Another Log on the Australia-vs.-U.S. Bonfire

Following these previous items on the compare-and-contrast between two big English-speaking former British colonies with superficial similarities and some surprising deeper differences, a reader writes (emphasis in original):

I am an Australian subscriber to The Atlantic, and so was glad to see that you have been in Australia and wrote about how it is different from the US. I travel to Seattle once  a year and have found our two countries s remarkably similar but there are some differences that I appreciate:
  • The Australian Prime Minister and state Premiers are voted into their positions by party members (avoiding some government near-gridlock or unpopularity that cannot be resolved until the next general election)
  • there are no primaries before a general election (reducing the long drawn-out, over-emphasis on politics of the US between general elections)
  • the GST ( value-added)  tax is incorporated into the displayed price of goods and services. [JF note: Yes! It is so disorienting to see an item listed at, say, "$25" and then to have the final price be exactly $25, instead of something like $26.73. Weird.] 
  • our college students do not graduate with the enormous debt that US students do
  • our politicians do not harp on about the world looking up to us because we are exceptional (note the that US is an also-ran in the Western world on many criteria like school education, health, work-life balance, etc.) [JF: It is hard for many Americans to internalize the fact that our living conditions have become second-tier in many ways. If you travel around much in other rich countries, you see the difference.]
These differences are additional to others you and your readers have already noted like:
  • weekend voting that is convenient
  • compulsory voting that inhibits the influence of extremists; by the way, our proportion of 'spoiled' ballot papers of about 5 percent is far less than the US's proportion of non-voters [JF: The legal requirement is that Australians show up at the polling place, or have a decent excuse for not doing so. Once they get the ballot, they may legally "spoil" it, by not voting or otherwise, but not many do.]
  • preferential voting (so that voters who happen to vote for what turns out to be a minor party are not suddenly disenfranchised)
  • public health care
  • no tipping
  • the public Australian Broadcasting Commission's and Special Broadcasting Service's many television and radio channels that provide news and views from around the whole world (and are not interrupted by advertising on the ABC).

Despite these differences, I love our visits to the US because:
  • Americans are not as reserved as Australians (I can more easily start a conversation with strangers at US bus stops, for example)
  • your universities are excellent, right down to the level of community colleges
  • your geography and forests are outstanding
  • the general atmosphere in the US  is more optimistic and idealistic (I suppose our  more frequent floods and droughts make us more cynical about the future)
  • book launches and author talks in the US are frequent and free (in Seattle, anyway).
Thank you for bringing up this point about the differences between our two beaut countries.

Anytime! And for what it's worth, in Australia as in most other countries, gasoline is more expensive than the U.S. Here's the scene at a discount pump where I was refueling. After the litre/gallon conversion and at the current rate of the Aussie dollar, it's around $6 US per gallon.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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