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Dry: In Defence of Economic Freedom

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John Hyde, a Liberal backbencher during the Fraser years, has written an important account of the rise and decline of the dry ideal in Australia. The book is a timely reminder that the wealth and also the liberties of nations are in only small part due to fortune. Mr Hyde reminds us that Australia’s per capita GDP – when compared with other rich countries – declined fairly dramatically from 1950 to 1992. Since then however, it has been steadily rising. But it did so in spite of the terms of our international trade. This was a fairly remarkable turnaround.

This remarkable reversal in Australia’s fortunes was due, in greater part, to the intended consequences of well-chosen public policies adopted five to ten years before. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the dry ideal enjoyed considerable success, especially in Victoria and Canberra. Tariffs were reduced, industries, trades and professions were deregulated, government enterprises were privatised and public waste and public debt were both reduced.

By 2000, inflation had been controlled, unemployment reduced from 11 per cent to 7 per cent and we had weathered the Asian meltdown with barely a hiccough. Then, when the world economy turned sour in 2001, we experienced only a very modest setback – so far.

John Hyde’s story, of course, has no end. If Australians neglect economic freedom and personal responsibility, again allow vested interests to dominate the public interest, and the short term to dominate the long, then they should expect this nation to return to relative economic decline.

Economic policies have long lags, and we are still enjoying the benefits of the Hawke and Kennett Governments’ reforms, though those government themselves are both long since gone. Today we have a Federal Government trying to ‘buy’ electoral favour with policies directed to the most vociferous interest groups and paid for by the wider community.

John Hyde’s book is an essential reader to understand the dangers of a cultural mindset that is determined to misunderstand the basis for economic success.

Book Details

Dry: In Defence of Economic Freedom
John Hyde
IPA (Institute of Public Affairs Ltd)

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