Twenty years ago, I was a young intelligence analyst working in the International Economy Branch at the Office of National Assessments. Around the middle of 2001, I started noticing a lot of talk about Argentina. Argentina was in trouble.
A number of years before, in order to build credibility in Argentina’s economic, fiscal and monetary policies, the Argentine government had pegged the country’s currency, the peso, at a one-to-one exchange-rate with the US dollar. This was their strategy for restoring and securing economic normality to a troubled country.
For a while, everything went well. However, Argentina’s structural problems with foreign debt, government deficits and corruption meant that, by the middle of 2001, savings and capital were fleeing the country, and the currency peg was under immense pressure. Day after day, week after week, month after month, the President and finance minister would appear in the media, promising that everything would be all right, that the strategy would remain in place, that the government would balance its budget very soon, that the peg would never, ever be broken, and that the peso in the average Argentine’s pocket was as good as the US dollar.
None of this was true, nor could it be true. Even young, inexperienced me could see that the policy would never work. Currency pegs are hard enough to make work even in the most disciplined countries. In a place like Argentina it was impossible. I knew that, gradually, it was all coming apart, that eventually the currency peg would break, and that the denouement would be tremendously painful for the Argentinians.
So I watched with fascination as the situation became ever worse, the government’s austerity policy growing tighter, economic activity ever more constrained, the protesting against the economic chaos ever more intense, the rhetoric ever more shrill, and the last-minute plans and ‘silver bullet’ programs ever more desperate and fantastical.
And then, shortly before Christmas, it all fell apart. The protests peaked, the police response became violent, the banks shut their doors, the economy collapsed, the government lost control and President de la Rua fled the Casa Rosada in a helicopter. The aftermath for Argentinians, an immediate and severe collapse in living standards and material well-being, was horrendous. Twenty years on and the country still suffers, no government having managed to produce a viable solution to chronic problems which both caused and were caused by the dégringolade of 2001.
Those who understand history will recognise the tragic folly pursued by the Argentinians: policy elites, for whatever reason, select an ambitious goal for their polity and an unrealistically ambitious strategy for achieving it. Either for lack of resources or lack of will to commit the resources, or simply because the goal and strategy run contrary to human nature, actual results fall short of those required and promised. The government, because it invested its reputation in the strategy, strengthens its commitment and intensifies the policy measures needed to achieve it. Opponents and those adversely affected react by further heightening their opposition, and the situation becomes an arm-wrestle between powerful forces. Eventually, the affected population either bends to the repression and the strategy continues, or the strategy falls apart at great cost.
Argentina was a case of the plan falling apart catastrophically. Other recent cases, selected randomly from my memory, of plans failing include: the US commitment to Vietnam, and more recently Afghanistan; the Bank of England’s commitment to the European Exchange-Rate Mechanism; and Prime Minister Thatcher’s poll tax. Closer to home, we have the example of Kevin Rudd’s mining resources rent tax.
INSTANCES of the populace knuckling under to the government’s repression as the plan continues to fail are rare in industrialised democracies. The only one I can think of is the European Union’s financial repression of Greece in the 2010s – despite popular discontent and protest, Greeks eventually resigned themselves to their circumstances. Forcing a population to knuckle under to an overly ambitious plan is usually the domain of repressive regimes. For example, the imposition of communism in various countries, all of which require the creation of a police state, overt and covert close surveillance of the population, and a prison-industrial complex. Even those attempts at control eventually failed.
The examples of communist tyranny are instructive. When an ambitious goal and strategy imposed on a domestic population begins to fail, the popular reaction is usually indignation, protest, civil disobedience and sometimes violence, especially among those groups most adversely affected by the measures and their failure. The government’s response to expressions of discontent is to introduce or intensify repression – disallowance of protest, violent responses to whatever protests might nevertheless occur, slandering and demonisation of protesters, and calls for the community to inform on those not “doing the right thing”. The community becomes divided between those who support the government and can’t understand why others don’t simply submit, and those who are at the end of their tether and feel they have no choice but to protest, regardless of the cost.
Does this sound familiar?
We are now at the point in the process where the Army has been brought in to conduct surveillance and enforce compliance. The police are shooting at demonstrators with tear-gas, pepper spray and non-lethal but very painful plastic bullets, and government voices have approved discrimination on the basis of vaccination-status — nothing less than a system of medical apartheid. What started as “two weeks to stop the spread” has morphed into a violently repressive and discriminatory police state, with no end in sight.
So what’s next? Does the situation turn around and improve? Does the population knuckle under and endure the curtailment of its liberties until either the strategy works, the virus burns itself out or we reach population immunity over time? Or is it that the strategy collapses as a result of mass civil disobedience and widespread non-compliance?
With regard to the progress of the virus, I cannot say. I simply do not have the education in medicine, virology or epidemiology. Assuming that the damn thing hangs around and keeps mutating, what it appears we can expect is a race between the government’s getting its strategy implemented successfully, and the populace deciding they’ve had enough with endless months of official and conspicuous failure. In light of last weekend’s protests, the signs are ominous.
As I write, key segments of the population are near revolt – governments can ignore the cries of distress from western Sydney or from small business-owners in Victoria because those segments of the population cannot organise effectively against the strategy. But governments cannot ignore truckies going on strike, which they are promising to do on August 31 with associated roadblocks, as such a protest — more a revolt, really — effectively brings commerce to a halt. And it seems the truckies have had enough if material promoting mass action, like that at left, achieves what organisers hope and intend.
Secondly, the indications from countries further down the road of the ‘lockdown and vaccinate’ strategy point to the anticipated failure of the current blitz of pleas, demands and threats to get vaccinated. The expectation that vaccines would protect the population by providing people with sterilising immunity and durable protection has been dashed. The vaccines, it turns out, do not provide ‘sterilising immunity’, nor do they produce an immune response which prevents COVID-19 from infecting the inoculated, appearing only to provide a vaccinated person with ‘effective immunity’ that prevents lethal manifestations of the virus but does not stop infection or its transmission altogether. Also, the protection provided by the vaccines isn’t durable: the latest news is that the vaccinated require a ‘booster’ jab at six to eight months. In Israel, whose vaccination programme led the world, this depletion of the vaccines’ effectiveness has caused the government to contemplate withdrawing the country’s “green pass” from those declining to receive a booster third jab, effectively placing them in the same category with regard to social rights and freedoms as the never-vaccinated.
This indicates that, without other, supporting measures, such as treatment and prophylaxis, the vaccines aren’t sufficient to bring Australia to population immunity, which is the basis of the government’s strategy for ending travel restrictions and opening up the country. Without this population immunity, and without a strategy for treatment and prophylaxis, opening our borders and removing restrictions creates the risk of yet another outbreak of COVID-19, which would make all the measures taken and the pain suffered over the last 18 months worthless and meaningless. Unfortunately, it appears the vaccines, and the strategy of which they are key, are, like President de la Rua’s harsh austerity measures for protecting the peso’s dollar peg, a busted flush.
This is all bad enough. But what is most bizarre, deeply concerning, inexplicable and tragic about the governments’ strategy is that there may well be no need for it, as Phillip Altman last weekend laid out in these pages. That is because there is an alternative strategy available, a strategy which would make all of the repression, the surveillance, the terrorising, slandering and division, the exposure to experimental vaccines, the economic loss, the emotional distress and the suffering, possibly even the death from COVID-19, completely unnecessary. Even if the alternative strategy didn’t meet these standards there is no reason why it couldn’t be used alongside the current ‘lockdown and vaccinate’ tactic, reducing the need for lockdowns to be so intense. Unlike the poor Argentinians, whose currency peg trapped them in a corner from which there was no safe exit, we may actually have a clean way out.
That alternative strategy is to treat infections as they arise, with whatever medicines and protocols prove to be safe and effective. As you might expect, now that we are 18 months into the pandemic a number of medical professionals and researchers have developed protocols for treating COVID-19, both in outpatients recovering at home and the hospitalised. The protocols use accepted, affordable, commonly-available medicines and supplements which have been demonstrated to be safe. Among them are the Zelenko protocol, the MATH+ protocol and I-MASK+ protocol, and the Borody protocol, developed last year by our own brilliant Professor Thomas Borody. There are likely many more of which I haven’t heard.
I understand that the effectiveness of these protocols, and the drugs which they employ in treating COVID-19 is still being debated. What is impossible to understand is why, in the middle of a pandemic, with all of the suffering caused by both the virus and the ‘lockdown and vaccinate’ strategy repeated failures, the medical community isn’t erring on the side of action and pursuing the opportunity to at least try these protocols. This reluctance is even more puzzling, given the way the medical community has so quickly and firmly latched on, firstly, to such responses as masks, social distancing and lockdowns, none of which has any scientific support and all failing any cost-benefit analysis, and secondly, to the experimental vaccines, the long-term effects of which on the vaccinated are at the moment not only unknown but unknowable.
Given the failure of the vaccines to provide sterilising and durable immunity, these officially shunned protocols become even more important, possibly crucially important, to ending the emergency. Without having achieved population immunity, I can’t see how it will be possible to both re-open up the country and avoid the worst of a further eruption without having safe and effective protocols in place for treating and, even better, for preventing COVID-19 infection.
Knowing all of this, why haven’t these safe, affordable, and potentially-effective treatment protocols been pursued with vigour? What on earth is going on in our government and medical community? Who is making the decisions, and why aren’t more medical professionals speaking out?
I believe these are questions worthy of a royal commission once we get to the other side of this crisis. But for the moment I can’t begin to answer them. I can only conjecture that the Prime Minister is more afraid of political strife were he to allow and encourage the use of these protocols, than he is of the dire consequences and proven failure of chaining the country to the ‘lockdown and vaccinate’ strategy.
What I can say is that, given the existence of a viable alternative strategy, our government’s behaviour is perverse. It resembles Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, with we Australians the trapped, helpless victims of a mentally unstable caregiver who is determined to use whatever means, including violence and unyielding opposition to safe and effective medicines, to keep us ill and in our beds. I cannot for the life of me imagine a universe in which imposing a repressive police state on a population, exposing them to the risks that necessarily attend to experimental vaccines, and instituting a medical apartheid could possibly be superior to simply distributing to that population safe, cheap and effective medication for treating COVID-19. But that is where we are – our governments appearing to believe that lockdowns and, soon, medical passports, can be enforced with pepper spray, plastic bullets and a heavy police presence, are a superior response to COVID-19 than safe, affordable and accepted medicines.
What is of even more concern is that, as the failure of the ‘lockdown and vaccinate’ strategy intensifies, like all governments before them who have chosen to reinforce failure, the Commonwealth and state governments will become even more desperate and more dangerous to the citizenry. The plans being readied in Victoria for what appears to be the ne plus ultra of lockdowns is a terrifying harbinger. We are now at the point where our governments are no longer in charge of their strategy; rather, like the Argentinian government in the early noughties, the strategy has taken control of them. As a result, our leaders feel not just obliged but compelled to take whatever measures they feel necessary.
As it fails, governments’ Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is imposing immense costs on our society and inflicting significant damage to our egalitarian and liberal democratic institutions and traditions. It has gone on for long enough. Too many people have been needlessly hurt, and many more will be hurt if governments are allowed to persevere. The alarming mobilisation of our Army to enforce compliance with the strategy was bad enough, but the medical apartheid of COVID passports and the revolting sight of police firing at their fellow citizens are, at least as far as I and many others are concerned, the last straw.
It is up to us to push for a new and better strategy for dealing with COVID-19. There is no time to lose.
Jeremy Bray works as a consultant in economics, statistics, and risk analysis. Those who wish may contact him at email@example.com