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The Cambridge Economic History of Australia
  • Edited by Simon Ville, University of Wollongong, New South Wales , Glenn Withers, Australian National University, Canberra
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Book description

Australia's economic history is the story of the transformation of an indigenous economy and a small convict settlement into a nation of nearly 23 million people with advanced economic, social and political structures. It is a history of vast lands with rich, exploitable resources, of adversity in war, and of prosperity and nation building. It is also a history of human behaviour and the institutions created to harness and govern human endeavour. This account provides a systematic and comprehensive treatment of the nation's economic foundations, growth, resilience and future, in an engaging, contemporary narrative. It examines key themes such as the centrality of land and its usage, the role of migrant human capital, the tension between development and the environment, and Australia's interaction with the international economy. Written by a team of eminent economic historians, The Cambridge Economic History of Australia is the definitive study of Australia's economic past and present.

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Contents


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  • 7 - Industrialising Australia’s natural capital
    pp 150-177
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Australian economic history, a history that is 'Australian' not only in reference but also character, a history that shares little pedigree with British economic history, and remains apart from the practice of American economic history. This chapter tells the story of writing this history by means of a schema of four generations. In 1935 Shann lost 'life's unequal struggle', and from 1941 Fitzpatrick's attention wandered from economic history. The chapter discusses the two pre-eminent figures in this phase: Sydney James Butlin (1910-77) and his younger brother Noel. These two pre-eminent figures of the interwar period were shooting stars who made their mark in bursts of inspired ardour. The enduring market for popular Australian economic history contrasts with the increasingly embattled position of academic Australian economic history from the late 1980s. This beleaguered position has also been shared by Australian economics.
  • 8 - Labour, skills and migration
    pp 178-201
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter presents Australian per capita income growth rates over the past two centuries, and identifies long and shorter cycles of growth. It discusses the reasons behind these growth cycles and makes international income comparisons. Next, the chapter analyses how sector shares and sector productivities have evolved over the course of Australian development. Australia's productivity growth spurt in the period 1840-52 was, to a large degree, an outcome of increasing the share of mining and services in total GDP. Finally, the chapter evaluates the factors that are considered to be essential to Australian economic growth, such as capital accumulation, human capital, innovations, interactions with the foreign sector, and health. Australia has been quite innovative since European settlement. Innovation increased over time along with improved tertiary education and increasing R&D outlays. The settlers from Europe brought human capital, culture and institutions to the New World and it is difficult to assess the relative importance of each these factors for economic development.
  • 9 - Colonial enterprise
    pp 202-221
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Australian economic history as a branch of social science has had a history of disputation and debate between different approaches. Australian thinkers have made distinctive contributions to economic and economic-historical thinking since the late 19th century. The years immediately following World War 2 marked a watershed in Australia's economic development, as in the rest of the advanced capitalist world. In Australia the maturation of the orthodox approach to economic history was a natural outgrowth from the earlier era's interests in the use of statistics combined with a causal narrative presentation and also sectoral development theory. The seminal works of Fitzpatrick, which were heterodox but not strongly Marxist, had a central emphasis on social class and capitalist power. Noel Butlin's concept of 'colonial socialism' attempted to bring institutional political economy further into the centre of analysis, a perspective implicit in much older writing about Australia's history but one lacking conceptualisation.
  • 11 - Urbanisation
    pp 245-264
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Aboriginal people are largely ignored in conventional economic history of early colonial Australia. The Aboriginal legacy is largely evident today through surviving Indigenous knowledge retained in the growing population of Indigenous Australians. This chapter builds on McLean and White by describing key economic features of the Aboriginal economy while dispelling some myths about the lack of resource management, capital investment, or task specialisation. Noel Butlin radically altered the debate about the pre-colonial Aboriginal population size and brought both economic and demographic techniques to understanding of whole Australian economy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The chapter revisits Butlin's analysis in the context of more recent literature. It then, discusses the economic prehistory of Aboriginal Australia in the early colonial period. The first contact between Aboriginal people and the outside world are also described. The total Australian population was still less than the pre-contact Aboriginal population until the gold rush brought a threefold increase in the number of colonists.
  • 13 - Manufacturing
    pp 287-308
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Technological change is a core component of modern economic growth. This chapter examines fundamental questions about Australia's technological development between the beginnings of European settlement and Federation. It explains the main patterns of technological change in colonial Australia. Technology is the body of practical knowledge and methods used in production and consumption. It tells us how different raw materials, equipment and skills can be brought together to yield a desirable outcome and extend an economy's production possibilities. Technological change in Australia was largely an urban phenomenon. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth were the vibrant hearts of Australia's technological system. The emergence of professional patent agents provided further evidence of the importance that the patent system had come to assume in the market for technological ideas. The transfer of technology benefited Australia's own technological capabilities by allowing Australians to focus their creative energies on pursuits for which they had distinct advantages in terms of expertise and skill.
  • 14 - Big business and foreign firms
    pp 309-329
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter combines chronological and thematic approaches to highlight the contributions of the chief resource industries to Australia's economic development. It discusses three key periods, being those associated with the forming of a pastoral economy to 1850, the augmenting of the resources economy by minerals and new land during 1850-90, and the adjustments and diversification of primary industries during 1890-1914. Within these periods the narrative explores the connections of the natural resource industries with enterprise, skills and technology, institutions and social capital, export-led growth, a staples trap and resource curse, and extracted resource rents and sustainability. In 1820 Australia's settler economy was confined to a narrow coastal strip of New South Wales and the riverine valleys of Van Diemen's Land. The first pastoral boom was faltering in the 1840s, although slower population growth ameliorated a tendency towards GDP per capita retardation.
  • 15 - Government and the evolution of public policy
    pp 330-350
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The 19th-century Australian labour market was defined more than anything else by the issue of labour scarcity. This chapter examines the implications of scarcity for the Australian labour market from the later years of the convict period through to Federation in 1901. It first focuses on free migration to the colonies. Despite relatively high wages, early 19th-century free migration remained relatively low, largely because of the cost of migration. Although migrants were increasingly attracted to Australia because of the gold rushes, the colonies nevertheless needed to implement extensive subsidies to attract suitable immigrants. Next, the chapter explains wages and skills. Although the majority of Australian workers had little employment security, a sizable minority, particularly in the tertiary sector, worked for employers with well-developed internal labour markets. Finally, the chapter explains labour market regulation and union activity. Unions were relatively small and inactive until the passage of legislation protecting their strike funds in the 1870s and 1880s.

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