JUST PLAIN TALK: A look at the land down under

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Buz Livingston

When England lost their 13 North American colonies, the Crown needed a place to send convicts. To compensate, for almost a century English reprobates ended up in Australia. Don’t get offended, Crocodile Dundee. If you have southern lineage like me, assuredly one of my forebears was in some trouble with the law, too.

Australia has done remarkable things economically. For almost 30 years the land down under has avoided a recession. Attribute some of their good fortune, like always, to luck. It’s a large nation, approximately the same size as the lower 48 United States, with abundant natural resources. Plus it is surrounded by some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

In the rest of the developed world recessions come and go, but happenstance and geography aren’t the sole reasons for Australia's good fortune. While their fiscal planning is not bulletproof, Australia does economic policy the right way. As Stephen Grenville, a former official of the Australian Reserve Bank, noted, shocks can hit an economy and it can maintain economic growth when “you get policy right.”

One of the first lessons from the Aussies is when a recession looms, or growth slows don’t be like Ray Charles and do the mess around. During the 2008 global crisis, Australian policymakers fought more aggressively than their European and American counterparts. Contrasted with other developed nations, Australia implemented fiscal stimulus quickly and avoided austerity measures. They spent heavily on infrastructure, jobs you can’t outsource or automate while increasing direct aid to lower-income families. No household making $250,000 increases their spending when you give them $500. Not so with a family making $25,000. As a result, their economy didn’t contract.

The Australian financial services industry is markedly different from ours. Australian regulations inhibit the deluge of banking derivatives that almost wrecked the American economy. Plus sub-prime mortgages don’t exist in Australia. It’s not rocket science, but it makes no sense to lend money to people who can’t afford to pay it back or repay the loan only if the property’s value increases.

Almost 25 percent of Australian citizens were born overseas. By welcoming immigrants, the country’s population has grown twice as fast as the U.S. Immigrant families tend to be younger, so they create more demand for goods and services. More people means more consumption, which increases investments and minimizes economic downturns.

As mentioned earlier, geography helps the Aussies, but they don’t put up trade barriers. Jarrod Bell, the chief economist of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, is blunt. “Openness to trade and investment has been a huge part of our growth story,” he said. Trade with China has increased 10-fold over the last two decades along with other emerging market countries.

Recessions can be addressed adroitly or hamhandedly; D.C policymakers should learn from their Canberra counterparts.

You can’t always get what you want but Buz Livingston, CFP can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.