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Jessica’s commentary on older generations surprised me and suggested it's more than just an economist’s desire for a better world.

Why did Jessica Irvine have a hate session on baby boomers?

Peter Switzer
18 July 2016

By Peter Switzer

In case you’ve missed her work, there’s a young economics writer called Jessica Irvine who now writes for the SMH after a stint at News Ltd. She’s a regular talking head on ABC television and seems to have a hate session on baby boomers and anyone older who’ve done well out of real estate.

While she cleverly struts her reading and thinking on economic analysis of political as well as hip pocket issues (such as negative gearing, capital gains tax discounts and whatever), deep down she appears to be annoyed that baby boomers and those even older have the houses in the suburbs she and her ilk would love to own.

Irvine recently wrote a great piece on how her new son Henry made her and her partner give up their Sydney CBD apartment for a home on a quarter acre block in the suburbs. Like a lot us (and I include myself as a yuppie), poor old Jessica was made to get real at the hands of a new bundle of joy called a baby.

As you can read, I have a degree of sympathy for Jessica’s forced re-entry into the real world — that’s the beauty of children — but I think her coveting of other people’s possessions has been justified by her phony, economic argument.

Jessica writes: “Economic studies extol the benefits of a more mobile workforce, able to move to where the jobs are. But what economists really want is housing suited to a person's needs and wants. We can ease housing affordability by boosting new housing supply. Or we can better distribute people in the houses we've got.”

In their theoretical world, economists can pine for lots of things, but unless politicians make the slugs on developers lower, the cost of housing won’t fall.

But Jessica’s assault on older generations quite surprised me and suggested that this is more than just an economist’s desire for a better world behind her complaints.

She wrote that she wanted a better economy where there were “No grannies rattling around in five-bedroom homes. No young families cramped in too-small apartments.”

That was a tad emotional and maybe said something about her desires but she did return to economic analysis. Still, it was virtually vindictive with the following:

“What we need is a property market that facilitates people to move to housing that best suits them. What we have is a system of tax incentives that encourages people to become mini land barons, greedily buying up as much property as they can and staying put there until they die.”

Why is it greed that grannies want to stay in the home they scrimped and saved for? Why is it greed if they want to live in the home where they brought up their children and grandchildren and where they have memories of, say, their departed husband? C’mon Jessica, even economists have to have a heart!

But she goes on with her anti-granny rant.

“Rules exempting the family home from the pension assets test also force older Australians to stay put, rather than unlock the wealth in their home,” she argues. “We need to reconceptualise housing as a vital service, not a vehicle for wealth accumulation.”

Try and sell that as fair to a voting public, Jessica. And how about this as a cloud cuckoo land offering from the land of economic pointy-heads.

“Cities should put families who can fend for themselves on the fringe and gather the poor, the old and the sick into their bosom,” Jessica pleaded. “So often, however, it's the opposite. Meanwhile, a lack of public transport puts an increasing premium on inner-city land values. And rising inner-city prices only deepen our city's divide.”

This is what Jessica wants in her perfect economist’s world.

“We need cities that facilitate us to move to the housing best suited to us, given our point in the life cycle,” she counseled. “While I crave my suburban oasis today, I also dream of an inner-city apartment for my retirement, to be close to theatres, cafes and medical services.”

It’s a great yarn but it’s terribly unrealistic and while she tries to cover up her emotional rant in economics, it’s insensitive with a capital I!

It’s an irony that she chides grannies who hang on to their homes, when maybe they should be in one-bedroom apartments, according the Jessica, the economist. However, many of these grannies could be the women who copped discrimination in the workplace as young mums. And they might have been campaigners for women’s rights, whose drive then sees someone like Jessica have an economics columnist in the SMH.

Whinging young people, who hate negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, mustn’t have listened to Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen during the election, where they argued their changes to negative gearing laws and the capital gains tax discount would not affect house prices too badly.

If they’re right, then those young people, like Jessica, who criticise investors who chase property investments and baby boomers and older Aussies who stay in their homes too long, maybe are simply jealous that older people are living where they want to live and even more annoying, they’re living too long!

In baby boomer younger days, parents often died early but modern medicine and sensible baby boomer eating and drinking smarter, really is pissing people like Jessica off.

What’s missing from Jessica’s economic analysis is the history of lots of these oldies stonewalling on properties that she and her friends would love to get their hands on.

These people have lived through tax rates of 66.7%, the Oz dollar under 50 US cents, interest rates at 17%, unemployment over 10% and no Zara cheap clothes, no cheap airfares, no cheap cars due to tariffs. More often than not, they didn’t go out to expensive restaurants, let alone know what a hatted one was.

They also didn’t benefit from compulsory super and that’s why the average balance of those grannies that Irvine seems to despise have little or no super! 

There was no political correctness, equal pay or all the better stuff that Jessica and her generation have enjoyed, but she still wants to force them through some economically-contrived government policy, so the ‘right’ people get to live where her so called ‘grannies’ are now residing.

Call me a baby boomer but it looks like some people want their cake, which baby boomer parents foolishly served up by the truckload, and want to eat it as well!

To some ‘oldies’, these people sound like selfish brats rather than economists.

Maybe I’m wrong on Jessica and I would love to interview her on my TV show to let her explain her complaints but she certainly looks like a shortsighted whinger.

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