13 December 2011

Possum on Australian Exceptionalism

A superb essay on Australia’s economic performance over the period since 1985 has been posted on the ABC’s The Drum website.  Written by Crikey blogger Possum Comitatus (twitter handle @Pollytics – well worth a follow) it was first posted last week on Pollytics, his Crikey blog (see here).

Possum analyses the OECD data over the period and finds our economic performance to be nothing short of amazing.

He begins:

"Australian Exceptionalism"… let that phrase roll off your tongue.

Now stop laughing for a moment if you can!

There's something about that phrase that just doesn't sit right with us. We're not only unaccustomed to thinking about ourselves that way, but for many it's a concept that is one part distasteful to three parts utterly ridiculous - try mentioning it in polite company sometime. Bring a helmet.

We'll often laugh at the cognitive dissonance displayed by our American cousins when they start banging on about American Exceptionalism - waxing lyrical about the assumed ascendancy of their national exploits while they're forced to take out a second mortgage to pay for a run-of-the-mill medical procedure. That talk of exceptionalism has become little more than an exceptional disregard for the truth of their own comparative circumstances.

But in truth, we both share that common ignorance - we share a common state of denial about the hard realities of our own accomplishments compared to those of the rest of the world. While the Americans so often manifest it as a belief that they and they alone are the global benchmark for all human achievement, we simply refuse to acknowledge our own affluence and privilege - denialists of our own hard-won triumphs, often hysterically so.

Never before has there been a nation so completely oblivious to not just their own successes, but the sheer enormity of them, than Australia today.

He then goes on to unpack a story that needs to be read in full and savoured, not summarised, with some very compelling charts.   In the process he demonstrates the how our economic achievements have delivered worthwhile social achievements, not been at the expense of social achievement. Indeed, I think our social values have played an important part in our economic performance, but that is a story for another day, to be written by someone with more expertise in this area than I have.

Access Possum’s article here.

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