Thursday, May 14, 2009

The gospel according to Seasick Steve

St Larrikin's aims for zeitgeist, hits passerby instead by Pants

My water bill came. It’s $176.00.

The cost breakdown is as follows:-

$6.00 – water usage

$170.00 – standing charges

I phoned the water company (note : water company as opposed to water authority. Could someone please remind me of a single reason why anyone ever thought that privatising essential services was anything other than criminally insane),

Me : Surely this charge can’t be right.

WC: Oh yes (with rather more relish than is strictly tasteful). You’re in a remote area and it costs more to deliver the water there than it does in the city.

Me : But I live next door to a lake. Doesn’t the city get its water from us?

Like most things nowadays, it falls apart when subjected to a rudimentary sense test but satisfies the broad customer service definition of ‘explanation’ from the corporate point of view. I believe the first principle is tell them anything that will convince them to go away. It did nothing for my mood to discover the five brochures on water-saving measures accompanying this joke bill. Rest assured I’ll be taking very long showers from now on. Logic dictates that if I’m spending all this money getting water delivered to my house, then I ought to make it worth my while by using some of it. That’s just good economics, innit?

Our local godpod, St Larrikin’s, recently raised the inspirational sign above. You wouldn’t have had to venture far out of your shell to recognise it as a paraphrase of Boxcar Willie clone Seasick Steve’s recession ditty, ‘I started out with nothing (and I still got most of it left)’. In its zeal to squeeze its frumpy old frame into the zeitgeist, St Larrikin’s has mangled both the spirit and the syntax of this song. Let us pray that the good burghers of Larrikin’s End don’t ever discover Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called ‘Hallelujah’.

Seriously, the economic theory encapsulated in Seasick Steve’s simple shanty could form the basis of post-recession thinking. As the value of cash assumes the shelf-life of a muffin, surely the less money you have, the better off you are. If you have any money at all in the present economic environment, you have to be concerned that it will be worth so little that you might end up having to pay someone to take it off your hands. I’m not quite sure how that would work. Perhaps you’d have to pay in turnips. I hope it’s turnips.

The Australian Government delivered its budget yesterday. There’s an immediate deficit of $57 billion and an estimated red hole of $200 and something billion over the projected course of this negative fiscal cycle. Why this seems so terrible to everyone is a mystery to me. Government debt is not the same as personal debt. It’s not like a bailiff is going to show up at Government House and remove all the Queen Anne occasional tables. In a recession, what tends to happen is someone finally notices schools and hospitals are about to disintegrate and decides now might be a good time to do something about it. I never got why a government gloats about its ability to accumulate a surplus. We give it our money to spend on our needs. So, why the inference that it’s all much more complicated?

The previous Coalition administration was very proud of its surplus and is now infuriated at the perceived squandering of it. A national treasury is no more than a cash account and is subject to the same vagaries of the free market economy as yours or the Pants savings is. Now all the surplus money that wasn’t spent on schools and hospitals when it could and should have been has been wiped off the slate. It’s best to spend it while you have it – a stitch in time and all that.

National debt in a country like Australia is a bit like a mortgage. You pay it off over thirty years and it’s just another thing you spend your money on. You don’t really notice it until it’s paid off and you’ve got money for holidays. It’s a shame you’re too old to enjoy holidays now that you can afford one. The opposition is moaning that everyone’s children and grandchildren will be saddled with a debt burden from the current borrowings as if some scruffy debt collector with a dirty suit and an iron bar will be waiting at the school gates to relieve them of their iPods in lieu of payment. Britain was still servicing its World War II debt until three years ago. It made absolutely no difference to the quality of citizens’ lives. Most of us didn’t even know about it until the media marked the occasion with a news item.

The less money you have when a recession hits, the less you have to lose. These days I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. No loans and no contracts, in fact no commitments of any kind. Not even a credit card. I wouldn’t mind a bit ofwork but I can get by on my student allowance if I don’t eat or go to the movies and only buy ex-library books at 25c each. At least I feel confident to splash out on water now. If I could find a way to turn it into wine, I'd be laughing. Seasick Steve seems to know how to do that, perhaps I should ask him.

On the subject of work – has anyone noticed the number of feasibility studies that exist for so called ‘tele-working’ opportunities? Uh-huh? And have any of you ever come across an actual tele-working job in your travels? Didn’t think so. If you should happen upon such vocational gold dust, please email me. I’m very diligent when it comes to lying in bed with my laptop.