‘The plight of the Right‘, Inside Story, 5 December 2016
A long, thoughtful review of an expensive book of essays published in July, following a conference in Perth in 2014 of ‘conservative’ economists and journalists. The book is Only in Australia: The History, Politics, and Economics of Australian Exceptionalism (edited by William Coleman) and Edwards, a former Reserve Bank board member among other things, comes from a different point on the spectrum and the author of How to Be Exceptional: Australia in the Slowing Global Economy, which argues a rather different case from the participants in the Perth conference.
Sir Keith Hancock, Paul Kelly and Ian McLean are presented as exemplars of different views of Australia’s economic history and some of the papers at the conference are analysed. Much of the argument turns on how much role the state has played and should play in Australia’s economic development, the place of immigration, progressive taxation, and the benefits of labour market regulation.
Edwards gives the Perth conferees a fair go but comes down on the other side.
For the coming decades [Edwards says] Australia has an immense demographic advantage that can underpin stronger growth in living standards than is likely in most other advanced economies. Realising this advantage depends on a continuing large immigration program, which in turn depends on sustaining political consent through a reasonably fair spread of prosperity. In Australia today, there is plenty of distress, plenty of rural annoyance with Chinese investment, and widespread objection to rorting 457 visas, but no rebellion against the openness to trade and migration which has supported Australian development for well over 200 years. That is another aspect of the plight of the Right: what we have retained of Australian exceptionalism works.