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COVID19 March of Folly · 4 April 2020

I had a significant health issue during most of March which, amongst other things, resulting in me being hospitalized for 10 days. Now fully recovered, I have been able to read more about COVID19 and the Australian response. I have been shocked at the stupidity of shutting down much of the economy in order to save a small number of lives, many who would have probably died anyway because of their age and other illnesses.

According to Australian Department of Health internet site, as at 6.00am on 4 April, Australia had 5,454 cases – of which 28 had died.
https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers#in-australia

According to ABC News on 3 April, Scott Morrison said that “had the virus kept growing at the same rate it was 12 days ago, we would now have 10,500 cases in this country”. Does this mean that roughly an extra 28 would have died in the absence of the restrictive and economic measures? How many of these would have died in any case from old age or other illnesses?

Whatever the exact case, it needs to be set against the damage to the economy and society. It is clear that Morrison and the state premiers have no economic strategy other than to throw money and new regulations at specific issues as they arise.

In my view the so-called COVID19 emergency is an “emperor with no clothes” with people afraid to say the obvious.

However, there is also the “march of folly” issue. Barbara Tuchman in her book – which I am sure none of Australia’s present decision makers would have read – outlines how otherwise intelligent groups of leaders can pursue policies that are harmful to themselves and their society. Once committed to a strategy, it becomes very difficult to accept that it may be wrong. Tuchman gives the US involvement in the Vietnam war as an example. Years later, despite warnings and increasingly obvious indicators that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, Australian leaders continued to support the US invasion of Iraq.

Morrison and the state premiers will now be working hard to ensure that Australians believe that they have not been pursuing folly. This may even involve tweaking the so-called infection models to suit their purposes, just as US generals in Vietnam used body count numbers to claim that victory was on the way.

Ramesh Thakur (emeritus professor, ANU) has two blogs on John Menadue’s “Pearls and Irritations” which looks at the data in detail and experts from around the world who question the need for Morrison-type destruction of the economy. It is best to initially read the second one and then refer back to the first:

https://johnmenadue.com/ramesh-thakur-coronavirus-postscript/#more-37914

https://johnmenadue.com/ramesh-thakur-coronavirus-pandemic-sceptical-question-marks-make-for-better-policy-than-excitable-exclamation-marks/

The main purpose of this blog is not to try to convince anyone that Australians are running around like chooks with their heads cut-off (it would be like trying to convince Scott Morrison that God does not exist) but to put my view on a public record for the future.

Another example of folly is that of Russian economic reformers disastrous policies in the 1990’s which led to all sorts of very unpleasant social, economic and political consequences.

On this Russian issue, my Russian Economic Reform internet site obtained a virus (not COVID19) when I was ill and I have not been able to get it repaired in the current environment. See: www.russianeconomicreform.ru

In 1992, prominent UK economist Richard Layard (now Lord Layard) told me that he did not think “shock therapy” would work in Russia, but it was “worth a try”. He seemed to have no conception of the harm that such a “try” could result in.

Similarly, Professor Brendan Crabb of Melbourne Burnett Institute has pushed for a lockdown of the Australian economy and society, saying: “If it turns out that that was an overreaction, then not much harm done”. Crabb is clearly oblivious to the lives of people in broader society and the great harm he is willing to inflict.

Society is too important to be left to the whims of economists, medical professionals and generals.

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