Tales from our lost boom

James Wickham24/08/2010

James Wickham: My summer reading has included an astonishing book: the global historian James Belich’s Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939. It’s all about ‘settlerism’ – the dramatic sequence of booms and slumps through which the ‘Wests’ of the United States, Australia and so forth were created from almost nothing in just a few generations.

Part of the argument is about the nature of speculative settler booms. As Belich points out, the history of these booms is a strong antidote to those who still believe in the rationality of the market. And these settler booms have some curious echoes in our own recent history...

Belich claims that settler booms were self-sustaining: the business of growth was growth itself – shades of our housing boom when houses were being built by immigrants and the only people who would be filling them would be – the next immigrants. He stresses the hysterical commitment of boomtown politicians to their fantasy of continued exponential growth - remember Our Great Leader’s comment that people who doubted the boom should ‘commit suicide’? He notes the extraordinary casual destruction of natural resources. And finally, while all booms end in busts, not all busts end in recovery. Whole towns can ‘go ghost’ (approximately 700 in Australian Victoria after 1891) and stay that way forever; people can leave again (approximately 300,00 European immigrants from South Africa between 1904 and 1908)...

Posted in: EconomicsEconomics

Tagged with: boomsmarket rationality

Professor James Wickham

James Wickham

James Wickham was Jean Monnet Professor of European Labour Market Studies and Professor in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. He has published widely on employment, transport and migration in Ireland and Europe; he is the author of Gridlock: Dublin’s Transport Crisis and the Future of the City and co-author of New Mobilities in Europe: Polish Migration to Ireland post-2004.  His book Unequal Europe: Social divisions and social cohesion in an old continent analysed the collapse of the European Social Model; his new text book European Societies (Routledge 2020) examines the structures of inequality in contemporary Europe.  He is a former director of TASC. 


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