Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dog Days, by Ross Garnaut

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

For too long Australia has ridden on the back of the China boom, but those days are over. To avoid a painful landing, however, it will be necessary to implement unpopular policies according to one of Australia's most eminent economists, Ross Garnaut.

This book is part of the Black Inc. series called Redbacks. Each book tackles an area of national interest by a specialised author.  The title pretty much says it all for this one: Dog Days, Australia After the Boom. Ross Garnaut is of course one of Australia’s most respected economists. He’s quite dry and serious on the page, but the he’s also politically non-partisan, at least in his writings. Garnaut has spent a lifetime in contributing to public policy, and as such good policy is his passion. His main warning here is that bad policy or laziness could lead to trouble in the future: an increase in inequality, reduced living standards, higher unemployment and the social unrest that follows with such things.

The central thesis of Dog Days is that the China Boom is now winding down and our politicians and policy makers have to start preparing for the economic changes this will bring about. He argues that we may have to accept reduced living standards for a while as these adjustments are made. He points out that we lived too high on the hog while times were good, simply presuming that the boom would go on indefinitely, but now the time of reckoning has come. The early 2000s , when the money was rolling in, is a time that Garnaut describes as the start of the Great Australian Complacency, a national mood that continues to this day.

The difficulties in implementing the right policies are of course a political one. Dog Days concerns itself a lot with what it sees as the current political malaise: a lack of political courage, too much reliance on focus groups and polling, and the use of negative, simplistic slogans. Another big culprit is the 24 hours media cycle, which promotes a race to the bottom. The book is actually not particularly optimistic about the nation’s chances of securing the required policy, which makes Dog Days often glum reading.

Ross Garnaut’s Dog Days lies somewhere between a dry policy paper and a call for more courage and maturity on the part of our political elites. It is written for the general public, but demands close reading and attention. Garnaut’s concerns for the future are serious and we should welcome his opening gambit in this debate.

Dog Days: Australia After the Boom, published by Black Inc. ISBN:9781863956222  RRP: $19.99

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