Kevin Rudd used 7000 words to tell us how we got into this crisis and how transformative it will be. Apart from heralding a return to activist government, he didn't tell us anything about the future he would like to create from the wreckage.
I'm not sure how many other Australians did their penance but last week I took some time out to read Kevin Rudd's essay in The Monthly magazine entitled The Global Financial Crisis.
When I heard that the Prime Minister had given up much of his Christmas break to pen the piece, I was keen to read it. I read with interest his previous Brutopia piece in The Monthly back in 2007 and I looked forward to some special insights and vision in this latest piece. I did not get either.
The Prime Minister provided Australians with an account of the history that led us to our present crisis. Anyone who has spent anytime reading the work of American economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (both of whom are referenced in the piece) and many others would have found nothing new in Rudd's history.
And Rudd's attempt to pin the whole crisis on an ideology embodied solely by the Liberal Party here in Australia is nonsensical. The entire political establishment jumped on the small government, low regulation bandwagon. John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Costello have all been quick to point out the warm embrace that Australian Labor federal and state governments, alongside the centrist Blair and Clinton administrations have given to the ideology that created the crisis. The Liberals might be closer than Labor ideologically to the thinking that created the crisis - but if so, the margin is far far slimmer than the Prime Minister suggests.
The most egregious failure in the piece however was not its account of the past, it was the absence of any vision for the future. Historians have the prerogative of writing about the past. In a time of crisis, Prime Ministers are surely compelled to give us a substantial vision of how we should and will respond to the crisis. The only clues the essay provides to the Prime Minister's vision for the future is a return to late 70s early 80s social democracy.
Rudd convinces us of the "truly seismic significance" of the crisis only to take us back to pre Neighbours Australia for the policy solution. What a let down.
I really didn't need Kevin Rudd to provide an historical account of the crisis. There are plenty of these already. What I hoped for was a well argued case for change - not just a statement of the macro obvious about the need for more activist government. Kevin Rudd should have given Australians a sense of how he would like Australia to look after the crisis - the tax system, the health system, the education system, the pension system, business regulation, economic priorities etc etc and how his vision might might come to be. This would have made for interesting reading. But it would have required imagination, courage and policy specifics.
If the Prime Minister succeeded in persuading us that we really are at a "turning point between one epoch and the next", he did nothing to convince us that he has the vision to lead us into the new epoch.
His focus on the macro issues and his refusal to meaningfully address any of the specific challenges thrown up by the crisis - apart from the obvious issue of financial regulation - was cowardly. I have an increasing sense that many of his prescriptions for economic recovery are the same.
Kev probably should have focused on his tan.