Crisis of competence: Our flawed pollies
The pandemic in Oz: Time for a reckoning

It’s not the economy, it’s the Covid

DollarCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Commenting on Keith Jackson’s ‘The vandals who trashed our nation’ and other remarks on the Covid crisis, Andrew Brown wrote that “people in small business are going broke by the dozen, the number of empty shops in my local area is frightening”.

And he added, “That is real hardship for people losing everything they have and not having any hope.”

I do not think that anyone in this discussion is suggesting the economy is not important or that there have been no severe adverse effects on business.

Like Andrew, I have observed that a number of local businesses have disappeared.

On the other hand, more than a few have both survived and thrived, thanks partly to government largesse and partly to strong support from the local community.

As with any serious economic trauma, there have been winners and losers as a result of the pandemic.

A necessary part of neo-liberal capitalism is what economists call 'creative destruction'. Basically, what this means is that the strong businesses survive and the weak perish.

This is the ugly truth underlying how capitalism works, although many of its more rabid proponents fail to understand this.

The criticism justly levelled at Morrison et al is that, apart from the absurd and hypocritical generosity of Job Keeper, which has been hugely profitable for many businesses, the government has constantly insisted there is a viable trade-off between the impact of the virus on health and its impact on the economy.

The plain fact is that no such trade-off is possible. As we are discovering you cannot have a little bit of virus running in the community while the economy hums along.

People become frightened and stay home while the virus is running amok, and so normal consumption patterns are disrupted, mostly at the expense of small to medium businesses.

This happens whether or not there is any form of lock down and is a pattern evident in places like the UK and in the USA, both of which are enduring levels of illness, hospitalisation and death that I very much doubt Australians would accept as a reasonable cost for opening up the economy.

Morrison's failure of judgement is that he cannot seem to get this understanding into his head and so blunders on insisting that opening up the economy is just a function of hitting some magical overall vaccination level.

He then compounds this problem by criticising state premiers who, quite rightly, are not going to open their state borders unless and until they believe the health impacts will be, at the very least, manageable.

As Morrison himself has acknowledged, people are going to die once the country opens up, especially amongst the unvaccinated.

He has, so far at least, declined to say what level of illness and death will be acceptable as the price to be paid to (theoretically) revitalise the economy.

And he is making an already wicked policy problem even worse by his inability to devise and then adequately explain a coherent and scientifically based plan for the opening up process.

The main reason for this is that he does not appear to be gifted with the sort of brain that can handle the uncertainty and ambiguity that is inherent in this problem.

It may reflecting his marketing background, whereby complex issues are necessarily reduced to sound bites or slogans.

Someone should remind Morrison of Oscar Wilde's famous aphorism that for every difficult and complex problem there is a clear, simple and entirely wrong solution.

Fortunately, our various state and territory leaders, Labor and Liberal alike, are having none of Morrison's posturing, entreaties and threats.

They have learned many bitter lessons over the last 18 months or so because they have been managing an ongoing disaster from 'the coal face', not the remote halls of power in Canberra.

They are dealing with the problems that Morrison et al created by their dismal failure to recognise the need to establish an effective quarantine system and then implement a fast and effective vaccination program.

The premiers know perfectly well that he lacks the insight or judgement required to provide effective national leadership and so are acting accordingly.

Even 'Golden Gladys' Berejiklian has belatedly come to understand this.

So Andrew Brown, the basis of the criticism in this thread is not a lack of insight into the very real perils confronting many business people, nor some instinctive anti-capitalism.

It is a realisation that Morrison et al lack the insight and judgement required to steer us safely into whatever the new normal may be.

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