Once every four years, we all pretend to understand how diving is scored, or that the reason we watch the beach volleyball is for the score. It is also around this time that many of us find ourselves asking what the point of the Commonwealth Games is if half the world isn’t invited. It turns out the story behind the games is pretty interesting, and worth checking out.
Let’s start by looking at the first edition of the Commonwealth Games, hosted in 1930.
These were actually named the British Empire Games, and were held in Hamilton, Canada (eh), and were the result of work by Bobby Robinson, a sports reporter.1 His dream for a games that would “enlarge the sport of friendly competition” echoed similar sentiments in the previous decades, and this dream finally came to fruition in 1930, with 400 athletes participating, at a cost of CAD 97,000 to the Canadian government.2
Athletes from Australia were among the first competitors, but unfortunately, we did not top the medal tally. We got absolutely smashed by the Brits and the Canadians, placing in (not a close) 5th.
The full table can be viewed here: https://thecgf.com/games/hamilton-1930
THEN AND NOW
However, this would not be a very good economics blog without any economics, but I’ll keep it light.
The story of the commonwealth games serves as the perfect backdrop to contextualise the story of economic development, particularly within the British empire, over the last 88 years. So, what has changed since then?
Every economics student who has done a little growth theory will be able to tell you that a key driver of economic development is technological improvement.
The best example of this is the way that air travel has revolutionised the mobility of human capital. In the 1930s, you’d need 40 days on a steamliner to make the trip from Melbourne to London (and around the same time to get to Canada), a bit longer than the 17-hour, non-stop flights from Perth to London we see today.3
What’s more, it would be pretty ignorant not to discuss the biggest leap forward in information sharing the world has ever seen: the birth of the internet. For the majority of us who don’t make it to the games, and whose biggest athletic achievement is running to catch the 66, all we have to do is log on to Facebook, and we can see (in colour!) how our athletes are going at the games.
At the time of the first games, the majority of information diffusion occurred via newspapers. This was not limited to news of athletes, but all market information. News of local Births, Deaths, house sales, stock prices, and even exchange rates all came via the morning paper, and it’s pretty eye-opening how much it has changed.
For example, check out how you found your accommodation for mid-sem break in 1930, compared to now.
YOU COULD SAVE FOR A HOUSE AND HAVE AVO TOAST
We as millennials often get a bad rap when it comes to work ethic (cue the chorus of “stop buying smashed avo toast”), but tracking the movements of average price levels and relative market movements can give a decent picture of development.
These days, the median house price in Brisbane is $665,0005, while the median wage for a worker in Brisbane is $59,6166. This means a house will typically cost 1115% of the yearly salary.
At the time of the first games in 1930, the story was a bit different. The average wage for managerial positions was higher for men, at £364 9 shillings, and 2 pence, while for women it was £145 13s 9d. In today’s terms, these equate to $29,621.69, and $11,840.89 respectively.
There are couple of points to take away from this. Firstly, we can see real wages have more than doubled in the last 88 years, which is an encouraging indicator of development.
Bad news for us millennials though. Considering you could buy a new home in the suburbs of Brisbane for £835 in 1930 (see right), you had to fork out around 229% of the average male wage to move out of home. In simple terms, real house prices are (very) approximately 5 times higher than in 1930. I think they had a pretty sweet deal back then, and you should tell your grandparents this too next time they get on your case.
QUEENSLAND IN 1930
Since we’re using the Commonwealth Games as an excuse to talk about economics, we might as well check out what the Queensland looked like at the time of the first commonwealth games.
Although a lot can be said about their fashion sense back then, it is quite incredible to see how far we have come since the first Commonwealth games. We now can watch out athletes on live TV or via the internet, and we can fly around the world in less than a day. That being said, get back to watching the beach volleyball!