Can Australia’s Economic Luck Hold?

After 26 years of growth, external shocks could knock the Lucky Country back into recession.

Can Australia’s Economic Luck Hold?
Credit: Rick Rycroft, AP Photo

The Lucky Country’s economic winning streak has now stretched to a world-beating 26 straight years. But amid record household debt, sluggish wages, and subpar growth, few Australians are popping champagne corks over the milestone.

The previous record, held by the Netherlands, was officially broken earlier in 2017 when Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) data for the March quarter showed 103 straight quarters of expansion.

Welcoming the figures, Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison said: “A generation of Australians have grown up without ever having known a recession. That’s a tremendous national achievement, but it’s not one we can take for granted.”

The developed economy record was extended further in the June quarter, with the world’s 12th largest economy posting a 0.8 percent GDP rise and a 1.9 percent average gain for fiscal 2017.

The Wall Street Journal has praised Australia’s “miracle economy,” noting that the last time Australia had a recession, Vanilla Ice was topping the charts, Boris Yeltsin was leading Russia, and the first Gulf War had just ended.

During Australia’s record growth period, the United States fell into recession twice from the “dot-com” bust and the global financial crisis (GFC), while East Asia went backwards during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Japan, Australia’s second-largest trading partner, has suffered six recessions in the past 30 years.

Economists have attributed Australia’s good fortune to a range of factors. Decisions made in the 1980s and 1990s to float the dollar, cut tariffs, and grant independence to the central bank are seen as crucial, along with deft management of financial crises such as the GFC.