Australian politicians at state and federal levels have obviously failed to create the right conditions for infrastructure services. But instead of admitting the mistake and doing something about it, they blame the people for just being there. It's not me, it's you.
It would make for good satire if it wasn't so serious. If the country is to get more wealth and choices and better services, it has to become bigger, not smaller. The economy needs population growth and a constant inflow of innovators and workers. For a scarcely populated country far from the rest of the world, it's still "populate or perish". The discussion should focus on the changes that it takes to keep a bigger Australia functioning.
That political leaders shrink from this challenge reflects a worrying lack of ambition and vision. Defensive ideas about halting growth and shrinking society are traditionally symptoms of a civilisation in decline.
And if it wasn't enough that stopping growth is economically destructive, it's also boring. Sure, crowds can be irritating. I'd much rather visit a multitude of bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and shops without being pushed around and waiting in line. But that is a bit like wanting to swim without getting wet. The choices are there only because the crowds are there.
When I listen to these expressions of enochlophobia I can't help but think of a passage in Bill Bryson's hilarious travel book Down Under. Bryson is a card-carrying believer in small Australia. When he visits Canberra, he writes admiringly about how the city has managed to avoid the awful urban sprawl, shopping malls and eight-lane roads that he is used to in the US.
And yet, when Bryson walks from his hotel to find a bar or just someone to talk to, he doesn't find anything. The only thing worse than a crowded place is a place that is not crowded.
In the end, Bryson returns to his hotel and gets drunk all alone in the hotel bar.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Populate or perish
This article in The Australian takes a swipe at politicians campaigning in Australia's current federal election on platforms of halting development and population growth. Canada shares some of Australia's challenges - a relatively small population spread out over a huge area and largely concentrated in a few big cities.