Whenever some unexpected global affliction hits mankind a set of instant “experts” rear up and give us their wisdom. When the Great Depression hit in 1929 bankers, stockbrokers and businessmen rushed to tell governments that they must cut their spending to balance their declining income. “Balance the budget” became a mantra everywhere. The media followed them slavishly. After all, they were “experts”! As a result, spending contracted, unemployment rose, government revenue further declined, and public desperation increased. After two years of this, riots broke out. Eventually, the British economist Maynard Keynes explained that if governments continued to follow such advice they would balance their budgets at zero on each side of the ledger, but half the public would be flat on their backs begging for food. Leaders like Franklin Roosevelt in the US and Gordon Coates in New Zealand eased off the budget cuts and borrowed. The First Labour Government stepped up the pace and unemployment gradually eased. Slowly normality returned.
With Covid 19 all sorts of people have emerged as self-designated epidemiologists, modellers, experts in contagious diseases, you name it…. Our media can’t get enough of them. New ones appear each time you turn on the radio or TV. But we need to remember that they are trained to deal with illness, and not surprisingly they concentrate their advice on what seems possible from their narrow expertise. None seems to have much other knowledge about the world or about the nature of our economy. All have secure incomes. Nearly all seem determined to chase eradication of Covid from New Zealand as though it is an achievable goal. Very few consider living with vaccination as a possibility or are looking further ahead to new variants coming on the scene, which seems a highly likely prospect. As the experts’ much-loved lockdowns stretch out, saving lives keeps being put ahead of protecting people’s livelihoods. They think about tomorrow, not about twelve months’ time or more.
In a world that is currently awash with the Delta variant of Covid, the prospect that New Zealand can seal itself and keep the virus out for long is about nil. All our outbreaks of the disease have crept in across the border. Try as we might to seal the border, we have now had four lockdowns because of leakage. There will be more, no matter how much we chase the eradication goal so beloved by the “experts” and our Prime Minister. Not only are lockdowns only partly effective at slowing the spread of Covid; they cost a lot in subsidies and in lost production. Worst of all, they threaten the education of our kids, everybody’s wellbeing and family links.
What makes the eradication goal especially serious in New Zealand is that our government is so weak. No one seems to question the advice from these self-designated “experts”. No minister has any business experience. Our main stream media is similarly starved of talent. So far, no local equivalent of Maynard Keynes has emerged to question the current fixation with lockdowns or look towards the future. In Britain, Sweden, Israel and parts of Australia authorities have worked out that lockdowns can’t work and therefore aren’t the answer to managing Covid. A few of our journalists have started questioning our slow rate of vaccination. If that had been dealt with urgently, and supplies of vaccine sought from other manufacturers as well as Pfizer, we could have avoided the current lockdown and be on the road to learning to live with Covid. Yes, there would be some Covid in the community, but a vigorous vaccination policy would have averted much of the collateral damage from the Delta strain.
Most importantly, New Zealand which depends on overseas trade that requires business trips abroad to check on markets and locate new customers would be able to resume. Employees would be the first to benefit. And the 100,000 Kiwis who travel each year, once fully vaccinated, would be able to keep up with family and friends abroad. To achieve this will require a policy of minimizing harm, rather than chasing eradication. A faster rate of vaccination is central to that. We are not entirely dependent on Pfizer. Our “experts” need education in the ways of the world and the practical impossibility of maintaining Fortress New Zealand.
If we keep on our present trek back to the 1950s, mostly locked up and sliding down the economic and education gurgler, there won’t be much that is worthwhile to leave our grandkids.