Half-full glasses overflowing with reality

It is fascinating how often the commentariat takes the Australian people for mugs. Like this past week when the number-crunchers determined that our national economy was performing better than anybody had really expected.

Growth figures showed our engine of growth was powering along at a rate of 4.3 % per annum. This puts us in the top bracket of the league table for the whole world and, certainly, is better than a kick in the crotch. But then we were berated by a number of senior commentators who tried to determine why we could not be happy when the economy was simply powering along. Their fulcrum was the exhortation by Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Glenn Stevens, exhorting us to see our glass as half full and not half empty.

So, what are commentators missing when they berate us for being sad-sack curmudgeons instead of joyfully giddy innocents who can’t grasp the big picture?

Well, the fact they seem to ignore is that the Australian people are not as simple or naive as they so frequently like to imagine. The simple fact may just be that the people are cleverer than the so-called intelligentsia would dare to dream.

There are several factors at play. First is that while the national economy may be going comparatively gang-busters we do not accept that the current federal government is the architect of its sound functioning. Most Australians just want this government gone. They do not have faith in it and they resoundingly dismiss its competence. The national mindset appears to be overwhelmingly that we believe the economy is doing fine in spite of the Gillard administration and not because of it.

The other reality overlooked is that while things may be doing just fine – statistically – here at home, we are not stupid enough to discount the frightening financial turmoil in Europe, the economic torpor in the USA and UK, and the intractable belligerence that bedevils the Middle East and other military hotspots like Afghanistan and Pakistan. The commentators – and federal Treasurer Wayne Swan – would have us believe we are miserably misanthropic in not recognising the good fortune of having a strong domestic economy. But perhaps the reality is that we are simply sensibly cautious in recognising that a threatening global catastrophe could change everything in the blink of a stockmarket frenzy.

In an era of globalisation we have learned that no nation is an island and we are just as much hostage to events in far-flung corners of the world as we are to the temper tantrums of local politics. Our perceived pessimism is merely pragmatic prudence.

There is a sad corollary which is that Australians are not so much intrinsically pessimistic about our national future but deeply disillusioned with our governance: which includes both government and opposition. Those who exhort us to feel good about ourselves ought to get their own houses in order and give us valid reasons for optimism. Because at the moment they are simply robbing us of the will to live.