Essentially, Latham's idea is that the ALP is neither claiming, nor receiving, the credit its due because of the health of the Australian economy (he give way too much credit to Paul Keating for this economic health)
Latham uses previously published NATSEM statisitcis which point to a steady, and significant, rise in household incomes over the last two decades to suggest that the unhappiness of many Australians about their material well-being and prospects.
This gap between reality and perception, according to Latham, is the product of a 'culture of manufactured outrage'. Manufactured, that is, by media outlets and politicians (including Rudd at the 2007 election).
There can be no doubt that media and politicians have played on perceptions of declining material well-being in the electorate, for their own benefit. For instance, talkback radio stations (like Fox in the USA) have crafted business models around fueling these feelings of discontent and outrage.
Yet, it is difficult to believe that there is not some reality on which media and politicians feed.
While real household incomes have been rising for decades, so too has job insecurity and the paid work that households undertake to fund a contemporary middle class lifestyle.
A generation ago, a middle class household typically had one wage-earner whose job was generally safe for life. In fact, part of what it often meant to be middle-class was to have one of these jobs for life.
Writing in the New York Times last month on why gender equality has stalled, Stephanie Coontz pointed to these dramatic figures:
Today, almost 40 percent of men in professional jobs work 50 or more hours a week, as do almost a quarter of men in middle-income occupations. Individuals in lower-income and less-skilled jobs work fewer hours, but they are more likely to experience frequent changes in shifts, mandatory overtime on short notice, and nonstandard hours. And many low-income workers are forced to work two jobs to get by. When we look at dual-earner couples, the workload becomes even more daunting. As of 2000, the average dual-earner couple worked a combined 82 hours a week, while almost 15 percent of married couples had a joint workweek of 100 hours or more.
Perhaps, the situation in Australia is less difficult because of higher minimum wages and better childcare provision among other things. Nevertheless, the ACTU argues that there has been a strong trend towards more job insecurity with only 60% of Australian workers now in ongoing full or part-time work.
In addition, there has been a growing discrepancy between the real incomes of middle-class employees and the costs involved in maintaining a contemporary middle class lifestyle. Houses are bigger and housing costs have gone up, the demand for private school education has risen, transport costs have risen (especially on the fringes of our major cities where many middle class families live) and so on. It is easy to be dismissive about mcmansions and plasma TVs and so on, but people feel a real pressure to have, and enjoy, what their peer groups are able to enjoy.
Latham's account tends to suggest that people are still living in the 1970s with just more money, it's far more complex than that.
Latham's point is, moreover, political. He wants the ALP to claim something called the Keating settlement as its new ideological touchstone. This is a direct reference to the notion of an Australian settlement (popularised by journalist Paul Kelly) a century earlier. Latham argues that the neo-liberal policies introduced by Keating as treasurer and prime minister have done wonders for the old blue collar working class and changed the face of our economy and political debate forever.
Whatever the factual merits of this argument, the idea that there has been some sort of political settlement around neo-liberalism is highly dubious. Perhaps in the elites of our society that is the case, but populist politicians and shock jocks alike know that millions of ordinary Australians just feel like they are one job loss, illness or other misfortune away from economic ruin; meanwhile, they feel that they have to run ever faster just to keep up.