Sweetness & Light

What to Heed, Who to Ignore

thai eateryEverybody fantasises at one time or another about possessing super-human powers. Most are predictable: invisibility, the power of flight, becoming Prime Minister despite a complete absence of political skill, and so on.

The greatest real-life super-human power, of course, is the simple ability to read market indicators and be one step ahead of them. This will make you rich. Tragically, it’s a power I don’t possess, which is why my retirement plans involve a shipping container, milk crates and lots of rabbit traps.

A Melbourne mate, however, does possess this ability, which he discovered by accident some decades ago after buying a small house in one of his city’s then-unfashionable western suburbs. A few years later, because his family expanded and he needed a larger place, my friend decided to sell.

To his great surprise, despite having not even repaired the joint, let alone renovated it—there were holes in the floor, for God’s sake—the place sold for massively more than he’d paid. Because he’d been so busy working and helping raise his kids, he hadn’t noticed his suburb quickly becoming gentrified. A key sign: the local burger-and-chips takeaway had given way to a nice Thai restaurant.

So now my mate had enough cash to buy a better house plus an additional investment property. He began hunting through even less fashionable suburbs, this time searching for evidence of Thai restaurant outbreaks. The moment one emerged, he’d buy, then go hunting for further bargains. This was during the early 1990s, before Thai restaurants became a by-word for gentrification. My friend was, as they say, ahead of the curve.

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Obviously, he does have to live with a lifelong awareness of terrible Thai restaurant naming puns (“Thai Tanic”, “Live and Let Thai”, “Thai Beerius”, “Suit & Thai”, and, for all I know, “Thai Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”) but that’s more than compensated for by his lucrative, early-retirement-enabling property empire.

Positive real estate market indicators are easier to pick elsewhere in Australia. In New South Wales, for example, it’s basically a matter of finding some place with a postcode beginning with two, provided you’ve also got a bank balance ending with six zeroes. At some places on the northern New South Wales coast old fibro shacks are now selling for upwards of a million. My future shipping container dwelling might be less affordable than I’d hoped.

Restaurants can also provide broader economic information. Anyone wishing to gauge the financial health of the southern US need not bother chewing through reams of data from Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and the like. A simple check of Shoney’s will do.

Shoney’s is a Dixiefied version of Denny’s or any number of US diner chains. How southern is it? Well, the menu features—along with your standard array of burgers and steaks—such tasty fare as catfish and shrimp ’n’ grits. I can vouch for the quality, but moreover can vouch for Shoney’s status as an economic bellwether.

When times are good down south, Shoney’s thrives. In 1998 the chain ran more than 1000 stores throughout thirty-four US states. Two years later Shoney’s filed for bankruptcy before being refinanced by new ownership. That didn’t help much, with outlets shrinking to just 282 by 2007. At around that time, notes began appearing on Shoney’s menus pleading for patrons to take it easy at the all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Customers did as they were asked, because southerners are affectionate towards their local businesses and understood just how close Shoney’s was running to the margins. “Breakfast at Shoney’s at $2.99,” sang alt-rockers Ween on their one-off 1996 country album, 12 Golden Country Greats. “Saved me some money and eased up my mind.” Happily, matters have lately eased up for Shoney’s, currently operating in sixteen states and again looking to grow. When next you’re in the US, look for a Shoney’s and experience a southern revival.

The trick with economic indicators is to look beyond immediate impressions. During the same period the south was in a slump, the US capital of Washington DC was building up and becoming wealthier by the day. Superficially, these were positive signs. It’s always good when a city is generating thousands of high-paying jobs, right?


DC’s growth was driven by the expansion of government under President Barack Obama, who in just eight years managed to double the US debt to more than $20 trillion. In other words, Obama’s administration took a mere two terms to double the debt accumulated by the US during the previous 240 years—and DC’s sudden spurt in riches was a by-product of that reckless, destructive spending.

Judging the economic fortunes of the US by examining DC’s wealth would be like calculating North Korea’s financial health by checking Kim Jong-un’s bank account.

A similar situation emerged in Canberra during Labor’s ruinous years in power. As Australia sank further into debt, Canberra lived large. “Employment in the ACT’s public sector has exploded by 30 per cent in six years, far outstripping the other states and territories,” the Canberra Times reported in 2013. “The territory government wages bill has grown by $685 million in the same period, blowing out by $110 million each year. New Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the ACT’s public sector grew by more than three times the combined national average for state governments and local councils.” At one stage Labor’s Climate Change Department—housed in Canberra’s fancy new Nishi building—was sucking down $218 million per year. Economic strength in the public sector is often matched by economic weakness in other areas. Spending all of our money will tend to do that.

Still, Thai restaurants remain a symbol of progress, a talisman for hope. The late, great Bill Leak’s happiest years were his last, spent in the company of his adored wife Goong. He’d fallen in love with her the first time they met—in her Thai restaurant.


LOOKING BACK, it might have been one of the first great delusional protest movements of the current era. It was conceived in bitterness, based on error, and sought to sow panic where no panic need be sown.

Tellingly, and as a sign of things to come, the fact that the outcome utterly refuted the protest’s premise had no impact whatsoever on the protesters or their approach to various subsequent causes. They simply shifted to new issues, using identical tone and strategies.

In the mid-1990s, Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett had commenced a plan to rebuild his state, which had been broken by years of increasingly hidebound and ideological Labor governments. One element of this plan was to load the calendar with at least one major event per month as tourism lures.

A gap existed in that calendar between the Australian Open tennis championships and the first round of the AFL season. Kennett and his team filled the gap with the Australian Formula One Grand Prix, audaciously stolen from Adelaide, where it had been run every year since 1985.

This should have been a moment for Melbourne to rejoice. Very few cities on earth are granted hosting rights for such a massive show. Instead, leftist elements rose up in fury. The race would destroy its public park venue, they claimed. It would cause nearby houses to crumble to the ground. It would lead to deaths on our roads as young men emulated their racing heroes.

Melbourne’s Fairfax broadsheet, the Age, led the opposition. On reflection, this may have been an early indicator of Fairfax’s eventual pathway to oblivion, to be achieved any time now through closure, disassembly or sale.

The hysteria surrounding the prospective Grand Prix was impressive, even by the shrieking standards of Melbourne’s always-anxious Marx-and-macchiato community. Preparations for the race involved removing some scrubby old elms, so protesters actually held a funeral for them. People wept. A movement called Save Albert Park—chiefly run by local residents who enjoyed using the place as their personal dog-walking venue—won extensive coverage from the Age and the ABC.

It was all very apocalyptic. And then, in 1996, the first Grand Prix was held. And nothing bad happened at all.

In fact, the event was a brilliant triumph. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the weekend, which was blessed by sunny skies and close racing. As for saving Albert Park, that was accomplished too, with the construction of new parkland buildings available for use all year round.

Just about every anti-progress campaign of the last twenty years in Australia has followed the Albert Park template. Climate change, fracking, mining, controlling our borders—protests against all of them feature the same dishonesty and misinformation as seen in Melbourne back in the 1990s.

One difference is that, unlike Kennett, current state and federal governments pay attention to and accommodate their enemies. They should take a lesson from recent history by reviewing the great Albert Park panic and considering how matters concluded.

When certain types insist something will go disastrously wrong, it invariably turns out just fine.

7 thoughts on “What to Heed, Who to Ignore

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    Good stuff, Tim, I like your style and love your wit. More please.
    I can only add what I posted recently on a thread by John O’Sullivan :-
    The basic divide in society is now between the wealth producers of society and the wealth consumers and wealth manipulators. The wealth producers tend to live in country/rural areas and in the outer suburbs of bigger cities where they consist of the ‘sleeves rolled up’/blue collar types. The wealth consumers/manipulators live in the central city areas and consist mainly of bureaucrats, administrators, media types and academics, and ‘students, and welfare recipients. Malcolm Turnbull is a wealth manipulator, not a wealth creator. I will not publicly pass judgment on Shorten for legal reason, but he certainly is not a wealth creator.
    This societal divide showed up vividly in last years POTUS election in their voting ‘patterns’/areas. The bulk of people who voted for Trump were from the wealth producing areas of the US, i.e. rural areas and the outer suburbs of bigger regional cities. About 83% of individual counties voted for Trump. Clinton won only in the bigger cities, i.e. the wealth consuming areas and areas dominated by bureaucratic ‘elites’ and welfare recipients. These were concentrated on the west coast [known in the US as the ‘left’ coast] i.e mainly California, and the North-Eastern States such as New York and Massachusetts.
    We have similar patterns here, the rural [wealth producing] areas vote National, LNP [or even One Nation]. The wealth consuming/re-distributing sectors are confined to the Inner Cities and vote GREEN, and are also concentrated in the welfare dependent sections of society in poorer rural and suburban areas where they vote LABOR.

    • ian.macdougall says:

      We have similar patterns here, the rural [wealth producing] areas vote National, LNP [or even One Nation]. The wealth consuming/re-distributing sectors are confined to the Inner Cities and vote GREEN, and are also concentrated in the welfare dependent sections of society in poorer rural and suburban areas where they vote LABOR.

      Ever heard of the international division of labour?
      The final producer in the inevitably long production chain for any product is not the only producer involved.
      Without the machines, and the tools and machines used to produce those machines by city and town-dwellers, and the staff in their company offices who help supply and pay them, (some of whom are possibly into latte-drinking, and concerned about climate change) the minerals don’t get mined or shipped; the wheat does not get sown, or for that matter harvested. And it is very hard to see where such a production chain ‘ends’.
      Just one example out of a possible horde of them: without the bureaucrats responsible for setting up and policing quarantine, including checking all inbound passengers at airports) we probably would not have been able to keep this country free of such diseases as foot and mouth, and to keep exporting beef in the volume we do. And I am personally involved in that trade.
      It’s a very long chain.

      • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

        Thanks Ian, I have heard of the division of labour, Adam Smith wrote about it over two centuries ago. It is/was the major factor in the development of capitalism and it enabled/formed modern civilisation with its high standard of living.
        I too was involved in beef exports, our family farm produced beef for the EEC market till I/we sold it. We had 23 different ‘vegetation management’ to comply with, none of which helped the ‘environment’, but all of which helped make our property and our neighbours less economically viable. None of the huge plethora of administrators/inspectors/officers was or is in any way a wealth producer or in any way assisted in wealth production.

        • ian.macdougall says:

          None of the huge plethora of administrators/inspectors/officers was or is in any way a wealth producer or in any way assisted in wealth production.

          Is that right?
          We have had very valuable planning and construction supervision of the farm watering system from Conservation and Land Management. Necessary, as the private contractor we engaged was inclined to cut corners. But the ‘non wealth-producing bureaucrats’ were on our side. They drew up the plans, specified the diameter and type of pipe to use (about 20 km of it), and we have had no trouble with the system since: save the usual problems of valves etc wearing out over the years. Very much to our benefit, as it was all new territory for us.

  • Jody says:

    I think we can only celebrate the demise of Fairfax. An activist rag like “The Guardian”: creates victims and keeps them in that position. The ultimate control and with useful idiots for readers who have outsourced their thinking to these marxists. They exist in a tiny little pool and each eats the others’ ****. Anyway, that’s how it has been described to me by an ‘insider’. Anyway, this performance nicely encapsulates the smug readership of Fairfax:


  • David Barnes says:

    Lifters and Leaners.

  • Jody says:

    And now Fairfax and the ABC are earnestly on the case of chasing men who’ve sexually ‘harassed’ women in the media. Names will be called out and victims will come forward in droves who are complaining about Don Burke, but it won’t stop there. Tracy Spicer is compiling her list of ‘names’ from the late 80s onwards. Kangaroo court.

    What none of these list makers is intelligent enough to realize is CONTEXT. Touching a woman’s bottom, making sexually explicit innuendos…these, and more, were all part of the popular culture largely approved of by the community up until the mid to late 90s. Remember “Are You Being Served?” with Mrs. Slocum and her ‘pussy’ and countless other foul jokes with women very complicit in the gags. That was just the tip of the popular culture iceberg and there were lewd pop songs about “f***ing your mother”. All of these things gave everybody the impression that sex was something to be traded, laughed about, thrown about loosely and wantonly. Everybody agreed and the tabloid media up until comparatively recently had topless girls on page 3. This was the era just prior to Don Burke but by no means the end of lewd popular culture. I’m appalled by the double standards and hypocrisy of ‘victims’ coming forward who were themselves part of that culture and who laughed at “Alvin Purple” films.

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