Virus Crisis Signals End Of The Road For The ‘Lollipop Economy’

Written by:
24 March 2020
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However this crisis ends, the era of Australia’s ‘lollipop economy’ is over. Not in our lifetime will a worker ever again be paid $180,000 a year to stand and hold a traffic sign at a construction site. (Which is the amount traffic controllers can earn under the Queensland government’s minimum labour requirements on state-funded infrastructure projects.)

If there’s one thing that sums up what’s happened to the Australian economy after 29 years without a recession, it’s the symbolism of someone holding a Stop/Go sign being paid twice as much as a school teacher.

It’s uncertain how Australia’s highly regulated, highly indebted, high cost and low productivity economy will withstand this global pandemic.

The potential consequences of what’s happening are enormous. Some commentators are greeting the pandemic as the opportunity for the public to begin ‘trusting the experts’ again. Certainly, that’s one direction the crisis could take. The exact opposite reaction is also possible, and community trust in public institutions and the authority of government could be eroded even further.

There’s the very real possibility that the public might realise that many of the things the politicians have spent the last decade talking about are in fact utterly irrelevant. Climate change being the most obvious example.

Similarly, the public might come to the not unreasonable conclusion that much of what the government now does, and what the government requires regulators to do, has done practically nothing to improve the productive capacity of the country. The product of nearly three decades of uninterrupted economic growth is that red tape is now Australia’s largest industry.

The almost-guaranteed recession the country is about to suffer will make a few other things crystal clear. It will reveal what everyone has always known about our industrial relations system, namely that its primary purpose is to increase the wages and conditions of those in work. Australia’s industrial relations system, which includes us having literally the world’s highest minimum wage, does nothing to encourage employment.

Something else a recession will uncover is that Australia’s compulsory superannuation system is a fraud.

There’s no justification for compulsory superannuation, and that’s especially the case now. If one partner in a couple with children and a mortgage lose their job, the other partner who’s lucky enough to still be in work needs the 9.5% of their income that the government confiscates immediately, not when they retire in 30 or 40 years.

The superannuation industry is right to be concerned about proposals for the government to allow early access to their superannuation balances for people who’ve become unemployed because that will be the beginning of the end for compulsory superannuation – as it should be.

Even if compulsory superannuation is not abolished immediately, there is now no way any government will increase the compulsory contribution rate.

This crisis has already revealed Australia’s frayed and fraying social bonds. When the Prime Minister appealed to people to stop hoarding food and toiletries he said “We’re all in this together”. He’s right.

The problem is though that since the 1970s with the invention of the concept of multiculturalism and with the rise of ‘identity politics’ more recently, the notion that Australia is a single community with every citizen being in solidarity with every other citizen, has been undermined and attacked at every opportunity.

No government now talks about how all Australians are equal and the same. Instead, all of the emphasis in the public discussion is on how diverse and how different we all are – and how our political and legal systems should accommodate our differences of background, gender, race, and so on.

We’re taught Australia is a nation of tribes – and such thinking leads to selfishness, not selflessness.

Up until a few weeks ago some people had assumed that as Australia’s international competitiveness continued to fall the country would spend the coming decades slowly sinking into perpetual decline. The nation’s condition would never be quite bad enough to be recognised as a a crisis, and so the public and the politicians they elect would never actually be sufficiently motivated to do something about it.

Well, recent events have proved that particular prediction for the trajectory of the country’s fortunes spectacularly wrong.

The nation is now facing an economic, and potentially a social, ‘banana republic’ situation – times 10.

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