Population boom puts us in depression

“A word means what I want it to mean, nothing more, nothing less,” Humpty Dumpty said in “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There”.

The International Monetary Fund says “most commentators” define “recession” as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. And the “growth” refers to growth in Gross National Product.

Hence we have the Alice in Wonderland conclusion that Australia is not in recession.

Last week’s ABS figures had Australia’s economy growing at 0.1 per cent. Phew! We are not in recession.

Bunkum.

When you take away the “Gross” in GDP and convert it to real life as per-person income, Australia has had five quarters of negative growth. In short, people’s incomes have been shrinking for more than a year.

So, let’s go back to Humpty Dumpty. Let’s define “recession” as “two consecutive quarters of negative growth of per capita GDP”, or, cutting out the jargon, as “two consecutive quarters of people’s income shrinking”.

And what would you call five quarters of people’s income shrinking? I would call it a “depression”.

And it is all down to Australia’s huge unsustainable population growth.

Sure, we do not have the massive unemployment and destitution of the 1930s. This is because we have a social welfare net and instead of unemployment, we have large underemployment.

Moreover, the effect on the lives of people on low and middle incomes is much worse than the figure of a shrinkage of 1.3 per cent suggests – for two main reasons.

The first is that the housing crisis (caused by high population growth, a shrinking supply of social housing, and high interest rates) has caused rents and mortgage repayments to skyrocket, thereby reducing disposable income by much more than 1.3 per cent. 

The second is that the 1.3 per cent fall in people’s income is an average. Given that the incomes at the upper end are rising substantially, incomes at the lower end have fallen by much more than 1.3 per cent. 

Hence my use of the word “depression”. Governments don’t survive depressions, as one-term Labor Prime Minister James Scullin found out.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has cleverly exploited the cirsumstances, blaming high immigration and migrants for hospital queues; congestion; and the housing shortage. Blaming others, people who are different, is well-received by some voters. 

But it is not the immigration program per se which is causing the problem, but rapid population growth creating demands on infrastructure that cannot be met. If the population growth comprised only natural growth with a fertility rate of say 4 instead of the 1.6 we now have, the problems would be the same.

It should not be a race matter but a matter of numbers.

Dutton, however, does not mention “population” just “immigration” and “migrants”.

Labor should have seen this coming during Covid. But in Government it did nothing. It allowed not just a return to unsustainable pre-Covid levels of immigration, but a “catching up” – in effect doubling pre-Covid immigration levels for two years.

The crisis in hospital queues; congestion; and the housing shortage were inevitable, as was Dutton’s reading of the popular mood.

Labor will only have itself to blame if Dutton and the Coalition win next year.

Rather than blaming migrants (who are already here) Labor should recognise that existing multicultural communities have the most to lose from high immigration because it puts extra pressure on the very services they need most: public transport, translation services, schools, health services and so on.

If Labor does not get population pressure under control, all of its other policies will be meaningless.

It is almost a cliché to say at any time that the next election is the most important in a generation; or since the war; or in the past 50 years. But the 2025 election is in fact just that.

If Dutton wins it will be because of his immigration message. In government, of course, his business mates won’t let him do much to stem the flow of cheap labour and more customers, but no matter. 

Once he is in, the Coalition will trash Australia’s opportunity to make the best of our natural advantages as the world transitions to carbon neutrality. It will waste years and billions of dollars in developing the most expensive form of electricity generation possible in Australia – nuclear.

Last week, 77 business leaders and academic economists signed an open letter supporting Labor’s Future Made in Australia policy. It will put seed money into projects that will use the abundant cheap energy from renewables to convert, refine, and fabricate the raw materials that hitherto have been exported for others to exploit.

It will be a travesty if this policy is lost because Labor allows the Coalition to dog-whistle its way into government on immigration.

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Ten years ago, as my weight was climbing into the high 90s and approaching 100kg, I watched and enjoyed a BBC program debunking the dieting industry. Shortly thereafter another BBC program on dieting aired. Another bollicking, I thought in anticipation.

But no. It was Michael Mosley, a medical doctor and journalist. He quickly summarised all that was wrong with the dieting industry and then went in search of the best medical advice to see what was the best way to lose weight.

He came up with the now famous Five-Two Diet. Nothing but water and black tea for two days and nights. On the other five days you could eat what you like, for 10 weeks.

It was fearfully difficult but effective. My weight has been under control ever since. The diet has been modified a bit since.

My guess is that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world owe their weight control and life-changing better health to Michael Mosley. I have consumed a lot of his programs since. It has been a decade’s diet of evidence- and science-based journalistic excellence.

He died last week while on a hiking holiday in Greece, aged 67. A sad loss.

Crispin Hull 

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 11 June 2024.

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