Harris Coffee has done a little survey at YouGov in some hope of getting barista bailout:
- 70% of Aussies are worried Australia’s cafés will never be the same again
- Almost five million Australians claim to have missed their local café more than pubs and clubs during COVID-19 Just under ten million Australians said they felt isolated from their local community due to café closures during COVID-19
- 71% of Australians would spend more cash at their local café now compared to prelockdown if it helped to keep them open
- 70% of Australians see their local café as the centre of the community, ahead of other amenities including the post office and
- 70% of Australians travel to regional areas around the country just for a new and unique café experience
- Two thirds of small business owners in hospitality (majority of which are café owners) are worried that Australia’s next generation will be too scared to work in cafes as a result of the recent disruption to the industry
- 80% of small business owners in hospitality (the majority of which are café owners), won’t be able to recover from recent hardships without third party support
- 43% of small businesses in hospitality (majority of which are cafes) said that without third party support they wouldn’t be able to stay open for longer than six months from now.
- 89% of small businesses in hospitality (majority of which are cafes) say they lost revenue in the last 12 months as a result of the bushfires and COVID-19, more than half report they have lost 50% or more of their revenue over this time.
- Almost nine in ten café owners are concerned that the decline in regional tourism resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown travel restrictions will be ongoing and negatively impact the number of customers who visit their regional businesses once lockdown restrictions ease
And? There are clearly far too many cafes for the new virus order. There were already far too may before that. If some go out of business then others will be more profitable.
More to the point, this is Australia’s services anus economy that was always going to prolapse and now is:
It struck me as I sat there that it was wonderfully convenient to have a Thai massage joint just around the corner, especially given my local shops are not very large. I briefly surveyed the other shops and realised swiftly that what I was looking at was the lion’s share of the Australian services economy supply chain. Nearly all of it was directed not at the production of anything, nor the supply of anything, nor the inputs to some factory, but at servicing my person. Specifically, it was mostly targeted at various components of my body. There was an inordinately expensive organic grocer for my stomach. A retro barber for my head. A manicurist for my nails. A tatooist for my ink. A specialist wine purveyor for my tongue. A gift store for my birthday. A shop front personal trainer for my flab. An Asian tailor and presser for my clothes. Any number of cafes of course. And a real estate agent on every corner.
I realised that it was I that was the factory. My body, or more to the point, my mind, my intellectual property, was being supported my an extensive supply chain of services that plumped, fattened, thinned, preened, pressed, fluffed, trimmed and massaged me into the ongoing production of ideas.
There was one thing more that was obvious. These various services were not just the slapdash Aussies of yesteryear. There were no lackadaisical loafers working for the man and hanging for a smoko. Each of the services on display was a finely crafted specialist, an artisan in his and her craft, immensely serious with extraordinary attention to detail. The massage offered a limitless array of options right down to your chosen incense and its specific impact upon your chakras. The barber wore a perfect replica suit from the 1920s and sported enormous mustaches to match. The personal trainer rippled in the window. The grocer glowed with ruddy peasant health and one could almost smell the fresh loam on her fingers. The cafe’s were a rival for Tate Modern in their timberwork and ceramics, and one could literally choose a vintage decolletage in which to hang as if riding in a time machine.
The amount of effort and innovation going into finding a competitive edge for the privilege of servicing my sagging flesh was spectacular.
Which brings us back to our “deconstructed” coffee. That cafe owner should not be criticised. She is the apotheosis of her milieu, an economic figment generated straight out of the forces of production that our betters have unleashed upon us. She is the services economy in all of its pathetically misplaced glory. Even the Domainfax fascination with the deconstructed coffee is more whirring widgets for GDP!
And that’s the thing. All of these local shops are a hive entrepreneurial beavering. But all of them are directed inwards in an endlessly dividing paradox of insignificance. None of them is tradable, as services mostly are not, so none has the chance to flower much beyond the local shops, let alone nationally or internationally. That poses a problem for the economy because if all you ever do is service one another in more elaborately infinitesimal detail then there is no actual wealth generation going on. There was no organic capital generation, no capital deepening nor breakthrough’s in efficiency. The capital that drives this machine by definition comes from outside of it in the form of a visitor, a new buyer of a local asset or someone that has borrowed to invest.
That farcical coffee is a microcosm of Australia’s entire troubled economy. All superstructure and, increasingly, no base.
Let the cafes burn so we get more competitive to restore the base of a productive economy.