Return to your seats and fasten the safety belts. There’s turbulence ahead. Prepare for an outburst of economic parochialism. If, as predicted, the Yanks are coming to buy Coles, the jingoists could create a bumpy ride for common sense.
In Crikey today, Dick Smith leads the charge: “Selling Coles to an overseas company will be a disaster for Australia – we’ll be selling it way too cheaply and all of the wealth created by one of the biggest retailers in Australia will go overseas.” The unions, MPs with a big Coles presence in their electorates and the rest of the Australian business imperialist crowd are bound to follow with calls for the Treasurer to exercise his prerogative to prevent a takeover of Australia’s biggest private sector employer.
There’s just one problem with this line of argument. Reality. The reality of a global marketplace that makes it perfectly acceptable for Australian living standards to be propped up by selling resources to the world, but not by allowing the world to buy the goods on our shelf. The reality of running a deregulated financial system that imposes regulation when enough people squeal loud enough. The reality of cherry picking international capital when it suits us, but rejecting it when it doesn’t. And the reality of sending grown-up messages to the rest of the world, which suspects Australia is actually run by adolescents.
Dare we quote Milton Friedman: “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”