The World’s First Immigration Economy

Demonstrators march during a protest to demand humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in Sydney on July 21, 2018. – Australia’s detention of asylum-seekers on the remote Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus has drawn international criticism after news of alleged widespread abuse and an “epidemic of self-harm” and suicide. (Photo by PETER PARKS / AFP) (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, the U.S. economy has chalked up nine years of solid growth. That’s 36 consecutive quarters of GDP moving in the right direction, which amounts to the second-longest run in U.S. history. If the growth continues for just one more year, it will unseat the boom of 1990s to become the longest.

That’s impressive. But if you’re looking for a developed country that seems to be entirely recession-proof, go to Australia. Australia has enjoyed 27 years of uninterrupted growth since its last recession—108 consecutive quarters of economic expansion and counting.

A few developing countries such as China can match that record, of course, but no other developed economy even comes close. When even China started to slow down in 2012, it raised fears among commodity exporters like Australia. Iron and coal are Australia’s top two exports, and China is their No. 1 destination. But even then, Australia’s GDP growth merely slowed from 3.9 percent in 2012 to 2.6 percent in 2013. Other developed countries might be thrilled just to reach 2.6 percent in the first place.

But Australia’s extraordinary economic statistics mask a more difficult economic reality.But Australia’s extraordinary economic statistics mask a more difficult economic reality. At the lowest point in the spring and summer of 2013, Australia’s quarterly growth rates fell to 1.7 percent. At the same time, Australia’s population was growing at an annualized rate of 1.8 percent. Measured in per capita terms, then, Australia’s economy actually shrank for two consecutive quarters.

Australia also experienced a “per capita recession” for four quarters during the global financial crisis and for two quarters during the dot-com bust of 2000. It recorded a quarter of negative per-capita GDP growth in 2003. Viewed this way, Australia’s economy has in fact matched every U.S. recession of the last 40 years, with one additional slowdown in the first half of 1986.

Economists don’t usually bother to adjust quarterly GDP statistics for population growth. For most developed nations, population growth is so slow and steady as to hardly matter on such a short-term time horizon. Not so for Australia. Australia’s population has grown by nearly 45 percent since 1991. No other major developed country even comes close to that rate.

BY SALVATORE BABONES for FOREIGN POLICY
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