Economics

Thirty-two years since his death, Colin Clark (1905–89) remains an obscure name in Australia and the discipline of economics. This relative anonymity may strike those who know of his academic achievements as odd, even unjust, as Clark was an outspoken and occasionally brilliant intellectual. A protégé (and later apostate) of John Maynard Keynes, a British Labour party candidate for South Norfolk, a Queensland state statistician, and a scholar at Cambridge, Monash, Oxford, and Queensland, the British-born Clark was a pioneer of national accounting and made numerous contributions to various fields of economics. These were tempered, however, by his ideological conservatism, peripatetic employment, and uneven record of economic forecasting.

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The middle class has always been the target audience for the ever-optimistic, benign phrasing of Australia’s economic prospects. It is for them that there runs a vein of exceptionalism that believes no matter what the numbers say, the nation is immune to the dangerous excesses of the American brand of capitalism. This extends to debt. Despite the widely touted fact that we have among the highest levels of household debt in the developed world, we assume that any downturn will be temporary – the next mining or housing boom is just around the corner.

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Who was John Maynard Keynes? Was he the bookish Cambridge don who penned ambitious theories to overturn the tenets of economics and political liberalism? Or was he Baron Keynes of Tilton, the ardent imperialist who viewed British rule as a benevolent force bringing justice, liberty, and prosperity to the societies it administered? Was he a meticulous Lothario who kept lists of his hookups with anonymous men on notecards? Was he also a political statesman who lambasted the intransigency of his colleagues during fraught negotiations in two world wars?

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A survey conducted in the UK in 2017 asked people whether they trusted the opinions of a variety of experts, such as doctors, scientists, and nutritionists. Economists came second last in a big field, beaten to the bottom only by politicians. How can it be that practitioners of an academic discipline that traces its intellectual history back at least 250 years have sunk so low in popular esteem? It seems that the blame rests not with economists themselves, most of whom are honest and well-intentioned individuals whose main handicap, at least among the males of the species, is their legendary boringness and appalling taste in ties.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that pride comes before a fall, and ‘Anyone with a historical sense would have realised that the hubristic attempt to make the world into a frontier and culture-free single market would end in tears.’ This opening salvo in Professor Robert Skidelsky’s new book is part of his answer to what is wrong with economics. Besides arrogance, this includes amorality, ahistoricism, sociopathy, over-formalisation, and unscientific dogmatism.

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As part of his budget speech to the House of Representatives in April, Josh Frydenberg, the federal treasurer, announced that his suite of policy changes would ‘deliver better outcomes for all Australians’. Such talk is par for the course in parliamentary democracies ...

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The world, according to writer Oliver Bullough, has a problem. One unexpected consequence of globalisation and the liberalisation of financial policy has been an increasing flow of money across borders. This has given rise to a new global élite. Aided by seemingly respectable lawyers, bankers, and real estate agents ...

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Recently I solicited impressions of his job from the new head of external affairs at a big financial organisation. What had struck him first was the manpower at his disposal. The total headcount ran into many hundreds – larger than most if not all Australia’s print and electronic newsrooms. There was not merely one department. Each division of the institution had its own well-resourced team ...

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This is not a book with immediate appeal for the general reader, who is likely to be deterred by the denseness of its analysis. That is unfortunate, because its message deserves to be widely disseminated. It provides a useful account of economic history since the end of World War II, both internationally and ...

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What’s an accountant’s favourite book? 50 Shades of Grey. But in a world of transfer pricing and Special Purpose Entities, suddenly accounting isn’t funny anymore. A 1976 Congressional report noted that the Big Eight accounting firms controlled ‘virtually all aspects of accounting and auditing in the US’ ...

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