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Go Gadget

In looking back over the previous ten years, the IPA Review published in March 1960 described the 50s as the decade of growth, industrial peace, and political stability.

But even more importantly, it was “the decade of the gadgets”.

“At the beginning of the decade there were, for every 100 Australians-10 motor cars, under 10 refrigerators, well under 10 washing machines, 14 telephones.

Today there are, per 100 people-18 motor cars, 30 refrigerators, 20 washing machines, 20 telephones.

In 1950 there were no T.V. sets; in 1960, 2 out of 3 homes (in Melbourne and Sydney) had television.”

So important was this rise of gadgets, the IPA said:

“industrial peace and political stability are closely connected with the multiplication of the gadgets and its accompaniment, hire purchase finance. For the mass ownership of the gadgets – from washing machines to “pop-up” toasters – is revolutionising traditional political and industrial attitudes.”

How so?

Whilst conceding that this “does not reflect, in itself, any improvement in morals, or character, or understanding, it does reflect a vastly higher standard of living for the wage earners.”

Despite a low unemployment rate of between 2 and 4 per cent during the 1950s, by 1960 only a small percentage of the population owned said gadgets, but they were aspiring to, and the advent of television in 1956 made it so much easier to show how crucial these gadgets were to our lives. Everyone on the tv had a car and a fridge and you didn’t even need the money up-front.

According to the IPA, the continued lack of success throughout the 50s of the Labor Party stemmed primarily from the fact that they had failed to recognise the significance of the “gadgets”.

“The great majority [of wage earners] are becoming “men of property” and men of property are conservative. What they have, they do not want to lose. This is economically, socially and politically one of the most portentous developments of the 1950’s.”

And this, in a nutshell, sums up where we are today. The men of property are fiercely protecting their right to accumulate more and that is why we have someone like Tony Abbott as PM.

“For the continuance of large-scale development in the next 10 years we will need, above all, three things: – First, good average prices for wool; second, good seasons on the land; and third, a continued heavy inflow of overseas capital.”

If you substitute coal for wool we are singing from the same hymn book 55 years later. Tony’s tradies and Billson’s businesses are busily buying gadgets. Barnaby is building dams and giving drought assistance in classic agri-political pork-barrelling, and China is buying up the farms, mines, and prime residential real estate.

‘Morals, character and understanding’ remain irrelevant to ‘men of property’, social evolution is resisted, and social justice is scorned.

Like Tony, I was born in the 50s. Unlike Tony, I don’t want to remain there.


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  1. Michael Taylor

    It’s hard to believe that Tony Abbott was born in the 1950s.

    He possesses the colonial, supremist, born to rule mentality of the 1890s, yet he behaves like a stubborn, selfish ten year old.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Interestingly, the IPA review gives a warning

    At this point of time, the end of one decade and the beginning of a new, we would do well to take a good critical look at ourselves. Where are the sources of possible trouble? What are our shortcomings? A tendency to over-confidence, even to national swollen-headness may be one.

    “Of the perils of the soul among the most grievous are pride and certitude.”

  3. Anomander

    Good points Kaye. This need to constantly accumulate stuff and fill the gaping void in our lives is often referred to as Affluenza.

    This is the foundation of Tony’s beliefs – that the more stuff you have, the better-off you will be.

    Clive Hamilton wrote a solid book about this around a decade ago. http://clivehamilton.com/books/affluenza/

    Af-flu-en-za (n). 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

    Our houses are bigger than ever, but our families are smaller. Our kids go to the best schools we can afford, but we hardly see them. We’ve got more money to spend, yet we’re further in debt than ever before. What is going on?

    The Western world is in the grip of a consumption binge that is unique in human history. We aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the cost of family, friends and personal fulfilment. Rates of stress, depression and obesity are up as we wrestle with the emptiness and endless disappointments of the consumer life.

  4. bobrafto


    R u still in your jammies?

    It sort of occurred to me that you could be Australia’s answer to Hugh Hefner, just the jammy part.

    Interesting story.

  5. Kaye Lee

    It also plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Keeping a workforce in debt keeps them malleable and uncomplaining. You can’t risk losing your job when you have repayments to make.

    (And I must fess up, yes I am in my jammies, but Hugh Heffner has little to fear – I won’t be sharing the visual with the public)

  6. miriamenglish

    I am a child of the 1950s too. It certainly is not a time I’d like us to return to.

    I can’t understand why so many think it was so good back then — the era of the great double standard. I guess that’s why they want it back. It was a period when people refused to see that which they didn’t like and enthusiastically embraced the most attractive lie they were given. It was when advertising seemed to be a great thing instead a way of manipulating people into spending money they couldn’t afford to buy what they didn’t need in order to be like people they didn’t know.

    The only good thing I can think of is that it produced some good music, but then so has every age. The current time produces more music that is pure genius than the ’50s ever did.

  7. John Kelly

    The only good thing about the 50s was Elvis, Bill Haley and the fact that we finally left it behind.

  8. Roswell


  9. miriamenglish

    The folks at IPA collectively have rocks their heads. That is a very long bow to draw… gadgets and flourishing. It is hard to think of a sillier or more superficial way of examining life, society, and meaning. They truly are committed to evaluating every aspect of existence using money as the means of determining good. They really need to get out more. (And perhaps take less drugs.)

    Maybe we need PETA (the anti-cruelty organisation, not Ms Credlin) to break in to IPA offices, unchain those poor monkeys from their typewriters, and free them from their cages.

  10. Kaye Lee

    He did a triple somersault and when he hit the ground
    He winked at the audience and then he turned around
    He had a picture of Bob Menzies printed on his tie
    “I did but see her passing by but yet I’ll love her till I die”

  11. flohri1754

    Oh, and the Everly Brothers were in the 1950s ….. their song “Bowling Green” is one of my favorites …… but, like you, I was born in the 1950s and have no desire to return there …. Tony Abbott, I believe, would actually feel much more comfortable in the 1850s (and earlier). Even the 1950s is too progressive to make him feel “comfortable” ……

  12. bobrafto

    $A dips below US74c to hit six-year low

    RBA’s wish looks to be coming true as the Aussie dollar continues to decline.

    They were given 8.8B by Hockey when the rate was on par and one would imagine they invested in US dollars in view of driving down the aussie.

    I wonder how much Hockey’s wife creamed off in commissions.

    However what is the profit made here if that $8.8B of US dollars is converted to the aussie?

    It seems to me since most of our gadgets are imported the lower dollar will force up prices which might result in the dampening of sales and the question is are we chasing our tails driving down the dollar?

  13. bobrafto

    I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts and a hole in my bucket!

  14. Ann McGavin

    Back when child abuse was swept under the carpet, maybe that is why he is trying to take us back

  15. Kaye Lee

    Ahhhh …the good old 50s when laws controlled where many Indigenous people could live, where they could or couldn’t move and whom they could marry. The 50s when the Australian government authorised British nuclear tests on Anangu country. The 50s when indigenous people and women were not allowed in pubs. The 50s when most aborigines couldn’t even vote. The 50s when women had to resign when they got married. Wouldn’t Tony love to go back.

  16. Ann McGavin

    I think he has already sent Margie back there to get the 1950’s home ready. She is again missing in action. I just find it strange. She is our equivalent of a first lady but is never seen.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Even when they are together it seems so contrived. He is either dragging her around by the hand or she gets to walk behind as he holds hands with his daughters. I love my daughter dearly and we go a lot of places together. We never hold hands unless she’s pulling me up from a prone position.

  18. Karma is coming

    Just wondering why Tony’s parents did use a gadget – Oh that’s right Catholic!!
    Fish and chips on Friday night – boy do I miss that treat…

  19. Lee

    “Our houses are bigger than ever, but our families are smaller. Our kids go to the best schools we can afford, but we hardly see them. We’ve got more money to spend, yet we’re further in debt than ever before. What is going on?”

    Agreed Anomander, and it doesn’t just stop with the accumulation of stuff and debt. I live in a suburb that is undergoing intense “renewal” which is having quite an impact on the environment. Older houses are being knocked down, blocks divided and new houses being built with no gardens. There are many places in my neighbourhood where one barely has room to walk out the back door, turn around and walk back in again. We’re rapidly losing trees and birds as we destroy their habitat and we’re losing shade too. We have a combustion heater and all of our firewood is free (much of it obtained during our walks around the neighbourhood due to trees cut down and stuff being thrown out) and we have plants to shade the house from the afternoon summer sun, neither of which are being used in most modern homes. If we (total = 2) have a quarterly electricity bill of $250, we’ve been extravagant – and we live very comfortably, just without the need to buy a heap of stuff that we don’t need. Yet I know numerous people living in households of 2-3 people who have a quarterly electricity bill of $1000-$1500. I have a large garden yet our water consumption is far less than some people I know who don’t have a garden. I’m wondering just how much we have to screw up the environment before people start considering their levels of consumption.

  20. Kaye Lee

    When we had a carbon price, emissions went down. When we got rid of it, emissions went up. Why is this government so keen on price signals and user pays except when it comes to the environment?

  21. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, the environment is an innocent bystander. It just gets in the way of their targets.

  22. miriamenglish

    Michael is right. They simply don’t care about the environment. They see it as merely standing in the way of what they want. They probably think cities are more beautiful than rainforests; if you want to see a koala, a lion, or a puffin, or a dolphin, that’s what zoos are for; the environment is too big for us to truly damage; wimpy tree-huggers just overstate the problems; their god will always ensure we have enough of an environmental life-support; and even if we did fatally damage the environment we can alway engineer a solution. But most of all, they avoid thinking about the environment except in ways raping it can bring in more dollars.

    The USA Republicans are a great example of this mindset. Just look at how they are working hard to undo anti-pollution laws, clean air and clean water acts, and push to have all national parks mined and cut down. This is not hyperbole — it is actually what they’re trying to do. It is quite surprising, since Conservatives have traditionally been about conserving the past and not making radical changes. Unfortunately neo-conservatives seem to have something of a radical scorched earth policy. Especially worrying as the IPA and the LibNats get a lot of funding from the crazy neocons in USA.

  23. Lee

    The conservatives are going to be in for a big shock. They aren’t interested in promoting use of renewable energy sources and consumption of electricity continues to increase. The coal won’t last forever.

    Climate change will also hit the poor hardest. I watched a video a couple of weeks ago featuring Joseph Stiglitz and someone else I cannot remember, discussing this topic and its impact upon the poor.

  24. Roswell

    Lee, let’s hope that the first big shock is delivered with a thumping election loss.

  25. Harquebus

    Didn’t Hugh Heffner get around in the nude?

    I also am a relic from the late 50’s.
    As child in the 60’s, I could walk a straight line through open paddocks to school, about a mile, walk in safety through the surrounding bush and fish many holes along the local river. By the time I left primary school, those paddocks and bush were a developing housing estate. Now, my old playground is a fully developed suburb along with all the associated services and infrastructure and my old fishing holes are off limits. They are disgustingly polluted anyway and probably do not contain any fish.
    Some do but, I do not call it progress.

    The days of the IPA and their masters, the elites, are numbered. They have not factored physical limitations and that omission is now starting to cause them and us much grief.

    I think I have posted this before. Apologies if that is the case.
    It is a long read however, the excerpts give the gist of it.

    “In the empty world, the economy was small relative to the containing ecosystem, our technologies of extraction and harvesting were not very powerful, and our numbers were small. Fish reproduced faster than we could catch them, trees grew faster than we could harvest them, and minerals in the Earth’s crust were abundant.”
    “But the empty world has rapidly turned into a “full” world thanks to growth”
    “The concept of metabolic throughput in economics brings with it the laws of thermodynamics, which are inconvenient to growthist ideology.
    “In the past, the fish catch was limited by the number of fishing boats and fishermen. Now, it is limited by the number of fish and their capacity to reproduce.”
    “Our vision and policies should be based on an integrated view of the economy as a subsystem of the finite and non-growing ecosphere.”
    “Economic imperialism seeks to expand the boundary of the economic subsystem until it encompasses the entire ecosphere.”
    “This question of optimal macro scale is neither answered nor even asked by either neoclassical or Keynesian economics in their blind quest for growth.
    Ecological reductionism begins with the true insight that humans and markets are not exempt from the laws of nature.”
    “The Ultimate End, whatever it may be, cannot be growth.”

  26. Harquebus

    Thinking about it, it might have been Howard Hughes that got around in the nude.

  27. miriamenglish

    There must be some way to mobilise genuine conservatives against this radical change. Surely they’re not happy about this massive remodelling of our society.

    I think this is one of those rare situations where conservatives and progressives are natural allies against the dangerously radical neo-cons.

    We just need to find a way to reach them.

    It amazes me that the neo-cons are still at it. They tried it with Maggie Thatcher and it failed. They tried it with Reagan and it failed. They tried it with energy and Enron and others crashed and burned badly, shaking USA to the core. They tried it with the banks and collapsed the world’s economy. When the hell are they going to get the message? It’s weird. The worse they fail, the more intensely and fanatically they believe.

  28. totaram

    Miriamenglish: Please understand that every time there is a “crash”, it helps the richest 1% to buy up assets cheap. When the economy improves, they end up with an even larger share of the wealth. So the “failures” (as you call them) actually help them. That is why they try to make these failures happen again and again. It’s only us, the other 99% who don’t seem to learn and let the 1% get away with it. Witness the economic policies of both, coalition and Labor, which are so similar. Even Wayne Swan tried to deliver s budget surplus to show how good he was at “managing” the economy. Except in unusual circumstances, budget surpluses are followed by recessions, and if Hockey’s first budget had implemented all the cuts he wanted, we would have had one by now, even without Wayne’s surplus.

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