In a series of articles written over many years, Ian W.
McLean has addressed the dual questions of how Australia
attained high levels of prosperity less than a century
after European settlement and why it has since remained
amongst the wealthiest of nations. Although
this book is not a comprehensive study of Australian
economic history, it builds on this earlier body of work
and brings together his answers to these questions. It is
engagingly written, helped by the minimal use of technical
material and the creation of counterfactual scenarios
in several places. Most important of all is
McLean’s impressive use of the comparative approach.
While arguing that Australia’s path of development has
been strongly shaped by international influences—immigration,
investment, trade, and political institutions—
he interrogates closely its performance relative
to that of other specific nations to tease out national
differences as well. These are appropriately selected in
most cases: the role of differences in land ownership
patterns and political institutions with Argentina, or the
greater connection of Canada’s timber and grain industries
to manufacturing than Australia’s wool and mining.
However, New Zealand might have featured more
strongly in the comparative story.