The Lucky Country

May 16, 2013, 11:38 am Marcus Padley Yahoo7

“The Lucky Country” sounds like a nice cuddly description of Australia, but it isn’t. In fact it’s a rather nasty mocking.

“The Lucky Country” sounds like a nice cuddly description of Australia, but it isn’t. In fact it’s a rather cynical dig. It comes from the title of a Professor Donald Horne book in 1964. The point he was trying to make was that Australia was “Lucky” rather than “clever”. Lucky to develop without being particularly clever and lucky to have adopted the technological, economic, social and political innovations of other more “clever” nations.

The Lucky Country by David Horne courtesy Penguin books

The usage of the expression has been redefined a hundred times since 1964. Given different meanings. Horne laments the fact that he has had to “sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied this phrase”. So let me misapply it one more time.

To a Pom the “Lucky Country” means something completely different. It means “A Gambling Nation”. On a relative basis Australia is a nation of gamblers.

If someone goes past you in a Porsche in the US you say “That’s Bill Gates, built Microsoft, clever bloke”. If someone goes past you in a Porsche in the UK you peer in the window, sneer and say “Nouveau Riche, no class”. If someone goes past you in a Porsche in Australia, gets out in his flip flops and tracky dacks, scratches his arse and goes into Bi-Lo to buy a six pack of Bourbon and Coke you go “That’s Joe Bloggs. Won the Lotto. Good on him”.

Australians respect luck. I’ve never seen such a nation so besotted with Lotto. You have as much chance of winning as you have of being hit by lightening on a Wednesday on an odd day of the month, no chance in other words, but still you keep paying your money to a company with a monopoly on exploiting stupidity.

Luck is the Australian culture. It stems perhaps from the fact that the country was built on the luck and guts of pioneers who wandered into the bush, marked out some land and dug for gold. “Something from nothing” is Australia’s culture, a culture that thrives on the image of “boy dun’ good”. Thick but rich.

It just not fashionable to be smart. The only time you mention your hard earned academic qualifications in Australia is in interview, under your breath. People are even embarrassed to put them on a business card for fear of being criticized for showing off. Far better you “make it” against the odds than narrow the odds with an education. Australians thrive on the idea of fighting against the odds (Gallipoli).

But this idolisation of the “chancer” has left a population believing that their own lives will also be, one day, miraculously, transformed. That their boat will come in, that it’ll be alright in the end. That they too will “make it”. That some piece of “luck” will deliver without them having to make any effort at all.

But sorry, it won’t. Too many Australians live life with unrealistic expectations. In Europe “Everything’s built and everything’s old”. The culture of acceptance and realism is far more natural than one of hope and fantasy. People are resigned to their financial fate. They set up school fees funds. They budget their holidays. They invest in bonds. They don’t expect some “opportunity” or meteorite hit to transform them or bail them out of their past excess.

The consequence of unrealistic expectations for Australians will be disappointment. Disappointment at expectations not being met. Disappointment in retirement. Disappointment in yourself. Disappointment for your family. On top of that you can add daily, often solitary, financial pressure, pressure that will cost you more than money in your lost, happy, frame of mind.

Too many expectations are unachievable and based on a repeat of asset market gains from the past not the future. But this is not a market to bank on financial miracles and it doesn’t have to be this way. You can do yourselves a huge favour just by resorting to reality not fantasy. Stop planning on a miraculous wealth event and start planning on reality, a predictable income and working for a living without property prices or the stock market bailing you out.

From that base level of expectations a realistic financial future will materialise. One that you can achieve, one that you can exceed, one that will make you happy and one that doesn’t require you to be “Lucky” at all.

Apologies for the host of generalizations about Australians.

More Marcus Padley:
Timing the market
One stock portfolio
The death sheet

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