Alison Pennington’s concise examination of Australia’s dysfunctional economy does not intend to provoke rage as much as it attempts to incite positive change. However, this book functions as a means to both ends in its deconstruction of problems, and selection of potential solutions.
Pennington – who is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at La Trobe University – is an economist, writer and media commentator who has researched inequality. She recognises that the Australian concept of the ‘fair go’ has given way to insecure gig-work, overcrowded share houses and a punitive social welfare system that isn’t fit for purpose. There are few opportunities for genuine advancement for the majority of Australians in the world as it stands today.
From corporations exploiting cheap labour to the false promises of the free market, Pennington reveals the impact of neoliberal treachery on gender equality, fertility rates, housing stability, mental health and Australia’s precarious future.
‘We’re ensnared in a machine stuck allocating resources in the “now” and on the “high inequality” setting. It’s not hard to see how neoliberalism’s capacity to corrode long-term thinking fails youth, who face crippling uncertainty about their future and enough years to live with the consequences. After all, young people exist in the future, when many of you won’t.’Alison Pennington, Generation F’d?
Clearly explained in layman’s terms, and backed with solid research, Gen F’d? exposes several nasty habits of neoliberalism, including (but not limited to) the monopolisation of credit provision, the unethical forces media and corporations exert on Australian politics, and the tendency to blame oppressed people for their imposed lack of privilege. Pennington pinpoints the true origin points of poverty, illness, violence and unemployment in the context of systematic oppression.
She also reveals the terrible truth behind upwards wealth distribution disguised as trickle-down economics, and unpacks the burden this places on Australia’s highly educated but grossly underemployed youth.
Youth – as far as Gen F’d? is concerned – includes anyone born in or after the 1980s, a take that is either refreshing or depressing, depending on one’s own precarity and future outlook. But Gen F’d? isn’t solely for those particular humans facing a greenwashed future of unprecedented inflation and life-long renting; this is a book for all people.
Pennington touches on the social realities of modern life, and speaks out against identity-based solidarity by showing how effectively the practice restricts political participation and de-emphasises actual problem solving. For example, she shows how the packaging of social class as an aspect of identity, rather than as a reinforcing tool of systemic oppression, obfuscates issues and impedes legitimate progress.
‘Identifying every conceivable permutation of disadvantage and discrimination, and one’s valid position in relation to it, has exhausted young people. The practice has paralysed action, as people defer to privilege such that they become tiny and no longer agents. But there’s also so much to harness here. A generation of emotionally intelligent and reflective people has emerged, and they have the building blocks to turn that awareness into action.’Alison Pennington, Generation F’d?
Building to a hopeful crescendo, Pennington cites inspiring historical examples of Australian economic agency, and provides a number of actionable suggestions – some obvious, others more novel – intended to create movements towards political change. Combining personal experience with foresight and research, Pennington underlines the importance of hope, innovation and unionisation in the context of solutions-based thinking.
Gen F’d? – the fifth book in the Crikey Read series from Crikey and Hardie Grant Books – provides a compact but informative analysis of economic mechanisms, social change and individual agency. Although Gen F’d? will resonate with Australians of all ages, it will be a particularly illuminating read for Australian youth, who possess the collective potential to escape the neoliberal capitalist quagmire by revolutionising Australia’s economy.
Gen F’d? By Alison Pennington
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
Pages: 144 pp
Release Date: 8 March 2023