A way to break us out of the ossified and toxic parliamentary culture and the fearful stupor of the electorate. A way to restore fluid and functional governance.
Both John Menadue and Michael Keating make strong points, as insiders, about Australia’s increasingly undemocratic politics. Perhaps an outsider’s perspective can reveal deeper causes and issues that clarify the situation, and offer a way forward that does not depend on begging the powerful.
[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]
Australia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.
Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.
Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.
Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.
Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?
The neoliberal program never achieved more than mediocrity and overall it has failed even on its own terms. Worse, it has corrupted government, fractured society and visited destruction upon the Earth. This failure flows from two false premises at the heart of neoliberalism: the libertarian claim that people should be rugged individualists, and the neoclassical claim that free markets usually will automatically optimise an economy.
Behind the votes for Brexit and Trump lies a simple perception: the system is rigged in favour of the rich. That perception is accurate. People may lash out at scapegoats and follow false prophets, but their disgust and alienation are quite justified. Trump promised to break up the cozy club at the top, and many people said Yes.
Two extracts published at Pearls and Irritations, here and here.
Suddenly our leaders and their lackies are all over the airwaves warning the unwashed hordes of the perils of rejecting the glorious benefits of free markets and free trade, as those ingrates have done in the US and UK.
Their favourite line is “Twenty five years of uninterrupted economic growth.” You hear it almost every day. It represents unparalleled economic success. It is uniquely Australian, because no other country avoided the 2008-9 recession. It’s all because of Australia’s lean, deregulated, open, agile economy, managed brilliantly by [insert current Treasurer].
Except for two little caveats. Australia’s economic performance during the neoliberal era has never matched that in the post-war decades to the early 1970s. And we avoided severe recession in 2008-9 only because the Rudd Government intervened heavily in the economy.