One of the best things about my day job is the education I receive while doing it. Under the auspices of ‘work’, I have talked to Australia’s top experts about why Mr 6 was having night after night after night (repeat ad nauseum) of ‘scary dreams’ when he was four, whether his attachment to one particular teddy bear was healthy, whether trying to bring your kids up to be ‘nice’ would be the making or breaking of them, and how much of your kids’ highly creative artwork you actually needed to keep.
In the same vein, I am keeping a close eye on Mr 3’s new invisible friend – Alla Hoo Hoo – and will soon be pitching a story to someone, anyone, about when to be alarmed about imaginary friends. Given that Alla Hoo Hoo now has three children, all with their own names, I’m thinking that anytime soon would be the right time to ring the alarm bell. If any more of them move in, we’ll need to move out of the fibro.
But there’s real, hardcore education as well. Like the piece I just finished about the rising cost of living in New Zealand. ‘We need to know why everything’s getting more expensive in New Zealand’, was the brief. Except it isn’t. Food prices have been falling since August. The CPI is down 0.2 per cent for the September to December quarter.
Okay, I can feel your eyes glazing over, but bear with me. The point of all this is that, as Dr Stephen Burnell, senior lecturer in Economics at Victoria University of Wellington, pointed out, there’s a certain ‘anecdote bias’ out there when we’re talking about this kind of stuff. Fuel goes up and the papers are full of it. Fuel goes down and nobody thinks to mention it. Bananas go up and they’re front page news for weeks. Bananas go down in price and we all just go back to mashing them up for baby dinners, no questions asked.
I thought about this conversation in relation to my own shopping. Beyond my $107 week I am often heard to complain (in a quiet, genteel manner, of course) about the cost of food – at the supermarket in particular. It’s almost doubled in the past year or two and I’ve railed against it long and hard. But my conversation with Dr Burnell got me to thinking about WHY it’s doubled – and the answer is simple.
Yes, prices have gone up but the reality is that I’m also buying more. I’ve now got two little boys with hollow legs. One of them is at school and I’ve fallen into the trap of buying those sweet little packets of ‘healthy treats’ to stuff in his lunchbox in my sleepy morning state. We like feta cheese, and parmesan, and haloumi (which, without any doubt, has gone up!) – and I often buy all three in the same week.
In other words, I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to the cost of living.
Except…I don’t live in New Zealand. And the Australian CPI rose by 0.5 per cent in the September-December quarter. And OECD figures show that the cost of food in Australia has risen by more than 40 per cent over the past decade – the highest increase in the developed world.
Which just goes to prove that context is everything.