Just Money: Misadventures in the great Australian debt trap (Royce Kurmelovs, UQP)
Just Money opens with a first-person account of the car crash that left author and journalist Royce Kurmelovs $23,000 in debt. Kurmelovs’ subsequent experience with the opaque mechanisms of debt collection leads to a wider examination of personal debt in Australian society—where households have the second highest indebtedness in the world (behind only the Swiss). After beginning with an abbreviated global history of debt, Kurmelovs turns his focus on the 1970s and 80s, a period when the ‘debtors paradise’ of post-war Australia was being eroded by increasingly complex finance and real estate markets and deregulation that swung the needle in favour of lenders. From here, Kurmelovs seeks to understand what being a nation of indebtedness means on the ground, presenting a series of portraits of life in a society of mass debt, from victims of predatory payday lending to the government’s robodebt debacle and the #notmydebt campaign that formed in response. While the book could have benefitted from more case studies instead of rehashing recent news cycles, Just Money provides useful and digestible context to the reasons for and effects of the indebtedness of Australian households. It will appeal most of all to millennial readers, who may be wondering why the expectations of their parents at the same age (house ownership, regular wage increases, the stability and security to start a family) seem unattainable to so many of them.
Brad Jefferies is the digital editor of Books+Publishing.