Reading ‘Australia’s second chance’ and ‘The end of eternity’

I’ve been reading a bit lately, including surprise books courtesy of the ever excellent MK.

Australia’s second chance

I’ve heard a lot of things about George Megalogenis, as an excellent journalist, and someone who tells Australian history well. It’s true, he does.

His latest book, Australia’s second chance, is a fly-over of Australian history, used to argue the thesis that Australia flourishes when it has an open immigration policy. The first aspect, Megalogenis handles well. He gives an exceptionally readable overview of Australian history. It’s exciting to read about the early colonies, and the anxieties and prejudices they had about immigration.

The second part, though, I found disappointing. His argument is essentially an empirical one: that higher immigration and more open borders lead to greater economic growth. That’s a very testable one; there may be confounding variables, but a cross-country analysis would shed some insight. If he wanted to look at the Australian context specifically, using data would have been more persuasive – details on who immigrated when, what education levels they had, how they were employed in Australia. Instead, though, he ends up with a very vague appeal to a correlation – that in periods of high immigration, there has been high economic growth.

Which is in itself a flawed and superficial analysis. GDP figures measure something, but they don’t by any means measure the crucial pieces of a society. He writes:

The simplest measure of Australia’s success is its winning streak. At the time of writing, the economy has been growing for twenty-four years without the interruption of a deep recession. 

I would argue that fundamentally, Australia’s economic growth has to do with much more than migration policy. And more importantly, there is much more to measures of ‘success’ than whether a country’s GDP has grown. Over the same period, Australia failed on other measures.

For what it’s worth, I’m not saying that immigration is bad. I think there are strong arguments for a high level of immigration, and good policy reasons. I just don’t think Megalogenis presents them, or makes his case well.

The End of Eternity

I came across The End of Eternity a few months ago, in a second hand book store. It’d been years since I read I, Robot or the Foundation series, but I’d enjoyed them.

Reading something now that was originally published in 1955, it’s telling to spot how masculine a viewpoint Asimov takes. The story follows Andrew, a privileged member of a unique society that moves in and out of different realities and through time, managing them to bring about better outcomes for humanity.

He falls in love with someone from within a time period, one of the lesser humans who isn’t privy to the secret of the eternals. But when I say he ‘falls in love with her’, what I really mean is that Asimov describes him wanting to have sex with her. There’s a little dialogue, a little shading in of her character, but not much more. It’s disconcerting, as it wasn’t something I thought of when I was reading Asimov as a teenager; it’s like discovering that Orwell wrote in a manic pixie dream girl.

Apart from that failure, the book shows many of Asimov’s strengths. There’s a fascinating set of conceptual ideas, played out intricately in a complex set of plot twists. You can skip through the science-oriented sections, or half-skim them, and the plot will still flow. But it’s fascinating to think about a reality that can move between realities; and particularly intriguing as he describes how shifts in reality occur because of decisions being made. So that a person may not be aware when they’ve reached a decision, but they can spot it in the reality changing around them, because their future decision will lead to a forking in the different paths through reality. Intriguing stuff.

It’s not brilliant, but worth a read if you’re after some good sci-fi.

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