Reconstruction: Australia after COVID by John Edwards

‘To find the right path, we need to know where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going.’

Right now, we are still focussed on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, navigating both the health issues and the economic and social consequences of isolation and lockdown. But one day, the pandemic will recede, and we need to plan for life afterwards.

The author of this Lowy Institute paper, John Edwards, is a Senior Fellow with expertise in Australian economic policy and was a senior economic adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating. He has also written six nonfiction books including ‘Keating: The Inside Story’ and ‘John Curtin’s War’.

So, where do we begin? As stated on the cover of this paper: ‘Until the coronavirus pandemic, nearly two-thirds of Australians had never experienced an economic slump in their working lives. Indeed, nearly half were not yet born when the Australian economy last tipped into recession.’ This poses its own set of challenges.

In Chapter One ‘Before the Pandemic’ Mr Edwards begins by revisiting the events of 2020: the impact of underemployment and unemployment and reduced incomes for individuals, with soaring levels of government debt. Mr Edwards provides an analysis of Australia’s changing economy where, by 2019, mining, farming, and manufacturing accounted for one job in eight with the remaining seven jobs in services. And what about Australia’s relationships with China and the USA?

In Chapter Two ‘The Pandemic’, Mr Edwards discusses the human cost and the economic impact as well as the different responses by China and the USA. And we learned of the importance of effective leadership:

‘What really mattered, the world discovered, was not advanced medical care, top quality hospitals or advanced science. What mattered was the quality of political leadership, prior experience of epidemics, community consent and compliance with unusual restrictions, mass testing, isolation of active cases, social distancing and, if necessary, lockdowns.’

In Chapter Three ‘After the Pandemic’ Mr Edwards looks at the global economy and Australia’s place within it. I think it is going to take longer to get to ‘after the pandemic’ as the virus continues to mutate with (some) strains being more transmissible and more virulent. But for me, the strength of this paper is not so much what happens after the pandemic, it is more in the assessment of the structure of the Australian economy immediately before the pandemic and of the roles of China and the USA within the global economy.

‘Our new world is mostly the old world, with some important differences.’

My thanks to Lisa, whose comprehensive review  Reconstruction: Australia After COVID, by John Edwards | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog led me to read this paper.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith