Another Voice of Reason

I am a big fan of Ross Gittins at the Sydney Morning Herald because he is one of the few Australian economic commentators who willingly and consistently questions the pro-business, pro-productivity, pro-growth orthodoxy. This is not to say that they are bad things, but rather the political discussion is so dominated by the orthodox view that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Case in point: the push by business people and economists to extend opening hours, allow trading on weekends and public holidays — basically pushing for a 24/7 economy.

It would make the economy more flexible and efficient, they say. On the face of it this doesn’t seem like such a bad proposal. Wouldn’t we just love to be able to go out to the shops — anywhere, anytime — and buy what we need? Certainly, when you come from a place where openings hours are quite limited (say, Sydney) and go to a place that’s 24/7 (say, Shanghai / Hong Kong / New York City) it does seem like you’ve stepped into a magical wonderland.

However, good ol’ Ross is here to snatch us back to reality:

Accepting the economists’ argument that keeping the economy running for more hours in the week is more efficient and so will raise our material standard of living, how exactly will this leave us better off?

Why does being able to buy more stuff make up for husbands and wives being able to see less of each other, having less time with the kids, having a lot more trouble getting together with your friends, and having your day off when everyone else is at school or working?

Why is this an attractive future? Why should our elected representatives reorganise our economy in ways that suit business and promote consumption, but do so at the expense of employees’ private lives?

This is a classic case of business people, economists and politicians urging on us a mentality that prioritises the economic – the material – over the other dimensions of our lives. Yet again, no one pauses to ask what these ”reforms” will do to our relationships.

It’s great to have access to 24-hour goods and services — as long as we’re not the ones behind the counter. How can it possibly be good for the personal and family lives of those poor people? More critical thinking (read: more than just the economic) is needed before we dive into the breach.

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