The Once-Lucky Country


Few places on earth are better suited for middle-class prosperity than Australia. From early in its history, when it was a refuge for British convicts, the vast, resource-rich country has provided an ideal environment for upward mobility, from the pioneering ranches of the nineteenth century to the middle-class suburbs of the late twentieth. Journalist Donald Horne described Australia in 1964 as “a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.”

Over the last decade, though, Australia’s luck has changed, as the country develops many of the pathologies of crowded, socially divided societies like the United Kingdom or the United States. Despite being highly dependent on resource sales to China—largely coal, gas, oil, and iron ore—Australia has embraced green domestic politics more associated with Manhattan liberals or Silicon Valley oligarchs than the prototypical unpretentious Aussie, often someone dependent on resource-based industries. The result: a dramatic reversal of the middle-class uplift that so long defined Australian society.

In Australia, according to the OECD, the portion of households considered middle class—that is, earning between three-quarters and double the average income—has been dropping by more than a percentage point per decade since the 1980s. The size of the country’s middle class now ranks below the OECD average, and Australia’s middle-class millennials are likelier to sink into poverty than are those of all other advanced nations, except Greece and Latvia.

Historically, the Australian Labor Party, like its counterpart in Britain, was a party of the working class. After World War II, Prime Minister John Curtin helped push through reforms—including financial support for homeowners—that accelerated middle-class prosperity. His approach was later adopted, and enhanced, by his liberal (in the classical sense) rival Robert Menzies, who recognized the family as “the cornerstone of Australian life.”

Read the entire piece on City Journal.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website and is a regular contributor to, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

Photo: HutheMeow [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons