personal bigotry, that produced this poverty, and it will not be ageism that delivers a solution.