Rock star role feels like small change

21:40, Feb 09 2014
REALITY CHECK: Lorde is trying to tell us something, but are we listening?

Reports out over the last month announce New Zealand will be "the rock star economy of 2014." As if to confirm this prediction, New Zealand's own Lorde then wins record of the year and best pop solo performance at the Grammys. The news and music to our ears is pure heroin.

Hallelujah! It's summer and the sun is out. The kids are back at school. New Zealand is the place to be. We're hot and young and hip. We're rock stars man. Life is sweet.

So why do I feel so flat?

Why can't I just thank the Lord and congratulate Lorde, and thank our government and our economic governors for all the good news and just work on a tan? Chill out Russell I hear you say. Don't over think it man. We're rock stars.

I should be jumping for joy. I know I should. And still . . . something just isn't right.

I've got this nagging feeling things aren't right because the economic pain we've gone through over the last six or more years should have seen change. Real change.


Politically, socially and morally we should have been making big changes. Change with a capital ‘C'. Not the small change we've been fiddling with in our pockets.

I want change. I don't want revolution, but I do want evolution and I haven't seen it. If we are to experience a rock star economic year in 2014, I know I can kiss further evolution goodbye.

If we have a rock star year what will come of the economic inequality debate? Will the still hot housing market correct itself? Will rampant consumerism be replaced by more sustainable endeavours?

Will we have adjusted our sights as to what a good life is? Or will we just strap ourselves back into the rollercoaster ready to rock star boom before we rock star bust? Are we gearing up for another overdose?

What is happening with our work/life balances? Is technology freeing up our lives and giving us more leisure? Somewhere along the line that was supposed to happen.

Didn't we all grow up being fed the line we'd work less in the future and robots and technology would work for us? The robots and technology are here. Now what?

Those lucky enough to have decent jobs are working longer and harder than ever. In Japan they call it Karoshi - where a person works themselves to death, and in New Zealand we seem overly keen to play the same game.

It's the overemployment/underemployment paradigm. Surely there's a simple solution. If we halve the hours a person works, can't we just double the number of people in employment to end up with the same output? Too simple?

As for overpriced housing, a rock star year just isn't going to help. The prime minister was asked this week if he could live off a minimum wage. He didn't answer the question and he doesn't need to. The answer is yes, he could. That's because he owns his own house.

Mucking about with minimum hourly rates is pointless if housing and land costs continue to grow as fast as they have over the last 10 to 15 years. That's where the money goes. For too long it has left little else in most people's pockets. Only the banks and those with multiple homes have gained.

And mentally what sort of shape are we in? Depression and anxiety are turning into monster issues in our society. Why? What is the future going to look like if we keep tracking in this direction?

We're never going to front up to these or a multitude of other complex generational problems if we have a rock star year in 2014.

We'll forget the pain that set in around 2007 with the start of the GFC. We'll find the nearest carpet, lift it up, sweep it all under, then go off to dance like the rock stars we are supposed to be.

But the rock star economy of 2014 looks more like an ageing glam rock star to me. It's great fun to listen and dance to, but there's little substance past the sequins and makeup. And make no mistake - that's a pair of socks stuffed down the front of those skin tight flares.

Lorde's songs reflect an alternative view to what success is. As she sings in Royals: "We don't care/ We aren't caught up in your love affair/ We crave a different kind of buzz".

There's a damn smart 17-year-old girl trying to tell us something. Perhaps we should listen.