A column about bananas

Paul Keating once warned that Australia risked becoming a banana republic. While this dire prediction has not come to pass – John Howard’s political nous having scuppered the republic, just as it scuppered Keating himself – the former half of his warning has just been vindicated. While we aren’t exactly a tinpot military dictatorship, our economy does seem to be worryingly dependent on bananas. And recently, it hasn’t exactly been smoothie sailing. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

I don’t understand the complex macroeconomic relationships that the Reserve Bank takes into account when they determine monetary policy – I have enough trouble just doing my tax returns – so I don’t know to what extent the banana crisis has pulpily trickled down into other areas of the economy. But we all know that Cyclone Larry devastated Queensland’s banana crop, meaning that not only has my local cafe has whacked a $2 surcharge on banana splits, but interest rates just went up. So not only have the repayments on my shiny, probably foolhardy new mortgage gone up for the second time since I got it a few months ago, but I can’t even afford to cheer myself up with a delicious banana-based sugary treat. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound.

And that’s why you should support the many reputable advertisers in The Glebe, incidentally. I need this column, folks, and without it, I may have to resort to crime – dealing hydroponic bananas, for instance.

Is this how people in New Orleans felt post-Katrina? Well, not really, no. My home is still dry, and I haven’t been left to starve by the US Government. But I bet I know exactly how people with a very loose economic relationship with New Orleans who were marginally inconvenienced by Katrina’s flow-on fiscal effects felt.

Then there are petrol prices. I don’t really understand how they’ve impacted on interest rates either, I’m afraid. Read a credible columnist if you want actual ‘analysis’ like that. All I know is that being hit by higher rates and petrol prices at the same time is a pretty painful double whammy for middle Australia. I’d worry if I was John Howard. Okay, that’s not completely credible. I’d worry if I was John Howard and not running against Kim Beazley.

The problem we have is that affluence is addictive. We’re used to luxuries like being able to drive wherever we want and eat bananas whenever we want. And we resent being asked to compromise on anything. George Bush said that “the American way of life is non-negotiable” in rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, and that’s why no-one in America would dream of giving up their gas-guzzling Hummers for a hybrid. (Still fewer are getting hybrid Hummers, like Arnold Schwarzenegger did.)

Even though American greenies are trying to equate reducing fuel consumption with national security – which you have to do with everything in the US, of course – no-one is giving any credence to the argument. Which is a shame, because the conclusion that America should reduce its dependence on oil because it gives the Middle East enormous leverage over it is almost obvious as the conclusion that the war in Iraq was kind of a dumb idea. The same self-defeating attitude pervades – to a less arrogant degree, admittedly – in Australia.

With the cost of living spiralling out of control, we are going need to tighten our belts a little. Not as much as we need to loosen them thanks to the obesity crisis, admittedly. But just as the banana shortage has forced us to resort to alternative forms of fruit, we’re going to have to start using alternative forms of transport. Public transport isn’t so bad. Well actually, it is, but we need to start using it and investing in it anyway. Whether we like it or not, our way of life will have to be negotiable.

So – pear split, anyone? We can walk it off afterwards.