The lucky country syndrome in Australia
The historical experience of economic and social development of the resource-dependent economies (especially the settler economies) has been “unbalanced” (in Albert Hirschman’s (1958) terminology), to a greater or lesser extent, being heavily skewed towards commodity exports. But that has not necessarily meant they could not achieve developed, more balanced, modern, egalitarian societies. Part of the explanation for the differing experiences is the differing good or bad luck of factor endowments but that cannot get us very far. A simple materialist explanation is more or less meaningless without a socio-institutional-historical argument to frame it. Another way to put it is that luck or good fortune has to be constructed through institutional and political processes rather than simply anticipated. A historical political economy perspective, and one, moreover, that also takes into account social, cultural and ideological developments, focuses attention on wider issues than just economic factors in abstraction from the rest of the historical-societal context and focuses on actual historical conditions and experiences of particular societies.
The case of Australia’s historical political economy is re-examined to discuss the ongoing validity of the “lucky country” syndrome as a quasi-resource curse argument that no longer has much validity. The possibility of concluding that this is a resource-blessed outcome from the historic and recent minerals and energy booms requires an argument about the significance of the emergence and role of a developmental social democratic state from the late nineteenth century that succeeded in producing a modernization outcome in the twentieth century.