The basic concept behind free-market economics is simple and seductive: the government should not attempt to pick winners by granting assistance to specific industries, and it should only intervene in the marketplace when there has been a substantial market failure. The only trouble with this theory — as the global economic disaster has shown — is that it is based on ideology, not evidence, and it can’t withstand contact with reality.
For decades, Australia has been an enthusiastic adopter of the free-market approach. The consequences — such as mass privatisations, tariff reforms, and flexible wages and conditions — have been lauded by the booming financial sector and the political class. Unnoticed in the hubbub, though, has been the annihilation of the manufacturing sector — which has resulted in 20 years of monthly current-account deficits and a foreign debt approaching $650 billion — and an economy dominated by footloose capital and tax-averse multinationals.
Despite propaganda to the contrary, employment in Australia is now increasingly characterised by low-paid and insecure jobs in service, logistics, and retail industries.
The Failure of Free-Market Economics explains how the triumph of a fundamentally flawed economic orthodoxy has weakened the Australian economy and now threatens our future. It also offers a range of practical reforms that the author argues are essential and urgent. This is a unique perspective from a highly qualified expert who started his career inside the free-market establishment and has ended up as a ‘true unbeliever’ in its ideas.