In a 2016 study by social researcher Richard Eckersley, published in Oxford Development Studies, people were presented with scenarios of two possible futures. They were asked which came closer to what they expected, and which they preferred.
- Scenario one was ‘a fast paced, internationally competitive society, with emphasis on the individual, wealth generation and enjoying the good life’.
- Scenario two was ‘a greener, more stable society, where the emphasis is on cooperation, community and family, more equal distribution of wealth, and greater economic self-sufficiency’.
Three quarters expected the former, but 93% preferred the latter. So the vast majority of us want something very different from what we’re getting.
We in Australia used to aspire to something like the second scenario, and until the 1980s we were getting closer to it. It was called the fair go. If we were doing it back then, why can’t we do it now?
Well, we can do it now. Not just by turning the clock back to the 1950s and 60s, the world is a different place now, but by realising we can still be masters of our fate. To do so we have to blow away a fog of misguided ideas that have sapped our power.
The Australia of, let’s say, 1970 was far from perfect but since World War II it had become more diverse, more socially open, much more prosperous, and the prosperity was widely shared. We expected to remain on that path.
But then things went a bit awry. It is said the workers got too greedy and provoked inflation, and there is a bit of truth to that. It is said an irresponsible government made things worse, but in fact Australia was the only developed nation not to experience a recession in the 1970s.
The biggest problem in the 1970s was not our doing. It was a series of oil embargoes that quadrupled the price of oil. This raised the cost of making our collective living. There was also inflation because the United States went off the gold standard and printed money to pay for its war in Vietnam.
What we needed were some correct diagnoses, some wage and price restraint and some careful management to get us back on course. What we got was something very different.
Waiting in the wings was a well-funded movement with a very different agenda. Government is bad, they said. We should all be selfish. We should compete through the markets, which will work magic and give us the best of all possible worlds.
Financial markets were deregulated and a business debt binge through the 1980s ended in 1990 in the worst Australian recession since the Great Depression. Further debt-fuelled booms and busts occurred around the world. These culminated in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which was followed by prolonged recession in most countries and depression in some.
As well, trade rules were loosened resulting in jobs disappearing overseas and the overriding of local regulations that safeguard our wellbeing. Local industries were undermined. We have less control over our lives.
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