I carry in my memory a Ginger Meggs cartoon in which Ginger wants to go to the movies, but needs his mother’s approval (and probably money). He finally persuades her by saying that the plot involves a husband who has to choose to save either his wife or his best friend. Father Meggs comes home to find a cold dinner and a note: ‘Heat it yourself, you brute! I’ve gone to mother’s.’ Choices like that are the devil, and as the Covid-19 plague increases we are beginning to see two sorts of choices being pointed to. One is whether we should focus on the economy or the virus. The other is whether we shouldn’t just let nature take its course, and let the oldies die. Here is a pungent version of the second, sent to me by an appalled correspondent, himself a doctor. I’ve slightly edited it.
So if three million children die each year from hunger related causes, what does this mean for the western world’s reaction to the coronavirus?
Is there a chance that we are so life-selfish that we cannot make rational decisions? Do we really believe that a few hundred thousand … or more … deaths from the virus, if we let it take its course (mainly older people who will die in the next ten to fifteen years anyway) justifies destroying the wealth that otherwise might help living children live and concurrently control the birth rate in these countries? And so on…
In other words, has the western world put up selfish blinkers everywhere in their body. In my opinion, our reaction to this thing is selfish, self-preserving and hence destructive to mankind. It joins the list of the other things already there … climate change and country conflict being some of the others with 5 stars on the list.
Now I am one of those oldies, so I am not impressed by the statement above. In many cultures the care of the elderly is a priority, not something one can ignore. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of this kind of care in Japan. Why should it not be similar for the West? Yes, I declare some self-interest here. Then there is the offering of a binary exchange: don’t save the oldies but spend the money on the kids, as though this were simply a matter of moving money around a single portfolio. ‘Country conflict’ is always a problem, but such conflicts have been on the decline for the past five years and were lowest last year (look it up in Wikipedia). “Climate change’ is a problem only for the alarmists. The rest of the world has it way down the scale of real problems (and this is not a sentence that should cause a barrage of comments about climate change).
There is a dislike of old people throughout the quoted statement. Where does it come from? I have no idea, but it has links, I think, to the ‘fear and greed’ theme that followed scenes of fighting over toilet-paper in supermarkets, and probably to those who think the measures to deal with the viruses are both draconian and unnecessary (the flu kills more each year, and so on).
The choice between protecting our health and protecting our jobs is one no government wants to have to make. President Trump would dearly love the American economy to get back off its knees and make the country strong again. Unfortunately for him, the number of cases and the death statistics in his country are both going up quite sharply. He has had to postpone the economic revival from Easter to the end of April. He may have to do it again. In any case, he needs world trade to revive as well, and for much of the world, dealing with the virus is coming before dealing with the economy. There could be a slow recovery in the USA, and a lot more death there.
Our Government is trying to do both things at once, and its efforts are staggeringly ambitious. Three thoughts come to me, and I’ll deal with each in turn. The first is the extent to which we accept regulation, the second the advantages available to an island nation, the third the extent to which we have become, quite quickly, a socialist paradise. I have written about the first in the past. The notion that we are a society of larrikins, contemptuous of authority, is a theme of a long-past Australia. We are, in fact, a society that is used to regulation. More, we behave as though governments have the right to regulate, while elections are the decider of who ought to make the regulations. We take regulations pretty seriously once we are past adolescence and early adulthood. Who would have thought that the social distancing being insisted upon by our authorities would have the effect that it has plainly had? It helps that the States and Territories have united with the Commonwealth in a ‘national Cabinet’ whose edicts are common throughout the country.
That leads me to the second theme. Throughout the world nations are closing their borders to prevent the importation of the virus. To do so is much easier if your nation occupies an island. Yes, a boat can slip through, though I doubt that many are trying at the moment. Aircraft, which were thought to be bringing in quite a lot of illegals with forged passports as well as people who overstayed their visas and disappeared into the community, are no longer arriving in any number, and their passengers must move at once into quarantine for two weeks. That has greatly aided our Government in controlling the spread of the virus. What we have now is a virus that is within our community but not increasing through importation, so it is in principle controllable through our own efforts. There is the first sign that these efforts are having a positive effect. Here’s hoping.
Third, around half of all workers in Australia are now effectively in the payroll of the Commonwealth Government, and the proportion is likely to increase. The cost is out of my ken. We are now talking trillions of dollars, not billions. There is no money tree. When this is all done and dusted we will be hopelessly in debt. Relative to many other countries our position seems to be stronger, nonetheless, so we ought to recover more quickly. How long will recovery take?
The Left in Australia is delighted. What is being done is much more expensive, and more egalitarian, I think, than Kevin Rudd’s ‘stimulus’ for the GFC in 2009. It is also based on a huge assumption: that we will get through the virus pandemic reasonably quickly and have our commercial and industrial entities more or less intact. But will we return, if we do, to what once was, or will there be a new culture in which everyone is guaranteed their jobs and their dwellings and their futures, by the Australian Government? Will the State and Territories argue that the ‘national Cabinet’ should be extended to other issues? There may be a single hospital system. The Commonwealth may well control four airlines. I could go on. What will the outcomes be?
I don’t know, and can hardly guess. We do live in interesting times, whether or not we wanted to.