- Could I have a new crystal ball? (…) I ask it, ‘Why are Australian house prices doing so well when interest rates have risen so much? Why haven’t expensive share markets weakened? Why are investors behaving as if we didn’t face some of the worst geopolitical risks in years?’
- I’d really like a train set. You brought me one in Dublin when I was little: do you recall? Hornby (...) Governments should be putting in more trains, and all the other infrastructure we’re going to need, but they’re not.
- And finally, if it’s not too much, I’d like some vouchers I could give to my friends in politics, to take up one of those online economics courses you can do these days.
First of all, could I apologise for some of my economist colleagues. Up at the North Pole you may not have had time to follow everything that’s been going on in my trade, what with reading all the kids’ letters and supervising the elves’ packing, and feeding the reindeer, but I’m sorry to let you know that some economists think that Christmas is a waste of space.
The gist of their argument is that people go out and pay the full dollar for a gift that the recipient will often value at less and, in the process, society loses out. We waste 20 bucks by giving a tacky 30 buck T-shirt to someone who values it at 10. We both know that there’s more going on than that and that all sorts of other payoffs are coming into play. Where’s the accounting for the pleasure of giving? Where’s the value we should be putting on building social capital? But in all honesty I thought I should be upfront and admit that some of my economist mates wouldn’t be sorry if you laid off the elves, ate the reindeer and spent your redundancy money on schnapps.
If you’re still willing to bring something to an economist, could I have a new crystal ball? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful, and I really appreciated the 1985 model you gave me. It served me well for a long time: into the 2000s I could look in and it would help me make a decent guess about what was going on and what might happen next. But the inside turned a bit cloudy somewhere around 2008 and these days when I peer into it I can’t make out what it’s telling me. I ask it, ‘Why are Australian house prices doing so well when interest rates have risen so much? Why haven’t expensive share markets weakened? Why are investors behaving as if we didn’t face some of the worst geopolitical risks in years?’ But it just sits on the desk, the inside clearing now and then to reveal an occasional ambiguous hint, but mostly its psychic batteries seem to have run down. If you have a 2023 model available, that would be great, but I won’t be disappointed if you’re out of stock – I gather all my economist colleagues have developed similar blind spots and I wouldn’t be too surprised if you’ve already run out.
And I’d really like a train set. You brought me one in Dublin when I was little: do you recall? Hornby, it was, driven by clockwork, but everything’s electric these days and the kids didn’t want the old fashioned version, and so it’s long since gone to the hospice shop. But I still like trains, real ones and model ones. When I lived in Japan in the 1980s I happily went carless and travelled by train everywhere.
“Santa, the only new train network I’m likely to see in coming years is the one I roll out myself, in the shed.”
It was fun, cheap, reliable, safe and ubiquitous, and you could read or listen to music or do the crossword as you went. Back then, climate change wasn’t much of a thing, but these days there’s yet another reason to like trains: they’re environmentally friendly. You’d think everywhere would be investing in them, Santa, wouldn’t you, but if you read the news down these parts, it’s sad. Things like the Melbourne Airport train link look like being shelved. In New Zealand, if one major party says it’s going to build a new rail line, the other major party will commit to rip it out, so Auckland light rail looks doomed. Governments should be putting in more trains, and all the other infrastructure we’re going to need, but they’re not. Let’s face it, Santa, the only new train network I’m likely to see in coming years is the one I roll out myself, in the shed.
Santa, you have your own air transport – hi Donner! hi Blitzen! – and you probably don’t have any need to stay up with what’s going on in the commercial airline business. Did you know that if you were Santa Airlines and not just a generously proportioned guy in a red suit making his own arrangements, you’d have to get permission from the governments here to fly into Australian or New Zealand airspace? They don’t always give it – I know, the kids would never get their presents! And between daft restrictions on who can fly where, and the airlines taking their own good time to put on enough planes to meet surging post-COVID demand, flying’s got really expensive if you don’t have access to nine reindeer and an aeronautically enabled sleigh. As I write, economy return for two from Sydney to Heathrow with Qantas in December will set you back $6000. Six thousand dollars! Don’t tell the reindeer or the elves, or they’ll be putting in for extra fodder and a pay raise! At these prices I appreciate it’s a big ask, but if you could see your way to sending me a couple of airline tickets, that would be lovely. And if you pass an American Airlines plane on your way home, give them a big wave and a cheery ho-ho-ho for providing competition and lower prices on the New Zealand–US route.
And finally, if it’s not too much, I’d like some vouchers I could give to my friends in politics, to take up one of those online economics courses you can do these days. Santa, you’ll have noticed that this year’s bag of presents is costing you a lot more than last year’s: inflation’s risen pretty much everywhere. That’s partly because governments wouldn’t dream of making a non-lawyer the attorney general, but they happily put amateurs in charge of fiscal policy. No wonder economies have been pumped up too hard. Let’s make the pollies a bit better in 2024.
Yours in anticipation and a merry Christmas to you,