Lang Hancock, the King of the Pilbara

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Last night we began reading Rogue Bull, Robert Duffield’s 1979 biography of Lang Hancock, the “King of the Pilbara”. What a delight. As an American, we have no idea if it’s accurate. But in our study of Australia, we present to you the insights that we find most useful in trying to figure out the place. And we reckon Hancock is the kind of man we would have liked here at the Daily Reckoning. Why?

There are a few reasons. First, Lang Hancock believed that all real wealth begins with tangible assets. “All real wealth is in the ground and societies become prosperous only by exploiting that wealth,” he said. “Governments, on the other hand, do not create wealth, they spend it.”

He was also suspicious of the political power structure of modern Australia. That’s a healthy suspicion in all places and all eras, we reckon. Here’s what Hancock said thirty years ago: “Australia is not a democracy, in any shape or form. It is run by four or five big pressure groups, and the biggest of these are the government bureaucracies. Then come the communist controlled unions, and after that the huge business lobbies, always with their hands in the public purse, always trying to influence governments, always looking for handouts and tariffs and concessions. Fourth come the media, and as a very poor fifth, the elected representatives of the people.”

“Implicit in this,” Duffield writes, “is Lang Hancock’s complete lack of faith in democracy as we know it today. It would be easy to say that what he seeks is an anachronistic return to laissez faire, in which the doers do and the rest of us let them – and indeed that is the core of his thinking…In Hancock’s Australia not only bureaucrats but politicians, including ministers of the Crown, would be reduced to minor roles. But so, too, would the grey-suited minions of the multi- national companies, with their safe, lowest-common denominator decisions in the boardrooms of Sydney or Melbourne.”

The man was also deeply suspicious of democracy in the sense that it amplifies the moronic absurdities of majority thinking. It’s another way of saying that groupthink always produces weak politicians and bad public policy. “It is one of the great faults of our democratic system that a man running for elective office cannot afford to be unpopular. He may know that the majority is always wrong and yet he has to toady to them. This is the great tragedy of Australia.”

“You really think the majority is always wrong?” Duffield asked.

“Absolutely,” Lang Hancock answers. “There are no two ways about it. One of the main problems facing Malcolm Fraser is the fantastic growth of government over the years. Government has poked its incompetent nose into every facet of the commercial and private lives of Australians. It has become so large, so all-embracing and so inefficient that no cabinet of men elected through the parliamentary process could possibly expect to have the competence to administer it properly.”

That was thirty years ago. But it’s as true today as it was then. Only we don’t hear so many Australians saying it. More from Lang Hancock tomorrow.

Dan Denning
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.
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Comments

  1. Dan: Duffield’s book is out of print. Why don’t you consider reprinting it ? I would buy ten copies for the enlightenement of younger friends, worldwide.

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  2. Lang Hancock was correct and very astute. Growth of the public service is practically unstoppable (if it was cut back there would be riots (in India higher caste people rioted a few years ago because a part of their bureaucracy was set aside for untouchables); and the public service per se offers well paid, secure employment.

    WE dinky-di’s are a curious breed, we love to be part of the bureaucracy because it is perceived as risk-free employment. But remember if a government does them wrong they will seek vengeance. So government will always treat it public service with kid gloves.

    Yet the work is horrible and is uncreative and uninspiring. I heard a senior public servant claim in a speech in late 1997 that ‘if you wanted to change society and have some impact you should join the public service’ (it wasn’t Beria or Iron Felix), but he was an idiot, and I felt ashamed and I could tell his age, political persuasion and education by his comments (there are a lot of people in their 50’s who still dwell on November 11 1975,but most of us moved on, on 12 November 1975).

    Whitlam made many mistakes (nothing else) and grew the bureaucracy and the PMs department, Fraser continued the process and Hawke promised to reduce the size of PM&C and did not.

    In 1996 the new Howard govt made some substantial cuts to the public service, but since 2002 it has recovered and grows on and on. And the demand continues.

    I enjoy your writings.

    Reply
  3. […] on Lang Hancock, other than the great Ron Manners, was The Daily Reckoning’s Dan Denning here and here. It is a sorry comment on other Australian think tanks that it was a recent American […]

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