I’m back next week from holidays but threw together this little post on an important piece from Crikey’s Guy Rundle, Australia’s leading Marxist thinker, who finally led a push-back against mass immigration from the genuine Left this week:
Well, the Australian population has passed 25 million. Twenty five million! When I opened a primary school geography book in the 1970s, it was less than 14 million. Older readers — most of my readers — might remember when it was less than 10 million, before the end of the 1950s. You’d have to be 80 or over to remember when it was in the 7 millions on the census (which excluded Indigenous Australians, remember) — a genuinely small Anglo-Celtic outpost at the bottom of Asia, settled in part so as to make it easier to colonise Asia, and thus scaring itself to death from the 1870s onwards that Asia might reverse the process.
Twenty five million is an absurdly low number of course. Prior to any consideration of whether the continent could take that many more, reflect on how singular and ridiculous this place is. Forty percent of the population are in two cities. Even if you look at where people really are, we are enormously empty. Draw a line from, say, Portland, Victoria, to just above Brisbane, and the resulting “green triangle” will contain about 70% of the population, and still be largely empty. That triangle is about the size of France and Germany combined, or mainland South East Asia, each hosting nine-figure populations.
But it never feels that way for most of us, living in the three big cities (including Brisbane-Gold Coast), either in dense inner-cores, or in mountain-to-coast sprawl concreted over every natural feature. So the politics of this vast, sparse continent are really that of city-states — intense battles for turf, identity, recognition, and the maintenance of comparative social power between different groups.
Around them, neglected hinterlands look on. This too is an accident. Until 1910, more people lived outside of state capitals than in them, and the green triangle hosted a far more geographically balanced society. Country cities had their own newspapers, theatre companies, lecture circuits, civic life, all offering just about everything that could be got in Melbourne.
We began to tilt towards the capitals after that, and we have been tilting ever since. Melbourne now has more than four million people; the next-largest city in Victoria is Geelong which has about 150,000. The imbalance is absurd and unhealthy — the product of combining high levels of immigration year-on-year, with the failure to have a truly integrated regional and urban development policy. The imbalance occurs as much within our capitals as without, as, instead of creating multi-polar cities, we have simply added concentric rings of suburban footprint around the existing ones. In Melbourne you can see where the city “should” have stopped by the extent of the tramlines.
Decades ago, we should have been turning country towns into cities, small cities into bigger regional capitals, connecting them by short-distance high-speed trains. Instead, we let it go, and we are paying the price for it, and will do so for quite a while to come.
The immigration rate isn’t likely to come down anytime soon, barring a real economic crunch. Both major parties will pay lip service to reduction, to please sections of their base, but it will go on. Founded in geopolitics, as a base to forestall the French, our population bursts have always had that spirit. We began our post-Anglo transformation in 1948, the year the British quit India, and the empire ceased to be a framing world order. We are building furiously now for the decades to come, when the end of the American century comes near, and climate change begins to categorically shift global relations.
Then everything is up for grabs, the most striking possible result being a protracted third world war, in which the arrangements put in place by expanding European imperialism in the 1820s and 1830s are finally abolished. In those circumstances, the bigger the better to have as much bargaining power as possible. In a burning world, our green triangle might have to take many times 15 million people. There is no reason that the entity known as Australia founded in 1788 could not be ended a summarily in 2067 or 2059 — or 2031 for matter.
Whatever is said about our reasons for doing it, those are the real reasons, the sort of thing that a political-administrative-military deep state maintains as governments come and go. Multiculturalism, the form of top-down cultural refashioning to serve quantitative needs, is, in the last analysis, a form of military engineering.
So if we’re going to do it, it better be done well — not with the haphazard neoliberal half-in, half-out, but with good old fashioned statist dirigisme, for really big stuff. The money figures should be in the tens and hundreds of billions for multi-decade projects, as we pass 25 million, and head towards 50, in whatever form geography will be taught in, in the years and decades to come.
It is great to finally see some doubt from the Left about the dubious benefits of mass immigration. This is eminently preferable to the hypocrisy of the Fake Left, the Cultural Marxists that dominate the mainstream media, obsessing over the minutiae of identity politics while endorsing a blood-sucking corporate agenda to marginalise youth from houses, kill off wages growth and crush load our poorest city regions.
But is this “populate or perish” rationale for Big Australia any more useful? The assumptions of the Rundle piece make that highly questionable. The “end of the American century” and the abolition of the “arrangements of European imperialism” are far from foregone conclusions. The rising alternative model of Sinofascism and its statist capitalism is even more troubled long term. The Chinese debt-model of super-charged economic growth is on its last legs in geological time. It’s demographic disaster has also begun and is much worse than that of the US.
Without reform, within a decade let alone many, Chinese growth will be choked to a standstill by mis-allocated capital and bad debt. Sure it’ll rise militarily from here but most of its population will still be stuck in relative poverty and there is no way of knowing whether the Chinese Communist Party can even rule with stability once the economic progress of its peoples bogs down to growth levels similar to developed economies today. All those shiny new guns will likely be pointed inwards.
Other “big nations” will advance, such as India and Indonesia given these are democracies. They have greater prospects for further growth via liberalisation given they are more internally consistent. But a larger population in Australia is neither here nor there in defense against these. Technological edge, including nuclear, is what is required in a strategic sense to manage such rising powers.
Alas, Rundle is right about the fallout from climate change. It is difficult to see how that will play out in terms of geopolitics and great powers. Probably not a big deal. What we can say for sure is that as the lowlands of the Asian sub-continent and Pacific sink, it will drive an exodus of boat-riding refugees the size of which Australian bogan nightmares are made of. Does a larger population do anything to manage this? Nope. Again it is technology that will do it with unmanned surveillance and automated border control. The technological edge required is achieved via alliances with the US and its Western partners not by importing masses of people.
Finally, we need to ask what kind of economy will a Big Australia deliver and whether that serves the interests of defending Australia as we make our way through the multi-polar world ahead. Does an urbanisation economy, driven inexorably by private and public debt accumulation, get us to a larger and more dynamic economic outcome by mid-century than the alternatives? Hardly.
It will drive itself only into a productivity dead end and, after crisis eventually engulfs its debt loads, shunt the economy onto a much lower growth path permanently. Moreover, the reliance upon foreign people and capital to drive it will, in a very real sense, sell out to the very strategic end-point that a larger population is supposed to defend against. Rundle’s pining for a centrally-planned Chinese-style urbanisation agenda is, ironically, the very opposite of any self-defense that includes the protection of liberty. Thankfully, it is also fantasy. We don’t have it in us for such Marxist nation building. We never have. Frankly, nor should we. That way also lies debt disaster, corruption and stagnation.
But the real blunder in Rundle’s “population of perish” paradigm is the notion that some shadowy military-industrial complex of the deep state is driving population growth. This is, at best, a dated and lazy echo of Chomskyan cliche. The Australian Treasurer is not formerly an employee of Raytheon, he is a graduate from the Property Council. The just departed Treasury Secretary did not pop up at the helm of Thales, he’s been captured by AMP. The Australian PM is not some revolving door executive from Lockheed Martin, he’s a former CEO of Goldman Sachs.
This points us to the real mass immigration deep state: the political-housing complex. The FIRE sector some call it. The finance, real estate and retail monster that now controls the government, so much so that a simple immigration cut which would kill One Nation and repair the fatal split in the Coalition base has become anathema to it.
Nor is this just theory. I know many in the defense deep state. Believe me when I say that they are not concerned at all that Australia needs a larger population to protect itself. On the contrary, they are terrified of the waves of Chinese influence that are washing over Australia directly down the migration channels.
In short, Australia has a mass immigration program only to protect high house prices that fund rentier profits for the politico-housing complex in spite of any military-industrial version. If our paltry defense sector could, it would slash the immigration intake tomorrow.
And it would be right to do so. A much better path for Australian social cohesion, living standards, economic dynamism and self-defense into mid-century is to halve mass immigration now. This will allow the controlled debt-deflation that we need, as well as rebuild Australian competitiveness. Any loss of growth in the short term will be more than recovered in the long as a much lower currency grows the economy sustainably via booming tradable sectors that support the technological and industrial base of national defense. It will also prevent Australia from being sold out on the quiet in the meantime.
It is great to finally see some constructive input from the Australian Left on the fallout from mass immigration. It does not surprise me to see it come from Guy Rundle, who is Australia’s best public Marxist thinker. But his socialist frame of reference prevents him from learning one of the great lessons of twentieth century history, that centrally-planned economies do not produce sustainable and defensible states. Moreover, he appears lost in dark fantasies about the influence of some marginal military “deep state” when right in front of his face the real culprit is handing his nation to the highest bidder without a fuss.