I spent the whole of last year overseas on sabbatical with my wife. (Good timing, I hear some of you mutter, correctly.) The first half of the year we spent in London and I recall lining up at Australia House to vote in the federal election. Now I’ve never been convinced that Mr. Morrison had strong convictions as regards freedom of the individual (witness his dismissal of the need to deal with our hate speech laws) or the need to deregulate the economy (think insane renewables and our labour laws) or the attractions of comparatively small government (name one ‘small government’ reform). But, unlike his unlamented Coalition predecessor, I could hold my nose and vote for Team Morrison in the light of the alternative. And I did.
But never in my wildest dreams did I think that I was voting for what amounts to the most socialist (as in big government, big spending, public sector thrives while private sector withers) government in Australia’s history. Nor did it cross my mind that this government would make more inroads into Australians’ civil liberties and freedoms than even the wartime governments of the last century. What has happened is astounding and it has happened because the preponderance of people have been terrified into meekly giving up the basic freedoms that come with living in a democratic society. And ‘by terrified’ I mean that much of the press has turned itself into an unquestioning arm of the fear porn industry – breathlessly reporting each new case (rather than the death rate), never giving context (as in more people died of the flu and car accidents in most past years, and by massive margins), indulging in the report-your-neighbour thinking of the sort that flourished in the former Soviet Union.
Or perhaps you think I’m overstating things? Well, to make that case you’d need to show that what we’re facing in this corona virus is something very, very dangerous to all and sundry – if not the Black Death of the Middle Ages that killed over a third of the total population then at least the Spanish Flu of a century ago (that killed some 50 million worldwide an 15,000 in Australia at a time when the earth’s population was much smaller than now). But here’s the truth of the matter. It’s now beyond doubt that this Wuhan/corona virus is nothing like as lethal as the Spanish Flu and not in the same galaxy of dangerousness as the Black Death. Think of it this way. In Sweden they did not lock down – I repeat not – instead simply advising citizens to be careful. No forced business closings. No disgraceful curfews. No heavy-handed bureaucratic decisions about whose business (and hence lifestyle, if not life) is deemed to be ‘essential’. None of that. And yet fewer than 6,000 Swedes have died of the virus. Put differently, 99.95 percent of all Swedes in a non-lockdown state of affairs survived this virus. For Swedes under 60 years of age then 99.998 percent survived. And those totals come with a caveat – you see most Swedish deaths related to aged-care facilities which the man in charge of the Swedish response concedes they handled poorly. Oh, and it looks more and more likely that they’ve achieved herd immunity. Life is back to normal there, or pretty damn close.
Or there’s Taiwan, another ‘no lockdown’ jurisdiction. It has about the same population as we do. It didn’t lock down, didn’t impose curfews, didn’t have daily press conferences by puffed up politicians scolding all of us, didn’t turn the police into an arm of the nanny state, and has had a grand total of 7 (yes, seven) deaths from the Wuhan flu. Explain that, you lockdown zealots!
Or look at the individual US states. Those with Republican governors were far, far less heavy-handed and intrusive than those with a Democratic Governor. What have these looser lockdowns by Republican governors delivered – in South Dakota absolutely no new laws at all, not even Sweden’s ban on large gatherings? Well, fewer deaths. You see deaths are 67 percent higher in Democrat States than in Republican ones, and the deaths per million of population are 41 percent higher in Democrat States.
Or compare the very light and soon ended lockdown in the State of Florida with the Dan Andrews-like State of New York under Governor Cuomo. Florida has had more cases but under one-third the deaths. Got that?
At this point you might be thinking, ‘hey, maybe heavy-handed lockdowns don’t do anything at all as far as dealing with this virus?’. Well, if you were of that point of view you’d be in good company. One fairly recently published study in the famous Lancet medical journal concluded ‘Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people’. That’s jargonese for ‘lockdowns don’t seem to do anything’.
And yet back in late March and early April politicians around the world (or at least most of them, we must always salute the brave exceptions in Sweden and few other places) basically panicked. They went for a supposed solution, the lockdown, that as late as the end of 2019 the WHO recommended against in all situations. Once they started down that road they couldn’t turn back. If, as many think, the virus can never be eradicated then it’s either (a) ‘learn to live with it’ or (b) ‘pray for a vaccine even though the honest odds are against ever finding a highly effective one’. Yet all the incentives on politicians push them towards (b). To opt for (a) now, after all the economic carnage, would be to admit that they made a massive error, which could be electoral suicide. Let me put that differently. Even if some of our politicians privately now think they goofed, they can’t really admit it. They have to stay the course – lockdowns, maybe upgraded to curfews, fear porn press encouraged to terrify the public, daily press conferences announcing new cases (as if that matters one whit, we don’t care about flu cases, we care about deaths). This amounts to betting the mortgage on a vaccine. It’s the same attitude as Charles Dickens’ Micawber – ‘something will turn up’. Or maybe not.
Meantime I want to barf every time I heard the Prime Minister say ‘we’re all in this together’. No We Are Not. The politicians haven’t even had the good graces to take a pay cut. Those in the public service might, just might, be looking at a pay freeze but no one thinks that will last long. Meanwhile all sorts of people in the private sector, people who had successful small business secured by loans against the family home, have been destroyed. Many in their 50s, men especially, will never work again.
The extent of the carnage will become clear when this unprecedented government spending has to be wound down. Zombie businesses will go bust. The trite, cliché-sounding ‘we’re all in this together’ will ring as false as, well, it is.
Then there’s the awful way in which politicians not just here but around most of the democratic world abdicated key decision-making to a bunch of doctors or Chief Medical Officers. This was done in the name of ‘expertise’. But that claim to their expertise is mostly untrue. In terms of whether lockdowns and heavy-handed responses are called for, or not, a medical degree is not better than my first degree in mathematics. Maybe it’s less good. We want experts in statistics; experts in probability; people who take everything into account; economists at least as much as doctors. (Digression: I’ve spent my whole academic career warning against rule by unelected lawyers. But if I had to pick between lawyers and doctors, I’d take the former. That’s how bad rule by unelected doctors is.)
Worse, the medical side of this situation is only one of many factors. Weighing them all up is the job of the elected politicians, not some bureaucrat doctor. Doctors supply medical data. They are not in the business of balancing epidemiological interests against other interests, such as the desire of widows to attend church, or of one million restaurant workers to enjoy a job, or of parents to see children overseas or of small business owners to keep the product of decades of their labour going. I thought that is what politicians were elected to do. And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Liberal Party supposed to be committed to individual freedom, meaning that in cases of doubt they would err on the side of trusting the individual?
Mr. Morrison and his government have shamefully let all of us who voted for him down on that front. If a Social Democrat Swedish Prime Minister – I’ll say that again, a left-leaning Social Democrat – can stand up for the individual and against the over-reaching, heavy-handed reach of Big Government’s nanny state, then why can’t the Liberal Party in this country? Did any of you last year vote for this sort of response, the most socialist, freedom-enervating government in the country’s history? I didn’t. I confess that more and more they sicken me, these jumped-up, enthralled-with-their-own power politicians. Yes, that sounds harsh. But how would you put it? This government won’t even allow Australian citizens to leave the country without first seeking permission from some two-bit bureaucrat – permission that is more often than not denied. These are the actions of an East Germany, not an Australia. Anyone who wants to do so ought to be free to leave. After all, these people will have to pay their own quarantine costs when they come back. All that’s missing is the East German border guards (and I don’t say that too loudly or Mr. Morrison will get even more bad ideas).
Let me finish by doubling back to an earlier theme. Earlier this year the British Office of National Statistics (‘ONS’) published a study that showed that the stringency of the lockdown policy correlated to a bigger GDP downturn. In other words, the more heavy-handed the lockdown the poorer we will all be later on. This is in a world where for those under 45 the corona virus is less dangerous than the flu (another instance of ‘we are not all in this together’); where for those under 60 it still doesn’t break into the top 15 causes of death; where the young are having their futures destroyed, job prospects detonated, and university and school experiences turned into sterile, near-worthless ‘Zoom time’; where millions will die in the Third World from the coming poverty there. The list goes on.
What has happened to all the many, many advocates for ‘human rights’ and for ‘bills of rights’? Where are the cries from those who – when it comes to, say, supposed refugees piled into boats trying to sneak in illegally or in regard to anything to do with sexual freedom – like to paint themselves as champions of the individual and of choice and of rights and of freedom? Where are they now? Because most of them seem pretty silent to me, if not cheerleading the heavy-handedness. Where are the supposed libertarians in the Liberal party room, the Tim Wilsons and James Patersons? I don’t hear them speaking up for the Swedish approach, do you? Meanwhile lots of right on, lefty virtue-signallers seem more than content to jump on the ‘freedom ignoring, citizen distrusting, top-down dictating, Big Gvernment’ express train. The retired British Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption says we are right now living through what is, without doubt, the greatest, most extensive government attacks on our civil liberties and freedoms of any time in the democratic history of our countries. He’s right.
And this when, if the politicians had refrained from indulging in their pale imitation of East Germany, then 99.95 percent of us would have survived the virus. (That’s what the data from Sweden tells us, full stop.) More, in fact, would have survived if our government had just focused on the frail and those in aged-care and left everyone else to their own devices. Trusted them. You know, the way a democracy is supposed to work.
As you may have inferred by now I’ve reached the stage of total disgust with our politicians. Indeed I have much the same attitude to the many Australians who are content to be ordered around, locked up, shut in, told what to do, and afraid of their own shadows.
In a democracy you get what you deserve. Next election we will all have a chance to pass judgement on this fiasco. I, for one, can’t wait.