catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Longest Decade

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For anyone who missed the 1980s in Australian politics, Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty is the indispensable guide. For those who missed the 1990s, George Megalogenis’s The Longest Decade, which was launched by the Prime Minister on Wednesday (with a separate launch from Paul Keating to follow), is a useful summary, assisted by the interviews with Keating and Howard that have already been widely reported.

But I have the same reservations about this book that I have about most books by journalists – that they don’t make the leap from articles to books. It reads like a series of newspaper pieces, complete with short-cut explanations for busy readers who can’t cope with too much complexity. For example, various things (scattering of wages, more women in the workforce, jobless families, ‘winners’ who become recruits for the ‘Keating agenda’) are attributed to ‘deregulation’. Sure, economic policy changes probably sped up or intensified some of these trends, but it is Puseyesque not to look at causes more carefully. And when Megalogenis does so, it is not always convincing. For example, on p.26 the extra jobs for women are ‘thanks to deregulation’, but on p.40 the ‘women of the open economy were the policy gift of the former Labor Prime Minister, who scrapped university fees in his first term.’ This is even less plausible a mono-explanation than deregulation – most female workers don’t have degrees, women were not a majority of university students until 1987, and as I have argued before the scrapping of fees was not as significant as in hindsight many believe it to be – only about 25% of uni students were paying fees when they were abolished. We need to look at changing attitudes among and toward women, the extra time for paid work created by fewer children and labour-saving devices at home, and the growth of  industries in which brawn is not an asset more than either of Megalogenis’s explanations.

Megalogenis also repeats the unlikely assertion that Robert Menzies was a ‘social-policy liberal’.  Relative to the Popes of his era, perhaps. But not according to any reasonable standard. After all, he presided over the White Australia policy, fawning monarchism, censorship of books by DH Lawrence, and a public service that required women to resign when they got married. His welfare state was tiny by today’s standards. Economically, he was liberal relative to the Labor Party of his time, though not compared to either party now. But socially he was a conservative.

And an economics graduate really should be able to define the current account correctly and explain the difference between stock and flow measures (for example, he says that no real jobs were created for men in the Keating-Howard economy, when in fact jobs are being created and lost all the time – the point he is making is that overall labour force participation for men has gone down.)

I don’t want to sound too negative about The Longest Decade. It may be a series of newspaper articles, but it is still useful to have key stories of the last 15 years in the one volume.


Written by Admin

June 2, 2006 at 6:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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