Tag Archives: past

What we can learn about fighting inequality from Australia’s convict past



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Analysis shows that while land values per acre rose at 2.2% per annum, land rents fell by 0.3% per annum in the 1800s.
Powerhouse Museum/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Laura Panza, University of Melbourne

In Australia’s first century, from initial convict settlement in 1788 to the post gold rush decades, the economy grew rapidly. And despite all the changes going on, we found that during this time Australia gained its equality edge.

In fact, during roughly the same period (1774 to 1870) the United States experienced a steep increase in inequality. So looking at this phase of Australian economic history could teach today’s policymakers some lessons.

In the nineteenth century, Australia enjoyed the fastest rate of GDP growth per worker, between 1821 and 1871 it was about twice that of the US and three times that of Britain. We started to look at data from the 1820s onwards. This was the time when Australia quickly evolved from a colony where convicts were 55% of the labour force to a more conventional “free” economy by 1870.

While both Australia and the United States used forced labour extensively (slaves in the southern US and convicts in Australia), their share of the labour force was much higher in Australia (more than half) than in America (about a fifth). The difference in the two countries’ trajectories on inequality has to do with the timing of the emancipation of forced labour, the duration of their coerced employment and changing economies.

How Australia avoided inequality in the past

In Australia convicts were gradually emancipated following the 1820s. As existing convicts eventually got their freedom, the inflow of new convicts fell sharply after the 1830s (except for Tasmania).

By the 1850s Britain had practically ceased its convict transportation policy. In contrast, the slaves in the American south were used as forced labour for much longer, and emancipated only after the Civil War.

Another key difference between the two countries lies in the fact that while the United States underwent a process of impressive industrial growth, Australia specialised in the export of wool and gold (small scale extraction).

We used a wage to rental ratio to work out income inequality, comparing rental income and land values to workers’ wages. What we noticed is that European settlement in Australia was characterised by labour scarcity and land abundance.

In fact, the ratio of acreage to farm labour rose by a whopping 11.7% per annum between 1828 and 1860 and by 6.3% per annum across the 1860s. This was because land endowments grew very fast after the Blue Mountains were breached in 1815. This trend was also matched by a reduction in the gap between rental income accruing to those who owned land, relative to what unskilled workers were receiving.

Australia specialised in the export of wool and gold (small scale extraction) when the US was undergoing a rapid period of industrialisation.
Powerhouse Museum/Flickr, CC BY

Our analysis shows that while land values per acre rose at 2.2% per annum, land rents fell by 0.3% per annum. This difference was driven by the fall in interest rates, because of the partial integration between Australian and British financial markets.

On the other hand, the annual earnings of unskilled labourers soared, pushing the wage-rental rate up. With the end of British transportation policy, the “emancipated” convicts moved up the earnings ranks. They almost doubled their incomes if they remained unskilled, and moved up even higher if they could exploit their skills.

But there is another important reason behind the rise in unskilled workers’ incomes. As Australia did not undergo a process of industrialisation, it did not experience an increased demand for skilled workers, like the US. So the supply of workers kept pace with the demand for skills.

Lessons to learn for today’s inequality

While today’s economic conditions are different, there is something that we can learn from this episode of Australian history. Australia’s experience shows that it’s possible to achieve fast growth, and at the same time, a reduction in inequality.

Between 1910 and 1980 inequality trends have been similar across OECD countries. As these trends were driven by shared shocks, such as the Great Depression and two World Wars, Australia experienced the same inequality.

Income inequality in Australia has been rising since the mid-1990s. At the start of the 21st century, the income share of the richest 1% of Australians was higher than it had been at any point since 1951.

The ConversationGreater equality obviously can’t be achieved by emancipating convicts now, but policymakers can mimic the same effect by targeting vulnerable segments of society that experience greater disadvantage. For example politicians could improve equality of access to health, education, housing and other services across the country.

Laura Panza, Economist, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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School curriculum continues to whitewash Britain’s imperial past


Deana Heath, University of Liverpool

The Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign has drawn attention to the way Britain continues to live with the legacies of its empire – and the failure to confront the history of its imperial exploits.

Media attention on the campaign has focused primarily on a group of students’ attempt to remove a statue of the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes. But a key component of the campaign is a quest to de-colonise Oxford’s curriculum by making it less eurocentric and by including more works by people of colour and women.

To be fair to Oxford, such a critique could be made of many – if not most – institutions of higher education in Britain and the West, not to mention primary and secondary schools. England’s new national history curriculum for five to 14-year-olds, which was rolled out in 2013, offers a case in point: it whitewashes empire and its legacies.

While the curriculum does cover the slave trade and aspects of the history of empire, it manages to avoid tackling the actual impact of empire on either colonised peoples on Britain – or its ongoing effects.

The curriculum embodies a tension between a “little island” version of history and a history that positions Britain as a part of global processes, contacts and connections. As the statutory guidance for history programmes of study puts it, students should know not only “the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative”, but “how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world”.

There is a non-statutory option (which schools are not required to teach) in Key Stage 3 of the curriculum (for 11 to 14-year-olds) on “the impact through time of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles”. Apart from this there is very little in the curriculum on how Britain has been “influenced” by the wider world.

Narrating Empire as a triumph

The suggested topics relating to empire – all of which are in Key Stages 2 and 3 of the curriculum (for seven to 14-year-olds) – are all non-statutory, and focus predominantly on political, military and religious history. They all concentrate on the beginnings or ends of empire, not on what happened in between, therefore effectively ignoring the violence of empire and its effects.

The government’s guidance, for example, recommends that pupils study “the first colony in America” and the “first contact with India”. In other words, not the nature of British colonisation, its effects on indigenous peoples, or the ways in which it shaped Britain.

British colonialism in India crops up again in the guidance, but only in terms of “Indian independence and [the] end of Empire”. Children would therefore, presumably, have little idea at all what happened in India between “first contact” and Indian independence.

There is a similar treatment of the United States in the guidance, with the American War of Independence and the civil rights movement recommended as two additional topics. Such omissions of the periods in between make possible a triumphalist, nationalist historical narrative that renders empire a positive historical force in giving birth to nation states. This, the guidance implies, was a beneficial historical development – though colonial critics such as Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore would undoubtedly have disagreed.

Ireland, perhaps even more astoundingly, receives similar short shrift in the guidance. Other key British colonies – such as Australia – are not mentioned at all.

A history of white men

The one seeming exception to such whitewashing is teaching of the transatlantic slave trade, which the guidance says should focus on both “its effects and its eventual abolition”. But again, not only is the study of slavery non-statutory, but the narrative of slavery suggested in the guidance is again a triumphalist one. It positions slavery as having a clear end, with no enduring legacies – at least on Britain and the peoples it colonised.

Such legacies are, instead, displaced onto the US, via the civil rights movement. The curriculum guidance sidesteps the whole issue of empire and violence. While it includes topics on the Holocaust and the two world wars, colonial genocides and what historian Mike Davis has termed the “late Victorian Holocausts” – droughts, crop failures and famines exacerbated by European imperialist policies in which as many as 60m people died – are completely elided.

Cristóbal Colón – the last man to discover America.
edenpictures/flickr.com, CC BY

The progenitor of colonial genocide, Cristóbal Colón (still referred to, in the guidance, by his anglicised name Christopher Columbus) is positioned as an example of a “significant individual” who has “contributed to national and international achievements”. Yet he wasn’t even the first person to “discover” America, but the last.

This history curriculum that the guidance lays out is ultimately a history of white men. Not only does it devote considerable attention to war, politics, and military history, but women’s and gender history are notably completely absent. Non-white peoples play a small role as historical agents, particularly in British or wider Western history.

We still have a long way to go in decolonising, de-racialising and de-masculinising our past.

The Conversation

Deana Heath, Senior Lecturer in Indian and Colonial History, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Greece: Thessaloniki’s Past Unearthed


The link below is to an article reporting on the ruins of Thessaloniki’s ancient past, which is being discovered beneath a construction site.

For more visit:
http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/metro-works-unearth-second-pompeii.html


Article: England – London’s Roman Past


The link below is to an article that looks at London’s Roman past via 10 000 objects discovered in the mud.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/apr/09/archaeologist-objects-roman-london-find


Article & Photos: Australia’s Gold Rush Past


The link below is to an article with photos from 1872 that show an Australia in the midst of a gold rush.

For more visit:
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/google-street-view-1872-unveiled/story-e6frf7jo-1226583645452


Article: Popes Who Resigned


The link below is to an article that looks at four other popes who resigned in the past.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/48865/4-other-popes-who-resigned


Article: Computer Operating Systems of the Past


The link below is to an article that looks at some old computer operating systems that are generally nothing more than memories these days.

For more visit:
http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/dos-forgotten-operating-systems-geek-history-lesson/


Article: Historical Items to Improve Looks


The link below is to an article that looks at 11 items from the past that were meant to improve a person’s looks.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/144262


Article: Halloween Costumes From Yesteryear


The link below is to an article that looks at Halloween costumes from the past.

For more visit:
http://www.neatorama.com/halloween/2012/10/01/Some-Halloween-Costumes-From-Yesteryear/


Article: Beauty Tips from the Past


The link below is to an article with some questionable beauty tips from the past.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/140115


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