Why those under 35 are screwed
HERE it is. The "smashed avocado graph".
This graph does not come to praise the smashed avocado meme. Oh no. It comes to bury it. It represents the ultimate rebuttal to the brunch hypothesis. After seeing this graph, never again will the term "smashed avocado" be uttered outside a breakfast context. This graph ends the memetic life of smashed avo, right here, right now.
The smashed avocado reference, as you doubtless remember, is about the idea young people can't afford to buy a house because they're too busy living large.
People under 40, the meme goes, are frivolous. They live an easy life of brunch, Instagram and maxing out their credit cards. Then they have the audacity to complain about the price of housing!
In this way, the idea of smashed avocado has become a sort of a code word in an intergenerational war.
As we're about to discover, this colourful new graph up-ends the assumption the new generation is merely less frugal. It takes the insufferably smug beliefs behind the smashed avocado meme and throws them into a bottomless abyss.
Let's look at the graph again. What it shows is that young people used to enjoy real incomes that rose steadily. (The word "real" in this context means adjusted for inflation. All the figures in his graph are about whether income is growing faster than inflation.)
The blue lines used to be tall because people between the ages of 15 and 34 could expect average income in their cohort to go up over time. Even when it didn't go up much it would at least rise a similar amount to people of other ages. But if you look at the cluster of colourful bars on the right, you can see that all stopped in 2009-10.
Since 2009-10, growth in real income has been OK for everyone else, but downright shocking for young people. The blue bars are suddenly puny. Those aged 15 to 24 have seen what economists call "stuff all" growth. And those aged 25 to 34 have experienced what economists call "literally getting poorer".
Now, bear in mind this applies to the cohort. An individual will still normally gain income as their age increases from 25 to 34. But that income gain will be swimming upstream against a general downtrend in real income for people of that age group. In previous eras, the income gain associated with gaining age and experience was boosted by a general uptrend.
Importantly, this is not some whinge by me. It says it right there in the title of the graph, which I've left intact lest someone accuse this correspondent of interpretation.
THE END OF A MEME
This graph paints a picture very different from the picture painted by the insufferable avocado toast concept. And it has far more credibility. It comes straight from the molten-iron furnace of rational economic policymaking in this country: the Productivity Commission.
The origins of smashed avo as code for millennial laziness, meanwhile, go back to a column by a middle-aged man named Bernard Salt, who is a partner at one of the big four accounting firms. (Such partners generally earn several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Just by-the-by.)
"I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbed feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more," Salt wrote. He was, overall, taking the mickey out of himself in the article he wrote. But that didn't matter because the concept became a lightning rod for anger.
There is still an argument for anger. A whole group of people is suddenly missing out on the rising standard of living their forebears took for granted. If the trend continues, a whole generation could miss out.
But that anger is no longer tied to a mashed Mexican fruit. So that's it. You just witnessed the moment a meme died. RIP smashed avocado. You're now just a food again. A simple vegetarian food that people of all ages and wealths and home ownership statuses can order without feeling guilty. A food we can all scarf down without feeling like the middle-aged people parking their BMW X5 outside the cafe are judging us for.
Jason Murphy is an economist. He writes the blog Thomas the Think Engine.