The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Man this is good: why Australian society resembles a platypus...

I am catching up on my reading, and found this pearler of a characterisation of Australian society in the latest edition of The Economist:

"Mr Howard claims Australia has a unique form of egalitarianism, and David Alexander, who used to work for Mr Howard’s treasurer, recently argued in Policy magazine that Australia has developed a model of small-government egalitarianism that uniquely combines economic liberalism and egalitarian policy structures. Citing figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2010 Survey, he points out that, among rich countries, Australia had the lowest government spending and the lowest taxes. At the same time it ranked below average for income inequality and close to bottom for inequality of wealth, using the standard (Gini coefficient) measures.

Two factors, he says, contribute to these “fair dos” positions. One is Australia’s system for making welfare and other transfers to the less well off, which is the most progressive in the world. The second is its tax system, one of the most progressive in the OECD. The upshot is what Mr Alexander calls a platypus model. Just like its egg-laying mammal, Australia defies the categorisers by being neither small-government and inequality-tolerant, as America is, nor high-taxing and egalitarian, as the Scandinavians are. This exceptionalism, believes Mr Alexander, makes Australia a happy and harmonious society in which populism is less likely and the chances for difficult reforms and real competition are better.

His analysis is consistent with plenty of superficial observations about Australia: the relative absence of conspicuous consumption (and, it has to be said, a certain lack of style in everyday dress); the evident democracy of the beach and the park; the practice of passenger and driver sitting side by side in taxis; the general amiability of discourse; the pervasiveness of a café society based, for the most part, on small enterprises producing their own excellent coffee (Australia, inventor of the “flat white”, has all but seen off Starbucks, which closed 61 out of its 85 Australian cafés three years ago, having found that anything it could do the Aussies were already doing better)."

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