Towards the end of the 20th Century economists and demographers were promoted to ranks of public importance previously held by the church, as long as they fulfilled the church’s role, which is to prop up governments. All that demographers and economists did was crunch numbers and facilitate the passage of money by encouraging population growth, but, because of the prominence they were afforded by the corporate press, the public came to the misunderstanding that these were wise men.
Demographer Bernard Salt was an Australia 2020 Summit delegate in the Population, Water, Climate Change and Cities stream in 18-29 April 2008. (1)
This is what he calls a ‘big idea’:
He wants to ‘alter Australians’ concept of beauty from a verdant back yard to a desert rockery, so as to enable a population twice Australia’s current size.
Of course he doesn’t mention that this is the way he and his colleagues became rich and could become richer, and the reason that so many of the rest of us pay more for food, water, goods and housing already. Nor that more of the same will mean worsening conditions for the rest of us.
He presents this idea as one involving changing Australians’ perception of beauty. Although the sheer effrontery of engineering our perception, as if we were so many children and Mr Salt were an adult towering over us, is appalling in itself, it is what it conceals and removes from debate that is important.
Changing the national taste in what surrounds a house, would be a strange ambition if there were no reason for it. In fact there is a reason, but it won't benefit the average Australian. Mr Salt is working for people who want to fit another 20 or so million people into Australia in the next 50 years, and, for that, he must change the way we perceive value – or change the way that we are told we will perceive value, whether we like it or not.
He achieves this by simply downgrading the value of fertile soil to a flimsy aesthetic fashion statement, which he relegates to a symbol of the past with a questionable statement.
"Our values were forged in Surrey 220 years go and they have not changed."
He does not acknowledge the obvious, which is that verdant green will grow food and support livestock, hence ensuring at least a degree of independence for a family, as the cost of food and fuel spiral. Because he makes his statements from a position marketed as authorative, it becomes very hard for anyone on the receiving end to contradict them, silly as they are.
Reducing population growth and conserving such values would probably save Australians’ lives in the next 20 years.
But, to a politician looking for an idea to market to the electorate which will also please big business, swapping a vegetable garden and some fruit trees and a place for children and pets to play, for a couple of rocks and a cactus, seems smart. We know that the newspapers will support such an idea, because they are also in the land-speculation business.
Consider this ‘wisdom’:
[Salt writes:] “Two years ago, while driving through the suburbs of the desert city of Phoenix in the US, I immediately understood why it was possible for this city to have evolved from 250,000 residents to 4 million over 60 years.
The concept of suburban beauty is different in Phoenix.”
"They see an earth-toned adobe dwelling surrounded by a rock, scoria and cactus garden as beautiful, whereas we define suburban beauty as a separate house surrounded by a green lawn and verdant foliage. The Phoenicians have adopted values that reflect their environment; we haven't."
"If we could alter Australians' concept of suburban beauty, we could radically reduce our use of water …”(1), he writes. He might have added, but didn't, "...and bankers and developers could make a lot more money out of land whilst packing the rest of you in like chickens into batteries and charging the earth for rent and water."
Worse, in 2006, before the cost of oil went up so much, there was probably a big car parked outside those phonecian desert residences, indicating a little wealth besides their infertile plots, and a job to go to. Picture this in Australia in ten years, but without the car or the job.
I thought we elected government to protect us from this sort of predation.
In the words of King Crimson, “The fate of all mankind I see is in the hands of fools."
(1)Bernard Salt, “Nurturing big, better ideas for 2020”, the Australian, April 17, 2008