Reviews //

Are all Generations Fucked? A review of Allison Pennington’s Gen F’d

Opposing neoliberalism, austerity and privatisation is important for the left, but our vision for the future is fundamentally disastrous if we only ask for what we once had.

Allison Pennington’s Gen F’d: How Young Australians can reclaim their uncertain futures crafts a decisive and clear argument that young people today aren’t afforded the egalitarian Australian ideals of the “fair go” — particularly in the job and housing markets. It is an exciting call to action — for multi-generational unionism, engagement in democratic organisations and movements that can make change. Filled with personal anecdotes and clearly explained political concepts, Gen F’d is an ideal post-exam read.

Neoliberal thinking is one of the key targets. Neoliberal policies of the late 1970s and 1980s “tied our hands in a powerful whirring machine of profit-first, short-term thinking”, says Pennington. The policies of the Hawke-Keating years eroded the abilities of workers to demand higher wages and better conditions and accepted the premise that high profits for business would lift growth and wages. 

All workers (regardless of age) are worse off because of neoliberal policies and impending climate disaster, so I was puzzled by Pennington’s focus on those born from the 1980s onwards. While we’ve all heard the saying “your generation will be the first generation worse off than your parents”, I’ve also seen 20-year-olds driving Porches attempting to cross picket lines. Those who are born into wealth are more likely to get the best education, nepotism jobs and investment properties gifted from their parents. 

How could the divide of age be more important than socioeconomic status or class? 

Pennington does address wealth inequality within generations, referring to the “bank of mum and dad” — how wealthy young people afford to buy their first homes. The focus on age highlights the disastrous effects of neoliberalism. The gutting of public institutions created the “end of good jobs”, which once meant security, and now young people are reliant on insecure casual employment. Importantly, “insecure work is inseparable from the welfare system. It works in grisly tandem with bosses exploiting precarity” writes Pennington. 

Opposing neoliberalism, austerity and privatisation is important for the left, but our vision for the future is fundamentally disastrous if we only ask for what we once had (better public institutions). Australian society has never been truly egalitarian, built off land theft and violent frontier wars, maintained through an ongoing colonial project. Historians, left-wing public intellectuals and political economists have always questioned our supposed egalitarianism. Capitalism necessitates exploitation; whether it’s mining and appropriation of Indigenous land or offshore manufacturing, the working class will always be exploited. If we strive for a “Fair Go” and “good jobs” as Pennington suggests, who will be left behind, or can the change be more radical?

Out of the “neoliberal rubble” of the past few decades Pennington offers some hope, urging participation in democratic institutions: trade unions, political parties and government departments (to which I would add student unions). 

With the first federal Labor government in a decade, Pennington is correct to argue that “electing the most progressive government cannot alone bring transformational change, nor can the most forward-thinking CEOs in renewables”. The “progressive” Albanese government has left young people much to be desired. Albanese has attempted to phrase a $313 billion tax cut to the rich as progressive policy, and in place of increasing spending on public housing $10 billion will put onto the stock market, with only an expected $100 million in returns to be spent on housing.

To change anything about our society we require a sober analysis of the current world we live in. There is no use in just knowing about the problem, which is clear in Pennington’s references to complacency, and a refreshing take on the inadequacy of social media and complacency, affecting our generation more than any other. 

At just over 100 pages Pennington provides an introduction to political economic ways of thinking, and ideas for how we can strive for a “fair go”. Pennington completed a degree in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, and writes that the department “put form, method and rigour to my thinking years back, and which ultimately gave me the tools to intervene more effectively in the world of ideas”. Thus, this book is well suited for the political-economy-curious, and those with cynicism and despair about the possibility of change. 

“But none of this is inevitable or permanent. By creating a more robust collective social fabric together in the ‘real’ world, we can counter the atomising effects of the internet and reclaim agency across the entire span of our lives. But to take effective collective action, we need to re-engage with a powerful concept that has shaped modern Australia, but is presently concealed in public life — class.” Pennington.