Quiggin, John: Forget the generation gap – the gulf between rich and poor tells the real story of our times

John Quiggin

Forget the generation gap – the gulf between rich and poor tells the real story of our times‘, Guardian Australia, 26 August 2019

Commentary on a Grattan Institute study of the generation gap and ensuring a ‘fair go’ for younger Australians.

Talk in terms of conflict between generations is familiar and fits easily into our standard framing of social issues. However, this framing misses the real story, buried in the body of the Grattan report – the (re)emergence of a “patrimonial” society in which wealth, particularly inherited wealth, is the crucial determinant of life chances …

The real division, as in the 19th century, is increasingly not between the old and the young, but between those who own and control capital and those who rely on wages. Because labour’s share of income is declining, accumulating wealth by saving out of one’s own income (forgoing smashed avocado as the current cliché has it) becomes less and less feasible.

Even in Australia, the trend for the rich to get richer outweighs age group effects. As the Grattan Institute report shows, the wealth of the richest subgroup of the young has increased, even as that of other young households has stagnated or declined. In fact, the richest 20% of households in the 25-34 age group have done better, in terms of percentage growth in wealth, than the majority of working age households (those with heads aged 25-64).

Between 2014 and 2017, Honest History collected resources on inequality. Since then, it appears that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has rather muddied the waters on statistical evidence for increased wealth inequality.

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