The other day, as you will know, one of those cheap as chips discount airlines of Australia got grounded, its chips cashed. Much tut-tutting from the media, in the same spirit as Captain Renault in Casablanca “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” The same media who ever since Australia lost the two airline policy that had served us so well have been demanding, publicising, crowing over lower and lower fares – “One dollar fares, the start of a new price war and very cheap prices all round”. Forcing all the airlines to try to cut costs more and more.
Reminds me of the wise person who said “Why would you want to eat a $2.50 take away meal that someone can still make a profit on?” And of the new “price wars” over staple foods like bread and milk between the supermarket chains.
One of our former prime ministers once said there was “no such thing as a cheap lunch” and he was quite right (obviously “free lunch” would have made no sense). Things, products, services, cost a certain amount to provide, on top of which a business needs to add a profit margin. So to make things cheaper and cheaper (barring some technological breakthrough in a few cases) you have to cut costs. In the case of transport operations this inevitably means cutting those costly elements like maintenance, training, occupational health and safety. In the case of food it means forcing producers, farmers, to accept lower and lower prices for their goods. In the case of many manufactured goods it means, these days, switching operations to overseas sweat shops where people work in appalling conditions for a pittance.
The inevitable end of those slippery slides is safety concerns for airlines, trains, buses; farmers going broke when the price received is less than the cost of production; stunted children dying in factory fires in China or Thailand.
Look I am famous for blaming the media for pretty much every problem in modern society, and this is no exception. But in this case they are actually reflecting public desire and misunderstanding. Instead of constantly demanding ever cheaper goods and services we might make a mental note that we should instead be demanding the best price consistent with a viable farming sector and consistent with safe transport and consistent with decent working conditions in other countries.
Cheap is one thing. Cheap and nasty is something else.