The types of facts you will and won’t hear!


The two Australian miracles: There are certain facts you hear all the time. Other facts which are very basic will get disappeared.

In an op-ed column in Sunday’s Washington Post, we read a familiar set of facts concerning Australia, an island nation located near New Zealand. Julia Baird wrote about the country’s famous gun buyback and gun regulations.

We highlight the key statistics:
BAIRD (8/25/13): In 1996, after a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 18 others in Port Arthur, a former penal colony turned tourist attraction, Australians collectively decided not to follow what then-Prime Minister John Howard called "the American way" on guns.

Just 12 days after the massacre, Howard, a conservative, announced that he had convinced Australia's states to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons and instigated a gun buyback for high-powered and rapid-fire rifles. A uniform system for registering and licensing firearms was introduced.

A third of the guns in Australia were handed in to the government. Polls found that as much as 90 percent of the public approved of the stricter gun laws.

There had been 11 gun massacres in the decade preceding 1996, but there have been no mass shootings since. This is a source of national pride, though statisticians still argue about what caused the change.


Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the Sydney School of Public Health and a specialist in firearm injury prevention, has documented that after the laws were changed, the risk of an Australian being killed by a gun fell by more than 50 percent. Australia's gun homicide rate, 0.13 per 100,000 people, according to, is a tiny fraction of that of the United States (3.6 per 100,000 people). It should be noted that our gun homicide rates were already in decline, but the gun laws accelerated that slide.
We’ve heard this story a million times by now. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s a significant story, producing this, our first Australian miracle:
Gun homicide rates, Australia and the U.S.
United States: 3.6 per 100,000 people
Australia: 0.13 per 100,000 people
That’s a striking set of statistics. In the past year, we’ve seen versions of this presentation many times.

(According to that passage by Baird, the gun homicide rate was already much lower in Australia before the buyback and the new policies. But still!)

As far as we know, no one actually calls that the Australian miracle, but many people talk about those statistics. That said, here’s a second set of statistics, a set you’ve never seen:
Health care spending, per person, 2011
United States: $8508
Australia: $3800
According to these OECD data, we spend an extra $4708 per person on health care. By how much is a family of four getting looted? Multiply by four!

As with Finland, so with Australia. In the case of Finland, we constantly hear about the nation’s alleged educational miracle, which isn't very miraculous. But we never hear about the country’s level of spending on health care.

In the case of Australia, the low gun homicide rate is now frequently mentioned. But no one ever asks how the country manages to spend so little on health care, as compared to the crazy spending recorded in the U.S.

The looting of Americans through health care is a forbidden topic. It doesn’t even occur to liberal and progressive journalists to talk about it, despite its massive salience in so many areas.

This looting is a forbidden topic; we can’t really say why that is. Having said that, let us notice this:

Conservatives in red state Oklahoma are getting looted this way, as are liberals in blue state Connecticut. Luckily, the two tribes keep calling each other names, making joint ventures impossible.

This allows the power elite to continue its looting. Divide and conquer has always been the best way!


  1. Australia isn't an island. It's a continent.

    1. That's worth a gold star for your lapel. Wear it in pride all this week.

  2. OMB (We've changed our headline)

    "We’ve heard this story a million times by now. ....

    (Insert Australian homicide stats here)

    That’s a striking set of statistics. In the past year, we’ve seen versions of this presentation many times."

    Bob Somerby, this post.

    So, of the millions of times we have heard it, how "many times" have been in the last year? So many times when bloggers cover hyperbole, they leave out numbers. We've said it more often recently than ever before.

    One thing we can't say anymore, however, is that the One True Liberal Channel has been silent on the Rosenthal series in the NYTimes. Tragically they covered it. Perhaps that is why there are so few comments on the topic raised by this post. People were either watching the incomparable Chris Hayes or ranting about whether on some other blog about whther it was a good or bad idea for George Zimmerman to visit the gun factory where the weapon he used to respond to the perceived life threatening behaivior of the previously reported suspicious and menacing Trayvon Martin.

    Seriously and sincerely, Mr. Somerby, your work on the issue of health care costs and the nonsensical coverage of education make you worth suffering through any other matters I might belittle. Keep up the good work!

    Daibazaal, grasper of the Tusk

  3. For those interested, the Australian healthcare system works roughly like Medicare ... and is even called Medicare ... except it covers everybody. Government sets a reimbursement level and covers 75% of that. Everybody over 31 is essentially required to purchase private gap insurance to cover the other 25% (or suffer a big tax penalty). Although I'm not convinced it's a good "value" per se, the gap insurance costs about $1100 per year for a single, about $3000 for a family.

  4. If America was an island like Australia we might not need a Second Amendment and I'm sure we wouldn't have the best emergency room care in the world.

  5. Today is the one hundred fifth anniversary of the birth of Lyndon B. Johnson. Although he did get a pension after he left office,he hardly needed it. He died before ever getting a single nickle's worth of benefits from the program which is his greatest acheivement and was sneeringly called "Johnsoncare" by those who saw it as a government takeover of the finest health care system in the world.

  6. By "never", did you mean "two days ago"? Because that's when this story was published in the New York Times:

  7. Why should the print and broadcast media bite the hand?

    You know they don't cover anything that might be detrimental to their advertisers and that in one case a major corporation bought up a media outlet in order to stifle the continual reports of government contract malfeasance on their part.

    Today's "journalism" does ITAR-TASS and Pravda proud.

  8. In response to Anon @ 8:32

    By "never" Bob seems to be referring to comparisons of Finn and Aussie health care spending to US spending. While the evidence is not absolute, based on paragraph positioning of the word "never" I may be right. I must confess I have "never" seen such comparisons.

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