Sophie Cunningham’s recent article ‘Time to hear, read, review and award the words of women’ got me thinking, why are female writers overlooked, and more specifically, why are young, up-and-coming female writers largely disregarded? This concern was partly born out of my own experiences as a 23-year old Generation Y female when my counter-responses to highly topical pieces in the Murdoch press weren’t published.
The media is always encouraging younger generations to make a difference by getting involved, yet when they do often such efforts are still discounted. There seems to be two main reasons for the current age and gender inequalities within the publishing environment: the focus on commercialism and the author’s social position within society. The recent commercial success and celebrity recognition of journalist, writer and KPMG Partner, Bernard Salt’s latest book The Big Tilt is a case in point.
In The Australian, Salt recently published ‘It’s a delusion: You can’t reach an old dog with nude pics’ where he expressed mixed feelings about ‘Weinergate’. This term describes the plight of U.S. Democrat Congressman Anthony Weiner (now resigned) who was caught sending photographs of his…well, ‘weiner’ to various women. It seems that some U.S. columnists took a concept from Salt’s recent book The Big Tilt, that of ‘hotness delusion syndrome’, and applied it to the case of Weiner. There are 15 per cent more single women than men at the age of 44. This, Salt says, leads men of that age to delusions of grandeur, thinking that they are ‘hotter’ (i.e. physically more attractive) than they really are.
I read the passage in The Big Tilt describing ‘hotness delusion syndrome’. Assuming that Salt is presenting a text based on scientific research, rather than imaginative prose, I examined the book to find peer-reviewed psychological papers on this alleged ‘syndrome’. I found no such works cited. In fact Salt’s book has no footnotes and a selected bibliography of only two pages of 20 books, five of which are authored by Salt.
No scientific evidence is presented by Salt of the existence of the phenomenon of ‘hotness delusion syndrome’ other than research conducted by him. We simply don’t know if men in his age group do believe what Salt says they believe. It is supposition, pure and simple. Yet even if it were somehow true, the feminist in me questions why a woman would need to be validated by a relationship with a man anyway. Seminal Australian feminists such as Germaine Greer and Eva Cox have shown that you do not need a man to feel complete: there is nothing wrong with being single in your forties.
Interestingly, throughout ‘Weinergate’ there has been little discussion of Anthony Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin, a strong and courageous woman battering against the media storm. It is certainly noteworthy that she has not received any commissions from the various public figures making a quick buck out of her personal heartache and humiliation. I suppose anything’s validated if it means celebrity mentions and publishing success. Meanwhile, scholarly works with ‘boring’ subject matter but more appropriate content like population growth and peak oil are largely ignored.
Salt is described as a ‘demographer’ in The Australian and some journalists have described him as a ‘leading demographer’. As far as I have been able to ascertain Salt does not have a PhD in demography, a specialised social science, nor does he have an extensive publication record of peer-reviewed scholarly articles in leading international demographic journals making him a peer of say Professor Graeme Hugo at the University of Adelaide or Dr. Bob Birrell of Monash University. This is not to discard Salt’s work. It does mean that we should be particularly careful to seek evidential backing for all of The Big Tilt’s assertions.
Salt is well known for his articles in The Australian defending ‘Big Australia’ which he defines as 36 million people by 2051 (180,000 annual net overseas migration) against a smaller Australia of 29 million (70,000 annual net overseas migration). In fact, modeling by Monash University’s Centre for Population, on the assumption that migration levels, fertility and life expectancy continue at the 2010 rate, yield a figure of 42 million by 2050.
According to Salt, large-scale immigration is necessary for two reasons. The first is to ameliorate the ageing of the population. This argument is repeated in the book, but with no scientific proof. There are no references to modeling and no first-hand modeling conducted by Salt. The consensus in demography is that immigration does little to offset demographic ageing, primarily because immigration and fertility do not have equivalent impacts on the population structure. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics with a net overseas migration of 50,000 per year, the median age of the population in 2051 would be 47.2 years and with a net overseas migration of 150,000 per year, the median age only falls 2.6 years to 44.6 years. Immigration, contrary to Salt, does not solve the problem of demographic ageing.
Salt’s other argument for ‘Big Australia’ is that a population of 29 million does not have an adequate tax base to ‘fund the retirement of baby boomers who dutifully paid tax throughout their working lives in the expectation that they would receive sufficient funding to live their later years with dignity’ (p. 20). With this we come to the crunch of things: we need a big tax base to continue to give the baby boomer generation a good life. Writing from the perspective of a 23-year old Generation Y female, who like most people my age group, face uncertainty in employment, I am not sympathetic. Baby boomers lived through the good times and should by retirement have enough superannuation to live in dignity. No doubt, most of the ‘me generation’ will continue to cling to their jobs even after they pass age 65.
From a social scientific perspective, Salt does not substantiate his tax base argument. He neither shows that a population of 29 million is inadequate, or that a population of 36 million is adequate. That of course relates just to the tax base, let alone considerations of the economic and ecological costs of a larger population. There are no cost/benefit analyses conducted.
As a sample of Salt’s reasoning consider his conclusion reached about the high U.N. projection of a world population of 36 billion at the end of the 22nd century, one of a number of population projection scenarios. Salt says: ‘It’s fair to say the Australian continent is most likely to be commandeered, and not necessarily by our foes. But this outlook is unlikely to eventuate because so great will be the global pressure on resources that the four horsemen of the apocalypse will most surely intervene – war, pestilence, disease and famine – to bring humanity back into line’ (p. 272). In this passage, Salt is departing from the Julian Simon/Matt Ridley techno-economic optimism that sees no limits to growth and celebrates human population expansion because more people mean more problem-solvers.
Dick Smith’s Population Crisis puts the case that ecological limits are much lower than 36 billion and in fact, there is evidence that the world, and Australia is already approaching limits. Obviously Dick Smith is no more within my demographic than Bernard Salt: he is also a businessman, not a professionally trained scientist. However unlike Salt, Smith endeavours to support his view with six pages of footnoted references to scholarly and scientific works.
My position on the population issue is one of agreement with Dick Smith and I have detailed this in my online book Sleepwalking to Catastrophe. It may not have the same potential for commercial success as ‘hotness delusion syndrome’ but by advocating environmental change to provide for future generations, at least it has monumental importance. Top that, Bernard Salt. The subtitle of The Big Tilt is What Happens When the Boomers Bust and the Xers and Ys Inherit the Earth. In the interest of intergenerational fairness, I a 23-year old Generation Y female would be pleased to publicly debate Salt on these issues.