For most Tasmanians a darker reality lies behind the seductive tourism brochures showcasing the state's pristine wilderness, gourmet-magazine articles celebrating its burgeoning food culture, and newspaper stories gasping at a world-leading art museum. Tasmania ranks at the bottom among Australian states on virtually every dimension of economic, social, and cultural performance: highest unemployment, lowest incomes, languishing investment, lowest home prices, least educated, lowest literacy, most chronic disease, poorest longevity, most likely to smoke, greatest obesity, highest teenage pregnancy, highest petty crime, worst domestic violence. It seems not to matter which measure is chosen, Tasmania will likely finish last.

Why Tasmania is such a long-term underperformer, and what might done to improve, are important questions -- not only for Tasmanians but also for the nation as a whole. In fact, it can be argued what's happening in Tasmania is not an exception but a microcosm for a major part of Australia; it is already typical of non-metropolitan regions and might represent more of Australia's future. One advantage in Tasmania, however, is that because it is both a "region" and a state, data and other information are available that allow us more clearly to see patterns that remain buried among bigger aggregates in other states, which elsewhere combine the big cities with non-urban regions into a comforting average.