The performance of the Australian welfare system in a time of neoliberal economic reform
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“Neoliberalism”, both as a body of theory and as a set of policies and practices, is commonly seen as unsympathetic, even antagonistic, to the welfare state. In the period from the mid‐1980s to the global financial crisis of 2007–08, Australia underwent very considerable “neoliberal” economic policy reform. What happened to the Australian welfare system and to Australia's socioeconomic egalitarianism in this period? To shed light on that question three kinds of trend are tracked. The first is household taxes and social expenditure in both cash and kind, using fiscal incidence analysis where the main metric is “net benefits”. The second is economic inequality, as measured by the distribution of incomes and wealth. The third is the performance of the labor market, as measured by earned incomes and unemployment rates. The article concludes with an attempt to integrate the evidence collected from these three sources. The general conclusion is that the Australian welfare system did not follow the pessimists' predictions. The welfare system grew in size and redistributive quantum. Wage levels rose strongly, while unemployment rates fell. Overall, income inequality increased to a small extent, though mainly before the full economic reform process was in place, while wealth inequality changed little.
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