Coronavirus changed our world but Australia’s economic debate still lacks humanity | Greg Jericho | Business

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This year the coronavirus dominated our life and our economy, and in doing so it revealed a few salient points about both. It also illuminated a few unsettling aspects about how people in positions of influence and power view them.

One of the more disconcerting characteristics about the virus is how it revealed how cheaply life is considered by many in positions of influence.

The demand for economic growth above all else was rather distasteful.

One journalist in the AFR went so far as to suggest some seniors like his 68-year-old dad “would not put their own life above the livelihoods of their children and grandchildren, if the economic and social costs become too great.”

Sorry dad, but you did say you’ve “had a good run”.

Hoo boy.

It’s bad enough to be indulging in a pandemic version of Logan’s Run, but that 68 was held up as old enough must have had more than a few of the AFR’s readers choking on their morning cereal.

Others sought to indulge in a real-life version of the trolley problem insisting that public policy is all about choosing how many people die – throwing around terms like “micromorts” and “QALYs” and suggesting the risks from the virus were the same as crossing the road.

This of course ignored that we have had over a century worth of data on road safety and on the development of car safety, and that road vehicles are subject to masses of regulation, as are drivers and pedestrians, and we have governments responsible for ensuring the maintenance of road conditions.

Also when you cross a road you are also able to judge the safety – unlike contracting an invisible virus.

If nothing else, this year did reveal that we should be grateful that many of those who cover government policy are not in charge of formulating it.

Nowhere was this more so than in the absurd push for us to follow Sweden’s approach.

Even after their less restrictive response was shown to be a failure, we still had those like Adam Creighton in the Australian arguing that “historians will struggle to see a public policy disaster in Sweden”.

Well, one thing historians (and the rest of us right now) can see is that by early December, Sweden had lost 744 lives per million residents to Covid, compared to 160 in Denmark, 82 in Finland and just 71 in Norway.

And of those Scandinavian nations, only Denmark had a significantly worse economic performance, while Norway’s was significantly better.

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The first half of this year showed a solid relationship between economic growth and prevention of deaths – essentially if you wanted to limit the damage to your economy you were best to limit the number of deaths from the virus.

As government stimulus packages kicked in the relationship was less solid, but it clearly revealed that the most fundamental choice governments had was not about economic growth but lives lost.

Weirdly some seemed not to grasp or care about that.

The virus also revealed a lot of things people liked to think mattered, didn’t.

Debt and deficit? Remember people obsessing this time last year that the estimate for the 2019-20 budget surplus had decreased from $7.1bn to $5bn? Ahh, good times.

It ended up being a $231bn deficit.

And what happened? Nothing – our credit rating remained AAA.

But so what? Early this month for the first time in three decades NSW’s credit rating was downgraded … and within two days the yield on NSW government 10 years bond had fallen.

No one gave a stuff.

And yet despite the world being upended, the government still would have us believe the old myths remain true – the talk of the need to get the budget back under control continues, as does that about unemployment benefits being a disincentive to work, that governments don’t create jobs, and that we need a more flexible IR system.

The virus changed our world and yet it has failed to change the way much of our economic and politic debate occurs – a debate which was revealed too often to have a distinct lack of focus on humanity.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Coronavirus changed our world but Australia’s economic debate still lacks humanity | Greg Jericho | Business

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