Publication Details

Ville, S. (2013). Book review: Ian W. McLean. Why Australia prospered: The shifting sources of economic growth. American Historical Review, 118 (4), 1170-1171.


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.

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