Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I've entered that phase of my adult life where I begin to view economics the way that my dad did. I call it dad-conomics. It's that point of your life where you stop thinking about what things cost today and focus more on what they used to cost; you know, the whole bit about how you used to be able to fill your car trunk with groceries for $17 and a movie was $2.50 'back in my day.' The standard of living changes, wages change, economies change, but no matter what, you're stuck in this strange prism of the way things were, rather than the way things are.

It's partly because money just doesn't make any sense anymore. How is it that salaries seem so large in comparison with our grandparents, yet we can't afford two cars and a two-storey house? Grandpa and grandma were pretty resilient and they didn't know what a latte was, but they could at least afford a 'decent' roof over their heads. But now that same house and two cars cost a million dollars, and how in the world did we come up with that?

The 'standards' have apparently changed. Everyone now wants a move-in ready, pre-fab home with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Hold on, now, who set these standards? Oh right, a bunch of rich people and marketing companies and our style overlords over at HGTV. The Kardashians. The people who sell high end paint. Social media. Construction companies.

There was a time when people used to build homes to last and they actually looked different from all the other homes in the neighbourhood. There was a time when people moved into their homes and slowly painted, renovated, added furniture piece by piece and upgraded over the course of their lives. But now everything has to be the same and immediately available and to standard, the end product being overpriced, bland and conformist. Hardly a home that you want to be proud of and grow in and spend the next 25 years of your life paying off.

But this is what income inequality ultimately looks like. The 1% of the population sets the impossible standards, the wage slaves try to keep up. The costs of homes is driven up, the desire for profits for the top tier increase and all of a sudden, a home of one's own becomes an impossible dream without two solid salaries (and maybe some help from the parents).

And never mind just the home; there needs to be coordinated furniture, accents, flat screen tvs and who doesn't have HD or high speed internet? Drip coffee? Puh-lease. Not when gorgeous actresses purr at you in commercials over cups of Italian espresso made from steamy machines.

Part of the problem, clearly, are our appetites, which is being manipulated by all streams of our media. Most reality shows or competitions are basically advertisements, heavily endorsed by the companies that manufacture food, music, home or beauty products- setting our standards and whetting our appetites for the things that they want us to buy. The endless cycle of consumerism is hard to break when everyone is selling you the best version of something.

But trying to keep up is taking our attention away from two important things: (1) we're falling desperately behind and (2) it shouldn't be this hard.

If we keep getting distracted by shiny objects dangling in front of us, we're never breaking out of the cycle. There is no good reason for highly educated, hard working professionals, often dual income households, to be struggling financially. You can blame the lattes, but what is that when compared to the staggering student debts most people rack up when trying to become professionals in the first place? What is that compared to the half a million dollar family home?

Whenever I look at house prices, it's like playing Monopoly. The dollar amounts don't even seem real. Park Place is great if you buy it the first time around the board, but it really sucks when you land on it and a few houses have been built. Is it just me, or does the entire real estate market look like a big, confusing, long game of Monopoly when you just want to go to bed because you've been playing for 6 hours with your siblings and nobody's winning???

No wonder dad used to frown so much.

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