|We’re just near that little Rottnest Island in the middle.
I read an American (he’s in Wisconsin) photography blog every day and the author put up a quite personal item a few days ago about houses, mortgages, credit and living in the USA. I found it fascinating and started to respond by email, then had second thoughts when I realised I wasn’t really talking about the same topics.
But I think it’s worth posting what I wrote:
I’m in Oz and many Australians use the term “the Lucky Country” here in a self-congratulatory way, but it was actually coined (by Donald Horne) as irony, meaning things just fell in our laps. It’s not all luck, but this dry, dessicated, mineral rich, harsh country treats us well, provided we treat it well. For most of us here, it is pretty easy to do well.
I’m 65 and retired now, and I have been since I took a voluntary redundancy payout from my job as an electronics technician at age 52. Yes, I have not had to work since late 1999, and I’ve lived well: it’s been easy. Why? Because I had a secure, fairly well paid job* (electronics technician*). I bought my first house in 1982 with a fairly small saved deposit, sold it after renovating it for three years and bought my present house later in 1986 in a sort of distressed sale but in a top area. “Worst house in the best street.” Boy, it paid off.
I cleared my mortgage in 11 years by paying a bit more each month than I had to (ie by paying 26 fortnightly payments rather than 12 monthly ones), plus making extra payments very occasionally. I’ve seen its value increase x11 fold since 1986!
When I was made redundant in 1999, I had zero debt, because I was always careful not to go into deep debt. My payout plus my savings saw me through to age 65 and now I get the Age Pension which will see me through to my grave. It’s not quite enough to live on with my beer tastes, but my father lived on it. It can be done. I have other money to supplement it, but the pension is good.
Australia is nowhere near as wealthy as America, as you know, but it’s easy to do OK here, especially now. I have some US friends of (a bit younger age) but they are not doing nearly as well, and I don’t quite understand why. I think it’s because they never got a solid qualification in some vocation, instead, working at a variety of less skilled jobs.
Especially at this time of massive global wealth disruption, Australia is cruising. We never had a recession in 2008/9. Our housing market didn’t crash. Unemployment is less than 6% and falling. We had GDP growth of about 3.5% last year and my state, Western Australia, is booming. Unemployment is less than 3.5%, growth is about 6% and employers are in despair at being unable to get workers – in fact labour shortages are stopping our growth.
Yes, it’s not all good: cost of living is high, accommodation is scarce, youth crime is bad, drugs are just as much a problem as anywhere else, etc etc. But generally, we are doing OK.
Sorry to crow, but we have universal top quality free health care (by an income levy, of course), excellent pharmaceutical benefits (my prescriptions cost $5.80 each), and no-one need fear falling ill or being out of work for a prolonged period. The dole doesn’t stop (provided you play by the rules, keep looking for work and take jobs when they’re offered.) If you’re sick or disabled, you’ll be OK. You will get the care you need. We generally don’t have beggars on the streets, unlike America.
We have reasonable tax rates (tax-free threshold is $18,200, then 19% for each dollar over that to $37,000 etc etc.) The average wage is about $1400 pw (approx. $70,000pa). The housing loan interest rate is 6.8% and falling. Banks have money to lend and there’s no such thing as, what’s it called, “lock up and leave”? — mailing the keys back to the bank and losing your equity if you can’t keep your payments up? If you have to sell up, which can happen, you don’t lose your equity.
We don’t allow guns, nor do we worship them. You can own guns, but you have to jump through hoops and prove to the police that you have a good reason to own one. No-one can carry a gun except the police and armoured car guards. We don’t need bank guards.
We also don’t kill people. We banned capital punishment decades ago and we don’t kill people just because we don’t like them or their government, or because we want revenge.
We don’t attack other countries. We don’t feel we have the right to invade other countries. Yes, we’re in Afghanistan and were in Iraq and Vietnam and Korea with the US, but that’s because we were supporting America. Other countries don’t hate Australia as they do America, except for our association with America.
And shock, horror, voting is compulsory in Australia. You don’t have to actually vote – no-one sees whether you do or not, but you do have to attend the polling booth and be counted off or cop a $20 fine, that’s all. It’s not hard.
*All I had to do was get a good qualification (by putting in the hours at tech college and getting my Diploma) when I was young, and do my job well. I was lucky to be bright and have generally good health, but the rest fell into place. A few years ago I could call myself a millionaire in assets and savings (in fact, I even have a share of a luxury villa in Bali), but I’m just an ordinary tech! It wasn’t that hard.
So with all America’s wealth, all America’s population, all America’s skills, talent, resources, why is life so tough in America for so many people? Australia is not as wealthy, but the wealth we have is spread so much more evenly. Yes, there are poor people here, but nowhere near as dirt poor as in the USA, that hugely wealthy country. I don’t understand America.