Let’s be honest. The docile, supine, pusillanimous way in which many Australians are meekly accepting being ordered into their homes, having their jobs deemed ‘inessential’ and seeing the quality of their kids’ lives seriously compromised hardly qualifies us for a shot at winning any ‘greatest generation’ competitions. The Spanish Flu was more lethal by far, comparatively deadly to the young not old, and came right after a horrific world war. Yet our great-grandparents just got on with life, taking as much individual care as they could. They did not spend billions burdening their kids and grandkids with untold debt. The police did not act as agents of the nanny- state, nor brag about dragging people from cars for breaching virus regulations. Even with the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu – that killed a million worldwide and a hundred thousand Americans (so in per capita terms about where we stand today) – they didn’t even cancel Woodstock. As a transplanted Australian it pains me to be blunt to readers, but forget about thinking you live in a country of larrikins. It’s more like a nation of hospital ward patients, meekly waiting for the next doctor or medical advisor to tell them what to do rather than think for themselves.
And let’s be clear. Canada is no better. Probably worse. Parts of Britain are better. We’re seeing there a few protests against these heavy-handed lockdowns – a tool or government response, dear readers, for which there is no meta-level, comparing-all-countries evidence of efficaciousness. Put bluntly, there’s no proof lockdowns do much of anything. They may have more costs than benefits. As for Donald Trump’s America, well, many US states are basically back up and running already, while a few barely closed down at all. (Here’s a Jimbo prediction by the way: the state of South Dakota which did not lockdown at all, less even than Sweden, has a governor whom I predict will be a future Republican nominee for President. She seems terrific and has bravely stood up for civil liberties. Once Peter van Oscillate predicts she has no chance at all go and bet your mortgage on her.) Sure, the north-eastern Democrat-controlled US states were a disaster, with New York being twice as bad as the world’s worst country, Belgium, in terms of deaths per million. But mainstream media won’t point this out. Only anti-Trump stuff you see. No ABC reports that New York has had roughly the same number of corona cases as Florida and Texas yet the latter two have had under one-fifth the number of deaths. Nope, they don’t report that fact on the ‘we love Andrew Cuomo and hate Trump’ ABC.
Still, conceding all that, recent events showed that in today’s world it takes the Germans to have large-scale protests against the lockdowns and masks. Yes, the Germans. I don’t want to sound too alarmist but it can’t be a great sign for the Anglosphere or the world when you have to rely on Germans to stand up for liberty and basic individual freedoms. What would our grandparents have made of that?
Look, there is no bigger defender of democracy and democratic decision-making in this country than I am – certainly no one working in a university. But part of that equation is that ultimately the voters get what they deserve. If Scott Morrison thought that being something other than a big-spending, lockdown-endorsing, ‘I can emote with the best of them’ politician was what the voters wanted, then he’d give it to them. I fear that the problem is that Morrison – a very good retail politician and Liberal party stalwart however much he may be devoid of core beliefs and any principled commitments when it comes to free speech and liberty more generally – has pegged the preponderance of Australians pretty accurately. Decades of left-wing mush in schools and universities have done their work, alas.
Let me finish with a few words about Australian federalism. This might seem a rather dry topic but in some ways it lies at the heart of many of our problems in responding to the corona virus. Over the last century our top court, the High Court, hand-in-hand with the Commonwealth parliament, has completely rewritten the original federalist design of this country and emasculated the states. That’s why we have the world’s worst vertical fiscal imbalance; the only states anywhere with no income tax powers; mendicant states wholly dependent on the Feds’ cheque book; and no competitive federalism whatsoever, which is the main benefit of the system. And boy are we paying the price now. In a proper federation with more or less self-funding states they would pay the price for their decisions, as Andrew Cuomo will have to do in the US. Here in Australia there is this malign divide between ‘who makes the call’ and ‘who pays’. So Victoria can screw up everything and then beg for, and receive, money from Canberra. What sort of incentive structure is that? Or states can impose border closures galore and lobby for mindlessly strict lockdowns and when the economic bill comes due they can ask Scotty to help out. And, stupidly to my mind, he will. This is the worst of all worlds and a core reason why the innovation of a National Cabinet was a bad idea. In setting this up the prime minister effectively gave each state premier massive incentives to think only about deaths due to the corona virus, but no incentive to think about future economic carnage, deaths caused by the lockdowns, unemployment, etc.
And the PM gave the premiers a platform to drive this insane ‘we can outdo you in locking down’ outlook. Oh, and this National Cabinet also sidelined the real Cabinet, proper conservatives like Dutton and Taylor included.
This would all be fine if Victoria paid for Victoria’s calls. (See the US. See Switzerland.) Or Tasmania and Western Australia paid for theirs. But we’re in a world where they don’t. Mr Morrison is left having to defend, sort of, the idiocies of the premiers. He’s created a Frankenstein monster.
Meantime there is nada, nothing, zero, zippo on what our medium- term strategy is for dealing with corona. Implicitly they’ve bet the house on a vaccine. What happened to just flattening the curve and getting on with life? When did we opt for pseudo-eradication?
I’ll say it again. This is the worst Australian political class in decades. Yet I fear the fault is ours, the voters. We’re getting what we deserve. And we’re getting it good and hard.
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