For those unfamiliar with the marshmallow test, it’s a simple study into self-control and delayed-gratification. You offer a child one marshmallow which they can eat now. But if they are willing to wait fifteen minutes, they can eat two marshmallows. Researchers found that the children who are able to wait for two marshmallows ended up with better grades in high school and better life outcomes than the impatient snatch and gobble children, therefore concluding that the ability to put off immediate rewards for a larger reward in the future is a more successful life strategy. But what does this idea mean for our whole society?
I like to generalise as it saves time: right wing voters are ‘give me the marshmallow now, hurry up, where’s my marshmallow, why didn’t I have my marshmallow yesterday’ people. Left wing voters are much more likely to wait, bide their time, invest their patience and look forward to the second marshmallow which will be to their betterment in the end. Too simplistic? Look at climate change. All Abbott’s Liberals had to do to scare people into voting down the Carbon Price was to threaten their next power bill. Labor was asking us all to think about the future of something rather important: the continuation of our planet. But unfortunately the next power bill won out and the Carbon Price is no longer. The Liberals have done similar ‘take the one marshmallow now’ campaigns with a range of different policies, appealing to voters who can’t see further than tomorrow in their voting interests and are therefore inclined to vote in the best interests of their short-term opportunism by damaging their two-marshmallow-long term interests and the interests of their children and grandchildren. Voting is all about interests today or interests tomorrow!
In fact, when you look at Abbott’s successful 2013 election campaign and his entire narrative throughout the last 6 years, he is the one-marshmallow-man. Kill the NBN. Destroy the mining tax and your future superannuation savings. Destroy Medicare because you don’t need it today, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Slash funding for healthcare even though you will definitely need the health system in the future. Burn funding for education, and don’t worry about the fact that our future economic growth depends on the children of today being smart enough to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. Completely ignore the infrastructure needs of the future. Kill renewable energy and keep loving coal, which is not only destroying the planet but is also running out. Abbott liked three word slogans. He could have just gone with me me me. Or now now now. Or ‘give me marshmallow!’ Sadly this whole campaign was very effective.
I could be really smug at this point and piss off all Abbott voters, who don’t read my blog anyway, by saying that left wing voters are inherently more emotionally intelligent than right wing voters who are too easily conned into voting against their long-term-two-marshmallow interests by opportunistic tactics, such as Liberal fear campaigns, convincing them that the one marshmallow now is really their best option when it clearly isn’t. But it is not as simple as that. I can see in my own life that worrying about the future is hard when you have worries today. A perfect example is climate change. I worry a lot about climate change. I know pretty much all there is to know about the dangers of climate change which we are experiencing now, and will get worse as we continue to do nothing effective to slow it. But when I do catch myself worrying about the climate, and feeling guilty about the dangerous world my daughter is growing up in, I also notice this worry appears at times when there is nothing more pressing to worry about. Then I wonder what is more pressing than the continuation of our planet, and the truth is, to individuals on that planet, the realities of life is that there are many things we have to worry about just to get through the day. I have a four month old daughter and since she arrived, there are hundreds of immediate worries. My husband and I have a mortgage, many bills to pay and busy jobs that keep our minds focussed on meeting short-term deadlines. For something as big as climate change, even if you are worried about it, even if you consider yourself a climate activist, there is very little, on a daily basis, you can actually do about it. And my family is by no means poor. For those struggling to survive on welfare, or in very low paid jobs, for those living in poverty, there is no such thing as worrying about tomorrow. A recent study as proved this, by finding that ‘people who live in poverty tend to make poor long term financial decisions because their economic situation makes it difficult to focus on anything but the near term’. So we have a vicious cycle. Short-term thinking neoliberal conservative governments result in growing wealth inequality which keeps more people poor, controlled by a very few rich-Turnbullites who are happy to continue to win the class war by keeping the poor on this short-term thinking track.
All of us, particularly the poor, rely on those in power, who are in a position to look after our long term interests, to do just that. But when our own government is only interested in the one marshmallow at the expense of all of our futures, and are hording thousands of marshmallows in their own privileged little world, stuffing more and more into their mouths until they literally look like marshmallow men, it is easy to feel even more individually-powerless and less hopeful about the whole society ever seeing our second marshmallow.
So back to the start of this post. We need a two-marshmallow government. That is why people should vote for the Labor Party. The Labor Party needs to do a better job of encouraging people to wait it out for the second marshmallow and then once in power, the Labor Party must make sure the second marshmallow is worth the wait. My daughter’s future depends on it. Everyone’s futures depend on it.