Book Review: Dead Right by Richard Denniss

Dead Right shows us that economics is not a force of nature but something voters and politicians are directly in control of.
Book Review: Dead Right by Richard Denniss

Australians fear losing their jobs. The difference between full-time work and unemployment ensures it. Gig-economy and part-time workers tread water somewhere in between, floundering inside the belly of ‘one of the richest countries in the world, living at the richest point in world history’, as The Australia Institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss writes in Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next.

Denniss, a writer for The Canberra Times, The Monthly and Australian Financial Review, pulls no punches from the first paragraph. Originally a Quarterly Essay in 2018 and now published in paperback by Black Inc, Dead Right is a perceptive insight into Australia’s mindset and economic values which are at odds with each other. Tony Abbott’s ‘you have to be firm to be fair’ mantra has held its position in Australian politics since his ousting as an incentive to work hard and leave employers’ cages unrattled.

Despite its title, Denniss says Australia’s political right is far from dead. It just no longer has a neoliberal economic game plan. Instead, the government loves spending state money when and where the private sector wants it to, including stadiums, state services and memorials where companies can adorn their names, coal mining industry incentives and bank bailouts. The banks were adamant they could self-regulate until the Royal Commission took only weeks to uncover ‘scandal after scandal’ where ‘their salespeople, often called financial advisers’ of the most profitable banking system in the world were ‘charging people for services they never received when alive, and taking ten years to repay money they had wrongly taken from customers.’

Denniss compares Australia’s minimal taxing of big businesses to that of Hong Kong and Singapore. He also compares us to the Nordic countries renowned and often aspired by western progressives for its high tax on citizens for public services – something which would make Keynes roll to the left of his grave if he could hear it.

Dead Right is an honest, refreshing take on Australia’s political and economic divides. Denniss is also an economist, though not guilty of economic tea reading and prophecy. He shows us the economy is not a natural force to be feared and respected but a designed and manipulated system which voters and our politicians are in control of.

Denniss is prescient of the 2019 federal election which he says would be ‘the first in decades in which neither party will argue that voters will benefit most from the government letting the invisible hand of the market solve all our problems,’ and then the bleeding obvious: ‘Australia has already radically changed direction.’

3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆

Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next
Publisher: Black Inc
ISBN: 9781760641306
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Release Date: 11 February 2019
RRP: $24.99

James Arbuthnott

Thursday 11 July, 2019

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a journalist in regional Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot