Foresight ignored, as hindsight makes clear

You must admit, hindsight has a pretty bad name. It’s often a stick wielded by some smarty-pants who didn’t have the foresight to make the same criticism at the time. And what makes the victim wince is that it always contains facts. Why the rest of us like it is that we have long been taught to “trust the science”. Hindsight epitomises pure and exact science.

But just for a moment, let’s turn that clever thinking on its head and ask how hindsight could enlighten decision-making before the event. For those of us in the role of watchers rather than actors, it is usually frightfully easy to perceive the correct course of action to be followed in any seriously difficult policy matter. We have skills the actors are denied. Where they are confused, we alone see the obvious. After all, we are the ones who will pronounce the hindsight verdict. Almost by definition, the actors are so uptight as a result of feeling the responsibility of making decisions, they are bound to get them wrong. The problem therefore is simplified to this: how to transfer our collective wisdom to the actors before they inevitably get things so wrong.

There is an additional benefit from this process. It enables us to evaluate leadership. The test of a leader becomes how well he makes decisions which, in hindsight, will come to be judged wise. A good leader is the one who makes decisions judged wise and correct – in hindsight. A brilliant leader is the one who always gets hindsight right, first time.

Geoffrey Luck: Well pay in pain when the bill comes due

You will not be surprised to learn that these thoughts were provoked by reflecting on Australia’s disastrous management of the COVID-19 challenge. No trumpeting of a national emergency cabinet, propaganda appeals that “We’re all in this together” or canonising nurses can obscure the fact that government has killed the economy to save us from an epidemic that never came. That’s the hindsight judgement we can now make.

Stampeded into precipitate drastic action by the fake science of computer modelling, posing a false choice between saving lives and maintaining normal business, a conspiracy of incompetent politicians and bureaucrats created a million unemployed with the stroke of a pen. And then wasted billions in compensation and stimulation to apply CPR to an economic corpse.

From the beginning, the policies were not to save lives – they were to prevent the hospitals being “overwhelmed”. Nowhere in the world, with the possible exception of Northern Italy, have hospitals been overwhelmed. This led to the production of the fake computer-generated peak forecast of 35,000 ICU beds being required in this “unprecedented” event. It was this alpine curve that had to be flattened so that demand could be brought below the available 5,000 ICU beds.

That peak was never more than a pimple. But notice that the “flattening the curve” mantra has now been switched from ICU beds to the raw number of cases. Because the number of ICU beds required has been so laughingly small. As facts changed, the propaganda changed to cover the backsides of all those who got it so wrong from the start. Instead of six months incarceration, the bans are being relaxed and lifted after a mere two months, although not so far in Dear Leader Dan Andrews’ Victoria. But not before incalculable damage has been done to millions of lives and hordes of small businesses, from milk bars to dentists. We are supposed to be flattered by the Prime Minister’s condescending paternalistic comment that because we had been good little boys and girls, we could get “an early mark”.

It has taken all this time for the politicians to see that the greatest threat to life was clustered in the retirement villages and nursing homes – the places where you might expect to find old people. Yes, the ones everyone said were at greatest risk. Again, hindsight was necessary to realise that. Instead, ministers were busy setting fire to a straw man – that old people would ever be denied intensive care. “No, not on my watch!”

The facts revealed by hindsight condemn the National Cabinet, whose members were spooked so easily by the projections of death and destruction swallowed so easily by the chief health officers, they failed to assess the risk of collateral damage to the economy. Disregarding warnings by several commentators (including on this site) that Australia would be plunged into a new Great Depression, the Prime Minister continued to claim that he had “got the balance right”. Even when it was clear that the only cases of COVID-19  were imported – including from the culpably mismanaged cruise ship Ruby Princess, neither the modelling nor the restrictions were amended.

Instead of slavishly following that “best medical advice”, the government should have used our hindsight. Ahead of time, and dead on the nail, we could have helped by warning that what the National Cabinet was doing could only bring a “told you so.”

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist from 1950 until 1976.

  • ianl

    The retirement villages and aged care homes are an almost impossible dilemma, in my view. These people are literally locked in indefinitely, no visitors, but *deathly* afraid of every shift changeover by staff. Nor are they physically capable, it appears, of being suitable for last stage ventilation. In that situation, I do have an answer for myself.

    Next in the 20/20 of shorter-term hindsight is the fact that all this meddlesome mess has achieved is a hiding place in the south-west Pacific Ocean, together under the doona with Ardern. Now we are to wait in this hiding place for Godot, or quietly accept the slow encroachment of gathering immunity at the obvious price of more deaths.

    My foresight prediction here is that our political and bureaucratic controllers, using the armed State police forces and the propagandising force of the MSM, will opt for Godot.

  • pgang

    ‘pgang – 19th March 2020

    I am predicting about 250 deaths in Australia.’

    That wasn’t hindsight, it was calculated fore-sight.

  • March

    A few more model vs reality comparisons added. As described above reality is a mere pimple on an Everest of false assumptions.


  • March

    A few more model vs reality comparisons added. As described above reality is a mere pimple on an Everest of false assumptions.


  • Rob Brighton

    I simply cannot see how one could make a decision to go against the advice of those who know what they are talking about and didn’t know themselves the quantum and all the details at the time of proffering their advice. A simple “what if” turning our to be true and we have the equivalent of polio running rampant again.
    The Morrison gang would be completely destroyed personally and politically just on the idea that those sort of numbers would fall victim, let alone had it happened.
    We don’t elect our leaders for their stunning analytical abilities. We choose from what is spewed up by their political process, a process that rewards rat cunning and Machiavellian traits otherwise how else would we end up with the list of duds, Rudd, Gillard, Turnbull.
    Before getting snarly with Morrison etc just consider for a moment if the election had gone the other way…or if Turnbull was at the helm…good grief, just the thought makes me need a good lie down.
    It seems quite obvious that we should rapidly open up and that’s the test if this is something rather more sinister.

  • pgang

    Rob Brighton, it is likely that nothing would have been done differently by that mangy lot, and that is part of the worry. Is there anything to differentiate politicians today?
    You are right in a sense. We couldn’t expect anything better from contemporary politics, but that does not excuse our politicians. Anyway I think that gets to the nub of the matter. It is the rapid decline in the quality of leadership and the casual trampling of democratic structures, compared with even ten years ago, that is cause for concern. That, and the fact that the population were willing to go into captivity so compliantly.
    Western society has changed. It has lost its moral fibre, and that means it could well be close to the end. It is a culture in distress and decline. Only in the USA has there been any widespread resistance to government, which is now making some steam. As always these days, they seem to be our only hope for a future.

  • Lewis P Buckingham

    Its time to look at nursing home design and practice.
    Now in the animal model, say broiler flocks,the birds would be placed in separate housing so that if a deleterious viral mutation occurred in one shed killing every bird, then all of them would not die because of air gap and separate ventilation in the other sheds.
    The high risk in an aged care facility need individual room airconditioning with 20% from outside to maintain freshness.
    The room door would need an air curtain to prevent infection egress into the corridor.
    Venting would be outside the building.
    What is common to cruise ships and aged care institutions is central air conditioning.
    The other commonality is the aged themselves on such ships and in care and the staff that look after them.
    Children of the threatened must have the right to move their parents out of suspect nursing homes into safer places.
    One of my neighbours moved his wife out of a nursing home a few years ago and did all the carrying, bathing and hand feeding in his own home.
    He kept on finding her in a pool of urine and not fed in the ‘home’.
    Against this Covid backdrop, its just a matter of time before this slow burn disaster happens again in another nursing home, unless there is mass vaccination by a validated vaccine.
    The plan would be, test patient, if negative, evacuate, home care, home nursing, maintain family support and visits, telemedicine, isolation, in the face of an aged care pandemic.
    Sure,make sure that extraordinary means are not demanded for care, but, make sure this is not the only solution to the disease.
    Perhaps the Royal Commission into aged care could reconvene.

  • Rob Brighton

    @Pgang So Canberra was cheek to jowl of insightful genius back in the day? We have had some good ones, we just didn’t realise at the time, some had to see the horror show that was Rudd before understanding how good Howard was (the very definition of hindsight). Or maybe we kick back to those long hot lazy (and somewhat malodorous) summers of flush less loo’s out in good ole Macquarie Fields until Whitlam came along and blessed us with pipes. An action I recall being touted as completely irresponsible pork-barrelling as only us proles benefited.

    I don’t believe it is a rapid decline, I perceive it more like a consistent theme that comes with government.

    Driven primarily by conservative politics abandoning the field in our institutions consistently for the last 60 years.

    If you want to know who to look at for the decline check the mirror, it is those who might loosely fall into the political right, we lost they won. They are “the establishment” which is nice for them and I hope they enjoy the next generation, who like all before them will despise “the man”.

    There is only one answer, that is less government at all levels. Nothing else will work, but neither collection of numpties will make that a key platform. So we are forced to vote for the lesser of two evils every time and little by little my world is curtailed by niggling stupidities (look into watermark legislation if you want to see a world of bureaucratic bastardry) with no way to respond without sending my family to the poor house.

    The USA has a constitution that limits its government power we don’t.

  • pgang

    Apparently there is a true conservative politician in the world (outside of Texas and South Dakota). Of course there are zero in Australia.
    Steve Baker in Britain has described the situation as ‘absurd, dystopian and tyrannical’.
    ‘We have lived under house arrest for weeks by ministerial decree – a statutory instrument that parliament had no foresight of and no opportunity to scrutinise or approve before it changed life in this country as we know it. The situation is appalling.’


    Thomas Aquinas taught that Economics comes before Medicine.
    Input:- no restrictions, everybody infected, death rate 1/200.
    Result:- 2020 death rate increases 50%: [no computer required].
    Those deaths are essentially non productive members of the population, with zero economic impact.
    Followed by a slump in deaths in following years.
    When I ran the Quarantine for Central Queensland half a century ago, we excluded economically significant diseases with death rates of 30% [smallpox, plague, yellow fever].
    We totally ignored diseases with low death rates.

  • lloveday

    pgang wrote: “It is the rapid decline in the quality of leadership and the casual trampling of democratic structures, compared with even ten years ago, that is cause for concern”.
    That it coincides with the rise and rise of “social media” and search engines is not, I believe, a coincidence. Who would aspire to a political leader in today’s toxic climate (NO, not that climate, the one inhabited by Tweeting Twits)?
    Few of merit would knowingly accept having every utterance, every speech and interview “forever” gone over with a fine tooth comb, going back to your teens. Then misrepresented. Abuse flowing from the keyboard/keypad of every Left-wing product of Bachelor Of Communication And Media Studies courses….. You’d need the thick hide of Trump.
    Abbott mispronounces “Canada” (who has not mispronounced a word?), and it’s plastered all over the media as an insult to Canadians, he winks at a RADIO interviewer about a granny being a phone-a-dirty-talker and it’s front-page news, with shyster SHY calling him “a creep, an total creep”. “Everyone” (me excepted) has a video recorder in their hand filming each interaction, waiting with bated breath for a slip.
    It’s become too easy, and hence too common, to go with the flow, to take the easy path, than be guided by your principals and lead.
    I even feel a bit sorry for Biden! In a narrow sense.

  • lloveday


  • Stephen Due

    I think some lessons to be be learned going forward are:
    (1) There needs to be an urgent bipartisan assessment of the process by which Australian governments declare states of emergency and suspend the parliaments. One reason the incompetent ‘experts’ took control and made such a mess is that there was no proper parliamentary scrutiny of their ‘advice’. In this case there was no excuse whatsoever for suspending parliamentary processes.
    (2) The powers the governments can assume in states of emergency need to be redefined. Certainly we do not want to be subjected to another police state scenario should similar situations arise down the track.
    (3) The process by which Australian governments acquire ‘advice’ in these situations needs to be re-examined. It cannot be too often stated that Australia is an intellectual and scientific backwater. Advice must be sought overseas, and there must be a process by which good advice is differentiated from bad advice. From the very beginning of this pandemic the best epidemiologists overseas were advising strategies that allowed herd immunity to develop and were consistent with democratic processes. Instead we ended up with an irrational process implemented using the methods of totalitarianism.
    (4) Australian governments should not be allowed to impose lock-downs and shut down our parliaments indefinitely i.e. with no specified time frame. The words “as long as is necessary” are an abomination.

  • DG

    Aren’t all lessons learned ‘going forward’ (oh shades of Gillard’s argot)?

  • lloveday

    Janet Albrechtsen has an article in today’s The Australia:
    “Coronavirus: Old or young – every life has a different value and we accept that”.
    It’s available to read paywall-free at MorningMail.org.

  • lloveday

    Ditto Rachel Baxendale’s article in The AustraliaN:

    Abattoir outbreak allowed to spread for three weeks

  • pgang

    Stephen Due, I can’t see our politicians going ‘backwards’ on any of this. Parliamentary scrutiny be damned. That’s the old style of democracy which has no place in today’s world of endless ’emergency’. Why would you submit to due process when you can just play at being a hero instead?

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