Megalogenis: From Australian Moment to Australian Panic!

Poor old George Megalogenis must have whiplash. In his 2012 hubris-dripping treatise The Australian Moment, he described how:

There’s no better place to be during economic turbulence than Australia. Brilliant in a bust, we’ve learnt to use our brains in a boom. Although the Great Recession continues to rumble around the globe, we successfully negotiated the Asian financial crisis, the dotcom tech wreck and the GFC. Despite a lingering inability to acknowledge our achievements at home, the rest of the world now asks: How did we get it right? This is the page-turning story of our nation’s remarkable transformation since the ’70s. One of our most respected journalists, George Megalogenis, traces the key economic reforms and brilliant moments of collective instinct that opened our society to the immigration of capital, ideas and people to just the right degree. He pinpoints the events that shaped our good fortune and national character, and corrects our selective memory where history has been misunderstood or misdirected by self-interested political leadership. No one writing today is better at reading the numbers and telling the story around them than Megalogenis, and no one else has been able to coax our former prime ministers to candidly re-assess each other’s contribution to the Australian Moment. Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd, as well as Whitlam’s confidant Graham Freudenberg, go on record for the first time about many aspects of the internal politicking, decision-making and bids for the legacy of our astonishing period of significant reform. The Australian Moment demands we reconsider what we have achieved and our place in the global economy, and how we might purposefully approach the future. A groundbreaking work in the tradition of The Lucky Country and The End of Certainty. ‘Megalogenis is Australia’s best explainer – a historical bowerbird who has woven a sparkling narrative answering the big contemporary questions of how the hell we got here, and how we go about not buggering it up. A brilliant read.’ Annabel Crabb

MB treated the palava with the contempt it deserved at the time. Now, George is back, this time with The Australian Panic in a new Quarterly Essay:

598324In this urgent essay, George Megalogenis argues that Australia risks becoming globalisation’s next and most unnecessary victim. The next shock, whenever it comes, will find us with our economic guard down, and a political system that has shredded its authority.

Megalogenis outlines the challenge for Malcolm Turnbull and his government. Our tax system is unfair and we have failed to invest in infrastructure and education. Both sides of politics are clinging defensively to an old model because it tells them a reassuring story of Australian success. But that model has been exhausted by capitalism’s extended crisis and the end of the mining boom. Trusting to the market has left us with gridlocked cities, growing inequality and a corporate sector that feels no obligation to pay tax. It is time to redraw the line between market and state.

Balancing Act is a passionate look at the politics of change and renewal, and a bold call for active government. It took World War II to provide the energy and focus for the reconstruction that laid the foundation for modern Australia.

Will it take another crisis to prompt a new reconstruction?

But, but, but…


  1. George Quarterly Essay dodged the conclusion his narrative demanded.

    He ended up calling for an infrastructure PM to borrow a bucket load of dough to supply services to the population ponzi.

    Wow where have we heard that recently. Boy Abbott – the lap lane legend.

    And yes George reckons that if you do not support population ponzinomics you are a xenophobic racist.

    Quite remarkable when he offered not a single decent argument as to why the population growth of 2 million people per decade between 1970 and 2000 needed to be jacked up to the current 3 million per decade.

    • For real? These dickheads really are going to kill the economy with pure ignorance.

      Good old Morry Schwartz knows which side the bread his development business is buttered on.

      • Unstoppable Mullet Power

        You at least have the benefit of knowing it’s drivel before reading it.

        The rest of us hapless bystanders are compelled by habit to undertake the tedious and redundant process of absorbing and parsing the material before embarking on the dialectic.

        I suspect in his day George bore a proud mullet. He is tapped into the zeitgeist. Hear the man out, if only to gracefully show him the door.

      • It is worth a read because he does cover a lot of familiar terrain and insofar as he talks about the 4 pillars of the open economy he does identify that they are crumbling for many reasons that get discussed at MB.

        So he does understand there is a problem.

        My criticism is that he is looking for a solution that is consistent with the 4 pillars and that is the problem. He doesn’t understand that they are the problem and at the very least require a large pinch of salt and skepticism.

        But it is not as though George is alone in clinging to the 4 pillars – as they are still rock solid core beliefs for most of the Australian economics /financial commentators.

        Letting them go is hard because it reopens a whole bunch of difficult political economy contests that everyone thought had been resolved once and for all.

        But what choice is there – the evidence is in and it is time to accept and engage with it.

      • Unstoppable Mullet Power

        @Agent 007

        That is revolutionary thinking. The children of wog immigrants (and I use that term in its broadest non-derogatory sense) are not revolutionary thinkers, generally speaking. Their parents instigated the necessary Change, the next generation is about the Consistency.

        You can’t blame a wog for his sentimental attachment to the System. They (wogs) understand the importance of erect pillars. They have seen those pillars undermined, their old societies collapse.

        That type of lived experience of decline in wog countries is the fifth pillar supporting this country. You start under-mining the fifth pillar while you eyeball those fourth and third marble columns, and you are recklessly inviting a premature footnote to this country’s Wikipedia entry.

        Australia’s success is like a wild yeast, fermented for decades, interspersed with white flour and mild spices, left to rise in a slightly elevated temperate environment with sea views, and cooked in a five pillar oven.

        Wogs know better than to fuck with a winning recipe, and so should we.

      • Gunna,

        I don’t think that the extract really reflects the essay. It just sets the scene. The essay reminded me a bit of Satyajit Das‎ and his Banquet of Consequences. Great at letting us know there is a problem but not so great when it gets to explaining the options. They both read as though the authors felt that they could only discuss options from the approved contemporary economic playbook which as we know is not very helpful at fixing problems that “in theory” should not have happened in the first place.

    • What happens when you can’t export the poor or extract profit from them dilemma….

      Skippy… FFS were trying to run a bidness here….

  2. Even if it has been sunny all day, 5 o’clock in the afternoon is not a great time to predict endless sunshine.

    • Depends on where you are and what part of the cycle you are in… Gotenburg Sweden on Summer Solstice, this would be a very good call and very accurate. Winter solstice and they would probably feed you to the wolves.

      • UrbanWastelandMEMBER

        The time scale may be a little off… but in the end, the longer daylight lingers, the darker the night when the sun does go down.


    Many ‘behaviours’, even those considered stupid or ignorant, can continue until an ‘event’ forces an honest appraisal. For example, my ex-neighbour used to operate the brushcutter dressed same as Tony at the surf club save the protective skull cap. Then, he learned a lesson about physics that can be learned in few other ways. Now, he’s a full safety gear enthusiast and makes a point to ‘notice’ when I ‘notice’ the sensible change.

  4. His TV series also went off the rails at the end, when it concluded that the 1890’s depression and great depression were the result of an anti-immigration push…
    Capital inrush is really the culprit. This country has always had a hopeless credit system. Whenever a great power pursues a capital export strategy (like Britain in the 1880’s, or the rest of the world today), the banks take the money and blow a bubble.
    From 1946 to 1983 firewalls existed to protect the country from the idiocy of the bankers, but Hawke and Keating tore them down. Now the banks are free to borrow abroad with a taxpayer guarantee and buy junk bonds and plane leasing portfolios abroad.

    • Capital inrush is really the culprit.
      This country has always had a hopeless credit system.
      Whenever a great power pursues a capital export strategy (like Britain in the 1880’s, or the rest of the world today), the banks take the money and blow a bubble.
      Does anyone remember the “Queensland British Food Scheme”, Nyleta will, maybe OJ.
      Bought up a whole heap of land in central QLD, was going to be the food bowl of the UK.
      Survived only a coupla years before mis management sent it tits up. Fortunes were lost.
      The same will happen to the Chinese buying up today.
      (man am I getting a giggle out of this, same old same old)

  5. Quick random question. Has there ever been a successful ‘housing-led economic rebalancing’?
    I mean, in history… ever.
    The concept sounds intrinsically doomed to me.

    • I could possibly buy the idea in a country with cheap land and low levels of household debt. But in a country with the world’s highest household debt and close to the most expensive houses in the world?

      “Tell him he’s dreaming…”

      • I don’t know one person who had sold in the last 3 yrs in Sydney, and traded down? Most of these are intelligent people. Call me crazy but if you’re invested in a tax free sector, supported by government, where is the incentive not to continue. In the clear light of day, it makes sense.

      • “In the clear light of day, it makes sense.”

        As an individual choice it makes sense until it doesn’t. As a collective strategy for a country, it’s completely fucking insane.

      • Fair call, but l think only a change in legislation can change things from here, largely

  6. It’s not a bad essay, just as others have pointed out, only goes a short way to illuminating the real issues. It would have been a bit more revelatory 6 years ago certainly. But this is a fellow who has changed his mind and views and has put his thoughts to print. They may prompt others to reconsider their ideas too. There is some good stuff in the essay.
    Smashing critics is good for preaching to the converted, but not for changing minds.

    • Has he actually changed his mind?
      As far as I can tell he still believes “immigration of capital” has been a good thing.

      • I’ve read both. It’s not a dramatic turn, but he has acknowledged that the ideas of the 1980s are now inadequate for formulating the kind of thinking Australia needs and the dynamics of the relationship between state and market that will sustain a prosperous future.
        He might not have proposed actual ideas, but it is a mainstream and influential writer tentatively pointing to a problem.

      • The ideas of the 1980’s aren’t just inadequate, they are responsible for where we are today.
        Keating deregulated the banks and opened them up to foreign competition and non-banks, ended credit rationing, opened the capital account, cut the top marginal rate, caved in on negative gearing, handed the nations savings to spivs, and now net foreign debt is > 60% nominal GDP and gross foreign debt (which is what matters since our foreign assets are junk bonds and plane leasing portfolios) greater than the economy.

      • Add “save the planet” urban planning, at the top of the list of things that put us where we are today. And local government getting dishonest about the funding of infrastructure maintenance and renewal.

  7. It would be better to have a documentary telling us how to have a political system like Iceland, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, which do not have mass immigration.

    It is mind boggling.

  8. George is a cornucopian economist of the first order. He addresses symptoms and not causes. The words of Dr Jane Sullivan add colour:
    . Some (George) . portray opposition to population growth as an attack on migrants. This straw man is commonly used portraying opposition to population growth as an attack on migrants. This straw man is commonly used to shut down the population debate.

    Migrants are not categorically more or less burdensome than anyone else, but population growth is a dead weight burden. We could have a stable population with net immigration at around 0.3per cent of our population per annum, and a fertility rate around 1.5 children per woman (that’s about two for every couple who wants any).
    That would maintain in perpetuity, the current level of around a quarter of Australian residents being foreign born. If you love migrants and ethnic diversity, have fewer kids.
    Some further insist that historical incidents where economic boom has coincided with high immigration prove that immigration-driven population growth can be advantageous. But they do not consider that Americans or Australians might have benefited more from their boom years without the immigration.
    Their resources may have been exploited more slowly without the extra labour, but how is that a bad thing, if the income they generate per capita is higher, the wealth is more equitably distributed, the resource lasts longer, and the environmental impact is reduced?

  9. What is the evidence i.e. peer reviewed research that ‘population growth’ and by extension ‘immigration’ is bad for Australian society and economy, in other words, how can you persuade others that it’s simply not a ‘dog whistle’ (that is heard too often from the usual suspects)?

    Much if not all of the ‘research’ as to why ‘population growth’ is bad uses pseudo science and misapplicaton of statistical analysis (that’s being polite) to encourage similarly strong negative beliefs or ideology about ‘identity’, aka Trump now and the GOP for past decades

    ‘Population growth’ maybe a perjorative term or cliche at MB, like it has been intended for decades internationally; amongst commenters it shows common beliefs against ‘immigration’, but is not evidence, it’s an opinion not unlike why one’s football team is best.

    Nor is it smart blaming neo liberalism on one hand for ‘population growth’ and ‘immigration’ then using neo liberal arguments to oppose immigration due to the added ‘costs’.

    Like Brexiters who claim EU is so bad the UK must leave, but they are inacapable of offering up policies exemplifying their beliefs, because they dont have any, or are their true beliefs and future intentions are viewed as simply too unpalatable for the public to accept?

    For example, the beliefs of many against ‘population growth’ suggests a form of national socialism, balanced economy through autarky, no international agreements, less services in the economy, work force planning, population control (not choice vs life, but who gets to choose?) more unskilled work, big manufacturing/mining with favoured oligarchs, strong border control and less ‘immigration’, along with protected environment (as though Australians cannot manage to stuff that up by themselves and need ‘immigrants’ to do it for them).

    What is proposed, and if it is to work, is essentially a form of national socialism led by the ‘top people’ and ‘connected’ of European or WASP background with none of these pesky foreign influences, and by extension obedient professional and working Australians will have to toe the line also.

    Unfortunately that’s exactly what the neo cons and their ilk act upon, the fact that most people don’t want independence or security, they want strong government and leadership to look up to and hero worship (while allowing the benign influence of apathy), may be Turkey or Russia?

    Suggests that proponents of a post ‘population growth’ economy or nation state will be holding the chairs telling everybody else what to do, sounds a bit fascist to me 🙂 but at least it’s the road to extinction…..

    • Canetti,

      Nice work there.

      You start by conflating opposition to high rates of population growth dependent on migration with opposition to population growth or migration.

      It is perfectly possible to support, as I do, migration and population growth and to be opposed to the high rates of growth, with a purely economic growth objective, of the last 15 years that George identified and approved.

      You then request ‘peer research’ to support a position that has not been proposed.

      Yes – sure let’s have peer research for and against the proposition that high rates of population growth produces benefits and work our way through it. Chances are it will come down to assumptions at 10 paces and an argument about what benefits are really benefits.

      You then talk about emotion and opinion getting in the way when the point made earlier was that George was the one who made the emotional claim that any one who does not support an acceleration in population growth must be a fan of Pauline Hanson or perhaps dislikes spicy food.

      After that you went full the 9 yards and made the claim effectively that only Fascists have regulations regarding migration. Well that can cut both ways as some might say only fascists would defend accelerated rates of migration in pursuit of bare economic goals with claims that opponents to such goals must be fascists.

      Possibly you could have avoided the need to play “find a fascist” had you come along with the peer research that you believe supports the case for high rates of population growth.

      The problem is that there is not much of it around when the issue is debated which probably explains the fast resort to claims of xenophobia, Hansonism or in your case fascism.

    • And
      How will Australia feed itself let alone help feed the world when according to Megan Clark (CSIRO) the world will need to produce over the next 50 years as much food as has been consumed throughout history to feed a 9.3 billion population.
      This in the face of climate change and assuming we dont expand the agricultural frontier at the cost of more loss of forests and wildlife!
      Thus farmers will have to produce more with the same amount of natural resources or less so how this will work out whilst we maintain our present day industrial farmimg with its heavy use of oil-based fertilisers in the face of continuing erosion, salinisation and acidification of the worlds topsoil is murky at best
      So please tell me how this is going to play out as we blithely proceed to populate the world with more mouths to feed adding to the 780 million who are already malnourished

      • It has been shown in credible studies that we are already producing more than enough food but that alot is lost in transport and storage. Admittedly it will be that much of what is produced is not what is required and often using highly damaging practices. Looking at US and EU overproduction of such things as maize, sugar and milk. In my opinion the toxic quality of foods produced particularly as it seems in some countries will provide an extreme brake to population even within the coming decade as we reach ‘peak human’ much faster than anyone realises.

    • Canetti,
      The immigration debate is a false debate and distraction but lots of fun for both sides of the high emotion, identity non-politics people. I’m not going to touch it.

      The question is about market fundamentalism and whether international integration should take the form of an outsized inverted international balance sheet, where we become the first resort for capital exporting countries, prone to booms and bust and hollowed out.

      If you are saying that allowing Macquarie to borrow abroad guaranteed by the taxpayer, to buy junk bonds and plane leasing portfolios abroad, is a pre-requisite for a peaceful liberal democracy, I think you are wrong.

      After seeing your utopia go up in smoke with WW1 and what followed, Keynes (an internationalist in his earlier more idealistic days) reached the same conclusion:

      “But it does not now seem obvious that a great concentration of national effort on the capture of foreign trade, that the penetration of a country’s economic structure by the resources and the influence of foreign capitalists, and that a close dependence of our own economic life on the fluctuating economic policies of foreign countries are safeguards and assurances of international peace. It is easier, in the light of experience and foresight, to argue quite the contrary” …

      “I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel–these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national”

      • Sweeper,

        I had not read that Keynes quote before.

        Thanks that was most interesting and a bit unexpected.

      • Yeah it comes from a 1933 lecture: “National Self Sufficiency”.
        The point on finance is spot on. Once he realised in the early 30’s that finance was essentially a “casino” and “whirlpool of speculation” it stood to reason that it had to remain national.

    • Population growthers may not all be bigots but at best are naive to fall for the Malthusian beliefs dressed up as science or ‘research’ avoiding peer review and relying upon circular referencing from fellow travellers.

      Conversely, why are most bigots in the Anglo world au fait with the coded dystopian language of the population growthers and negative stereotypes or cliches thrown round to stifle debate e.g. as can be seen on StormFront, Torygraph, Herald Sun comments etc.?

      For all the suspicions about ‘immigrants’, the population growthers have been obviously taken in by neo lib and neo con arguments or policy rewarding the wealthy with tax cuts, and society with infrastructure deficits, then blaming it upon ‘immigrants’…. classic dog whistling.

      It’s all very well to present supposed problems or issues anecdotally, it’s another thing to make a correlation and then a causal link…… unless of course you agree with Abbott et al and you can ignore science….. and a bit rich if one thinks here is a font of intellect, wisdom and ethics…..

      Meanwhile demographics keep changing in Australia and maybe one day the WASPish powers that be will be demographically over run by Oz’s immense diversity, something to celebrate no? If not may I suggest reading Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints, it’s suitably dystopian and apocalyptic amongst similar types in Europe and the USA …..

      • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

        “Meanwhile demographics keep changing in Australia and maybe one day the WASPish powers that be will be demographically over run by Oz’s immense diversity, something to celebrate no?”

        The desire to see one race (demographic) “over run” by another, just sounds Racist to me.

        Is your Namesake a reference to the Author of Crowds and Power?
        The below description of its writing style (wiki) seems to also describe the content of your posts here.

        “It is notable for its unusual tone; although wide ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way. Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power. Unlike much non-fiction writing, it is highly poetic and seething with anger.”

        Sorry if you feel that my question above is an attack on your personal freedom.
        Also from above link.

        “On asking questions: “On the questioner the effect is a feeling of enhanced power. He enjoys this and consequentially asks more and more questions; every answer he receives is an act of submission. Personal freedom consists largely in having a defense against questions. The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions.”

  10. More evidence that Australians, including MB commenters, have a loose grasp of irony, and more like neo con primary school yard name calling….. lacking any introspection and analytical skills; while MB obsesses about immigration and the rest, population growth, services, borders, infrastructure, etc., and opportioning blame upon ‘immigration’.

    I understand why Brandis has been pushing for the right to be bigoted, it’s not just about supporting fellow travellers in media…. but also anyones’ right to vent their spleen, attack messengers or anything contrarian to their special view of the world or ideology; helps fire people up and thinking irrationally, i.e. go for the heart not the head aka Trump et al.

    Canetti’s main message was warning about the dangers of the Nazis and their ideology, nowadays they appear under different more civilised and palatable guises, yet still intolerant. Further:

    ‘.. as a politically astute jew whose assimilation to German culture was about to be revoked – Auto de Fe – was published the same year as Nuremberg Laws were passed – Canetti was very much aware of the politics of fragmented subjectivity and of the dangers of irrationlism’

    However, Australia has become caught up in this negative influence of neo con ideology, too easily.