Blame the middle class, not the Greek

The real similarity between Greece and Australia is not productivity, nor an overvalued currency, but the culture of entitlement both nations have developed.

Business Spectator’s Robert Gottliebsen today describes how Australia has caught the Greek disease of low productivity and an overvalued currency (Australians are catching the Greek disease, May 15).

This is interesting as just last week Robert was bleating on behalf of Australia’s middle class welfare state (Federal Budget 2012: Ripping in to middle Australia, May 8).

Australia’s productivity has stagnated over the last 15 years, but unlike Greece the ten years before that was a period of massive reform to both employment practices and government spending.

The structure of the Australian economy is very different, not least in its openness, to that of Greece.

What’s more Australia has a floating currency which will eventually correct itself unlike the euro that Greece finds itself trapped in.

That’s not to say Australians won’t be hurt when that currency correction happens. The failure of the nation’s political, business and media elites in failing to recognise and plan for this is an indictment on all of them – including Robert Gottliebsen.

Australia’s real similarity with Greece is the entitlement culture that both nations have developed.

Over those last 15 years of poor productivity growth, Australia has seen a massive explosion of middle class welfare under the Howard Liberal government which has been institutionalised by the subsequent Rudd and Gillard Labor governments.

Today middle class Australians believe they have a right to generous government benefits subsidising their superannuation, school fees and self funded retirements.

For all the sneering of Australian triumphalists about Greek hairdressers getting lavish government benefits, Australia isn’t far behind Greece in believing these entitlements are a birthright.

A middle class entitlement culture is the real similarity between Australia and Greece. It’s unsustainable in every country that harbours these illusions.

Unlike Greece, Australia doesn’t have sugar daddies in Brussels, Paris and Berlin desperate to prop up the illusion of the European Union. Australia is own its own when the consequences of magic pudding economics become apparent.

Australia’s day of reckoning may arrive much quicker than that of Greece. Then we’ll see the test of how Australians and their politicians are different from our Greek friends.

Paul Wallbank is a business technology writer, broadcaster and blogger and author of eBusiness: Seven Steps to Online Success.

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