The ideology of neoliberal ‘freedom’ ends up damaging all of us – NSW Covid outbreak

It has been a while since I updated my commentary on the new bi-weekly dataset using Australian Tax Office payroll data that the Australian Bureau of Statistics started publishing in March 2020, in order to provide more updated information on the state of the labour market during the pandemic. The Monthly Labour Force survey comes out in the third week of each month and relates to data collected around the second week of the previous month. With ongoing state government lockdowns being imposed with little warning having a significant impact on employment, this more frequent dataset was welcome. We are now in a situation where around 13 millions Australians are in tight lockdowns (over half the population), principally in Melbourne and Sydney. The latter, due to the incompetence of the conservative state government in NSW, has been in lockdown for weeks now and as the largest state, the reverberations are clearly going to be felt across the nation. Last week (August 5, 2021), the ABS released the – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 17 July 2021 – which provides the first glimpse of what the impact of the extended lockdown in Sydney (in particular) is having on the labour market. Employment in NSW shrunk by 5.1 per cent in the 3 weeks since June 26, 2021 (the start of the restrictions). Overall, employment has slumped by 2.4 per cent nationally. And the virus is spreading into regional NSW and things will get worse. The damage is being borne largely by our youth, given the occupation segregation in the ‘closed down’ sectors. The Federal government is demanding we all get vaccinated but due to its trying to ‘save money’ last year, there is insufficient vaccine available to supply the demand. Both the NSW and Federal governments have demonstrated their incompetence in the decisions they have taken in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘fiscal surpluses’.

In terms of the coverage of the ATO Single Touch Payroll data, the ABS report that:

Approximately 99% of substantial employers (those with 20 or more employees) and 71% of small employers (19 or less employees) are currently reporting through Single Touch Payroll.

Past analysis of ATO Payroll Data

See links at the end of this blog post.

Overall jobs recovery uncertain

The ABS – Press Release – notes that:

Payroll jobs fell by 2.4 per cent nationally in the fortnight to 17 July 2021, following a 0.2 per cent fall in the previous fortnight …

While every state and territory saw a fall in payroll jobs across the fortnight, the falls were much larger in New South Wales (down 4.4 per cent) and neighbouring Australian Capital Territory (down 2.4 per cent) …

New South Wales usually accounts for around a third (32.0 per cent) of total payroll jobs and Victoria around a quarter (26.2 per cent). As a result, lockdowns in these two states contributed to a strong fall in payroll jobs nationally …

The Accommodation and food services and Arts and recreation services industries saw large falls over the fortnight, down by 19.0 per cent and 18.0 per cent in New South Wales and by 8.7 per cent and 4.5 per cent nationally …

As we saw in the early weeks of the pandemic last year, payroll jobs held by women and workers under 30 were particularly impacted, especially in New South Wales.

The impact was predictable.

Whereas the Premiers in the other Australian states have learned that at the onset of COVID cases, a short and sharp lockdown is necessary to meet the national targets of zero community transmission (and these lockdowns usually last a week or so), the NSW government, in their attempt to occupy the ‘freedom’ higher ground, delayed the decision to lockdown, despite being urged by most of the Australia’s leading infection experts to go early.

The result has been that the NSW government has now lost control of the virus and it is spreading into regional NSW from Sydney and the case numbers are rising quickly, with the inevitable rise in deaths.

Newcastle is now in lockdown (from this week) because the government failed to restrict movement between Sydney and the regions and so the virus spread (I am currently stranded in Melbourne in Victoria by the way).

So when the NSW government finally realised that they had to lockdown the employment consequences started to become obvious – the longer a state delays, the longer the subsequent lockdown and the worse will be the labour market impacts.

The other states/territories that use the short and sharp approach damage the labour market too but less so and the impacts are of shorter duration.

Here is what has happened to total employment in Australia since January 4, 2020 (the ATO data starts at the beginning of the year). The index is based at 100 on March 14, 2020 which appears to be around the peak employment, although it was slowing since February 29, 2020.

1. Overall, payroll employment is 2 per cent higher as at July 17, 2021 that it was on March 21, 2020. But in terms of the most recent peak (which was 4.8 per cent higher – on June 26, 2021), there has been a rapid deterioration in the next 3 weeks to July 17, 2021 – a fall of 2.6 per cent.

2. The first trough came in the week ending April 18, 2020 and the total employment loss was 8.5 per cent.

3. The second dip coincides with the extended Sydney lockdown before Xmas.

4. The third big dip that we are now witnessing coincides with the extended Sydney lockdown now being endured.

Gender trends

Here is the same series decomposed by gender.

While the pattern was almost identical for males and females up to March 22, 2020, the data for the earlier parts of April 2020 showed that the crisis was impacting disproportionately on females.

This bias was driven by the occupational segregation that has women dominating the sectors that were most impacted by the lockdown (accommodation, hospitality, cafes, etc)

As the lockdowns eased and businesses reopened, women started to gain jobs at a faster rate than men.

In terms of the decline since the most recent peak (June 26, 2021), male payroll employment has fallen by 2.3 per cent and female employment has dropped by 3.1 per cent.

So the ‘bias against females’ pattern that was evident in the big lockdown at the onset of the pandemic is repeating itself.

Wages data suspended

The ABS said that “Around the end of the financial year there is a greater variation in business reporting, as businesses finalise their employee’s earning information and the financial year is reset in payroll systems.”

This variability has led them to suspend the wages estimates.

However, tomorrow the Wage Price Index data is published and I will analyse that accordingly.

Comparison with prior cycles

The following butterfly graphs are constructed from ABS Labour Force data and provide a vehicle for analysing what happens to employment following a downturn.

They show for full-time and part-time employment indexes set at 100 for the peak in total employment in the downturns for 1982, 1991, GFC and now the COVID-19 cycles.

For the first three events, they show the trajectory for 90 months after the peak, capturing the dynamics of the cycle.

The pattern in a usual downturn are demonstrated in the first three episodes – even as full-time employment declines as the recession bites, part-time employment continues to grow for a while, until it becomes obvious that the recession is deepening.

At the peak before the 1982 recession, the ratio of part-time to total employment was 16.2 per cent. By the time, full-time employment had reached the peak level again (after 41 months following the peak), the ratio was 17.6 per cent (and rising).

The 1991 recession was particularly bad and there was a major shift away from full-time work. At the peak before the 1991 recession, the ratio of part-time to total employment was 21 per cent. By the time, full-time employment had reached the peak level again (after 65 months following the peak), the ratio was 22.3 per cent (and continuing to rise).

The GFC event was reduced in intensity by the substantial fiscal stimulus that the Federal government introduced. But the part-time ratio still rose and full-time employment took 23 months to return to its pre-GFC peak. The part-time to total ratio in February 2008 (peak before the downturn) was 28.3 JobKeeper cent. After 23 months, the ratio had risen to 30.1 per cent.

While the ratio is rising on a trend basis as the labour market is increasingly casualised and job protections are wound back under the aegis of government policy designed to tilt the playing field towards the employers, there is an acceleration in the ratio during recessions when employers scrap full-time work and replace it in the recovery with part-time, fractionalised and insecure work.

The COVID episode is different given the nature of the job loss – lockdowns – which have directly impacted on the sectors where part-time work dominate.

But it is clear from the observations we have (lower-right panel) that as the lockdowns were eased, part-time employment rebounded somewhat but full-time employment continued to struggle.

It is important to note that prior to the pandemic, overall growth was declining and the labour market was weak.

The pandemic has made matters worse but the problems were there before the onset as a result of the federal government austerity onslaught.

Age breakdown of Job Loss

The age breakdowns for Australia as a whole are shown in the next graph.

The blue line shows the total history since March 14, 2020 (when the index = 100) to July 17, 2021 by age category. So you interpret the graph as being deviations from 100.

The orange line shows the period June 26, 2021 to July 17, 2021, which is from the previous peak to the current point and starts to capture the impact of the renewed lockdowns, particularly the now extended Sydney restrictions. So you interpret this line as being deviations from the June 26, 2021 peak.

Overall, it is the youth 15-29 age group that has borne the brunt of the pandemic so far in terms of employment.

This is largely due to the industrial composition of the job losses – services, accommodation etc.

It is also clear that all age groups are suffering in the most recent period of lockdowns across the nation with younger and older workers enduring the greater percentage contraction in their employment.

The following sequence of graphs gives the age profiles of the job loss for each State/Territory.

The patterns are similar across all jurisdictions except that in Victoria, the short-sharp lockdowns in recent weeks has not yet damaged the youth cohorts.

You can also see that the current restrictions in NSW are having much more significant negative effects on employment across the age groups, particularly the young and old, than in other states/territories.

Industry job loss breakdown

The following graph shows the percentage decline in employment for the Australian industry sectors from March 14, 2020 to July 17, 2021 (blue bars) and from June 26, 2021 to July 17, 2021 (orange bars).

The latter period shows the impacts so far of the restrictions that have been imposed to deal with the Delta variant of the virus.

The worst hit sectors overall are Accommodation & food services (decline of 9 per cent), Transport, postal and warehousing (down 8.1 per cent), Information, media and telecommunications (down 5.8 per cent) and Arts & recreation services (down 3.5 per cent).

The recent lockdown period has impacted badly on those sectors, but has had a negative effect overall.

State and Territory job loss breakdown

The following graph shows the employment losses from March 14, 2020 to July 17, 2021 for the States and Territories (blue bars), while the orange bars shows what has happened between June 26, 2021 and July 17, 2021.

NSW overall, the largest state in Australia has experienced negative employment growth over the entire period and a sharp 5.1 per cent decline in the period between June 26, 2021 and July 17, 2021, which covers some of the most recent lockdown.

Victoria, which had a 110-day harsh lockdown last year (much harsher than the current NSW lockdown) has overall added jobs over the pandemic but in the recent period has contracted by 2.1 per cent (as a result of two short/sharp closures).

NSW began its lockdown on June 26, 2021, so this data is covering only the first 3 weeks. The situation has deteriorated significantly since July 17, 2021 (when this current data ends) as the infection rate has spread in Sydney and has now escaped to the regional centres, such as Newcastle.

The data suggests that it was foolish of the NSW government not to follow the short/sharp lockdown approach used by the other states/territories, which appear to be significantly less damaging and are successful in bringing the outbreak under control.

NSW is now in for an extended period of lockdown as the case numbers accelerate upwards and the death rate rises and the employment damage will compound.

Neoliberal ideology does it again!


The labour market is once again contracting, largely because of the errors the NSW government made in controlling the latest outbreak, which was a breach of quarantine.

They have failed to curb mobility and the infection rate is spreading into the regions.

They reluctantly imposed a lockdown but it was too late.

It will now be an extended contraction.

The other states/territories have all followed a different model of short/sharp lockdowns and are more successful in controlling the virus and limiting the labour market damage.

The NSW government, infested with neoliberal ideology about ‘freedom’ and under pressure from the big employers (clubs, racing etc) stayed open too long.

Now we are all suffering, given that NSW is the largest economy.

Relevant blog posts as I trace this data trail over time are:

1. “We need the state to bail out the entire nation” (March 26, 2020).

2. The government should pay the workers 100 per cent, not rely on wage subsidies (March 30, 2020).

3. A Job Guarantee would require $A26.5 billion net to reduce the unemployment rate by 6 percentage points (April 30, 2020).

4. Latest employment data for Australia exposes Federal government’s wilful neglect (May 5, 2020).

5. The job losses continue in Australia but at a slower pace (May 19, 2020).

6. Worst is over for Australian workers but a long tail of woe is likely due to policy failure (June 16, 2020).

7. Latest Australian payroll data suggests employment damage from shutdown is worse than thought (July 20, 2020).

8. Australia’s job recovery stalling and soon to head south again (August 12, 2020).

9. Payroll employment falling again as second-wave and inadequate policy response bites (August 25, 2020).

10. Federal government cutting spending as payroll data shows employment still in decline (September 10, 2020).

11. Latest employment data in Australia continues sorry tale and what I would do about it (September 24, 2020).

12. Australian labour market continues to go backwards as government sits idly by (October 20, 2020).

13. Australian labour market struggling with significant sectoral disparities (May 11, 2021).

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. The NSW Govt takes its advice from Kerry Chant. She fiddled and should immediately resign. This outbreak started June 16. Lockdown was really on June 25. Viruses don’t care what your ideology is…

  2. Did they take advice from her?
    Michael West made the point!
    Follow the Health advice the constant yatter of the Premier
    But is the Premier following the health advice ?
    What is the actual health advice?
    She let it slip on a press conference
    What I know is that we have some of the best health experts and not just health experts
    but best advisors and contributions from the private sector from business contributing to the new south wales government’s ability to make decisions and i have full confidence in the experts we rely on and they have stood new south wales in good stead

    This gets back to the Neoliberal mantra that of neoliberalism and governance
    When there is a need to move beyond their unwavering faith in markets, and to respond pragmatically to a problem, make a decision ; neoliberals rely on a rather nebulous concept they call “governance,” in which real authority is in the hands of those with capital.

    This type of governance gives no specific role to government to represent the common interest; instead a variety of stakeholders bargain settlements. For neoliberals, governance is thus reduced to the role of managing conflict and organizing negotiation between stakeholders in a free market environment.
    Her statement above demonstrate a classic example of how neoliberals govern !

  3. the other elephant in the room is,

    we need speedy and adequate financial compensation for the employees and employers , the moment a lock down is called.

    if gladys and scott get 100% of their wage this week, so should anyone effected by a lockdown , due to their mishandling of the response to the epidemic.

    delays and penny pinching under delta , leads to higher case numbers

  4. Michael Lacey has accurately characterized the methods of neoliberal governance. The common interest is not represented. Instead, a minarchist position is taken where only business and corporate interests are heard as stakeholders. Only those interests have a seat at the bargaining and decision table. The NSW case is indeed “a classic example of how neoliberals govern”. Whether it is a catastrophic cumulonimbus flammagenitus bush-fire regime or a novel zoonotic pandemic disease burning down our infrastructure or our people, respectively, Morrison and Gladys B. do nothing for the common interest.

    The Chaser has created a Scott Morrison “Inaction Figure” as a tribute to this politician who apparently never acts in any crisis. Michael Lacey reminds us that he acts all right but only for the capitalist stakeholders, large and small. This is why it feels like to the rest of us, the 90% of adult Australians who are workers, unemployed, students or retirees, that Scott Morrison does nothing. He does do nothing for 90% of the population. The Chaser should add a Baron Harkonnen figure (from Dune) to the range: Morrison as a malevolent blimp hovering over the suffering people. There is something fitting in that imagery of someone who floats above the destruction and gloats.

    Why do we consent, by supineness and default, to be governed by those who do not have our interests forming any part in their calculations? The “manufacture of consent” (Chomksy) depends on the manufacture of ignorance. As this pandemic “ignited” and spread, the manufacturers of ignorance were busy. Indeed, they had been busy before that and remain busy today, in the matter of pandemic diseases and our responses to them.

    The WHO was castigated for not acting early enough to escalate warnings, for not declaring a global pandemic soon enough and indeed for not criticizing and blaming China for the origin of the disease. But in earlier cases (for example flu epidemics like the one in 2009), the WHO came under heavy pressure from the neoliberal globalists, headed by the Americans, to not declare for any measures that would curtail movement, trade and business. The WHO has been under consistent pressure for at least two decades to (as I say) not declare measures that would ever curtail (neoliberal) business.

    See “WHO bows to pressure not to declare pandemic – SWINE FLU OUTBREAK – Frank Jordans, Associated Press, May 19, 2009.

    “China, Britain, Japan and other countries urged the World Health Organization on Monday to be very cautious about declaring the arrival of a swine flu pandemic, fearing that a premature announcement could cause worldwide panic and confusion. WHO bent to their wishes.” – Frank Jordans.

    I would cavil at putting China at the head of that list and omitting USA altogether which in all likelihood should be at the top of the list. With a little more research I think I could substantiate that. It is clearly the neoliberal capitalists, in addition to the state capitalists of CCP China, who wanted to and want to, underplay the health requirements of the general populace to keep business as usual running; which means income continues to flow into the hands of rentiers, monopolists, oligopolists and petite bourgeois capitalists, like the owners of pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars and tourist traps: the whole conga line of parasites in trickle-up economics subsidized by state expenditure under neoliberal capitalism.

    Now, bear with me. A little recent history is required. As Bob Marley sings, “If you know your history, then you know where you are coming from”. The specific flu pandemic I refer to above was the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic. Our kids (twins 15 or 16 at the time) were laid low. Their entire school was nearly shut down. Probably, it should have been. On certain days, at the height of it, half of the student body was absent, IIRC. My wife and I turned out to be, essentially, immune to it. There were reasons for all of this. We will get back to the neoliberal pressures on the WHO but first a quote:

    “In 2009, a new kind of influenza A (H1N1) virus emerged in the United States and spread quickly around the world. Initially known as “swine flu,” this particular subtype of virus contained a novel combination of influenza genes that hadn’t previously been identified in animals or people. The virus was designated as (H1N1)pdm09.

    Very few young people had any existing immunity to the virus, but about 1/3rd of people over 60 had antibodies against it. Because it was very different than other H1N1 viruses, the seasonal vaccinations didn’t offer much cross-protection either. When a vaccine was finally made, it was not available in large quantities until late November, after the illness had already peaked.

    The CDC estimates that between 151,700 – 575,400 people died worldwide during the first year that the (H1N1)pdm09 virus circulated. About 80% of those deaths are believed to have been people younger than 65 – which is unusual. During typical seasonal influenza epidemics, 70-90% of deaths occur in people over 65.” – Simone M. Scully, The Weather Channel.

    Scully eh? Where’s Mulder? But seriously the real truth is out there if only we do our history. I suspect the article is wrong in one respect. I think some proportion of people over 50 at the time had antibodies against H1N. My wife and I seemed well nigh totally immune to it (50 and 56 at the time). But it was a nasty global pandemic as the figures above show. I would give much more credibility to the figure of over half a million deaths world wide. Casualty counts and “cause of death” attribution are very difficult even in countries that can actually keep even half-credible records.

    “Australia had 37,537 confirmed cases of H1N1 Influenza 2009 (Human Swine Influenza) and 191 deaths reported by Department of Health but only 77 deaths reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The actual numbers are much larger, as only serious cases warranted being tested and treated at the time. Suspected cases have not been reported by the Department of Health and Ageing since 18 May 2009 because they were changing too quickly to report.[10] Sources say that as many as 1600 Australians may have actually died as a result of this virus.” – Wikipedia.

    There is a pattern of neoliberal pressure on the WHO to NOT call pandemics. This pattern is at least two decades and perhaps three decades old now. The results of this historical pressure were apparent in the WHO’s skittishness. Sure, realpolitik alone suggests China pressures the WHO too, but to attribute all or even most of the WHO’s reluctance to call the pandemic to China’s pressure is to elide most of the historical facts. I am saying there is a long-standing neoliberal pattern to ignore or underplay pandemics at the cost of human health to the people for the benefit of elite business interests. The very real dangers of this tendency have came home to roost catastrophically (I use the term advisedly) in the event of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    I referred above to the manufacture of ignorance. The neoliberal ignorance manufacturing machine is now in full swing. It may well be continuing to win the science denialism propaganda war, at least in the USA. The amount of false scholarship on the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-downs in particular is astonishing ad deeply concerning. Indeed, “a lie can run around the world before truth can put its boots on”. This false scholarship threatens to falsify history as fast as history is happening.

    Here, in Australia, we the public know that lock-downs work to curtail and then halt the pandemic spread of a highly contagious virus. SARSCov2 which causes COVID-19 disease. We know from multiple empirical demonstrations of successes and failures in COVID-19 suppression that this is the case. We know from overseas examples the difference in outcomes between lock-downs plus other NPIs ( Non-Pharmaceutical interventions) that NPIs implemented well, work well, and that “let-it-rip” or “wait and see” policies towards the virus lead to waves of public health disasters. Implemented well enough NPIs plus vaccination can eradicate a virus not only in a country but comprehensively around the globe.

    Opposed to this empirical knowledge, well attested to by public experience in countries like China, Australia and New Zealand and well-proven by genuine epidemiological science, we now can see, if we look, a massive cottage industry of pseudo-schloastic, pseudo-scientific, neoliberal denial arising in the USA and possibly elsewhere, apparently in its neoliberal economics departments, academies and think tanks. Clearly there is a kind of deep and extensive pseudo-academia pumping out this stuff. It threatens to totally overwhelm the empirical truths of the matter.

    I refuse to link to this article but I will name it as representative of what I am writing about:

    “Lockdowns Do Not Control the Coronavirus: The Evidence” – AEIR (American Institute for Economic Research”

    This document provides links to 35 papers, I kid you not, which are marshaled to demonstrate the “evidence” that “lock-downs do not control the Coronavirus”, meaning SARSCov2. Now, if I began to examine, critique and debunk these papers in detail I would write a post longer than Bill Mitchell’s most comprehensive efforts. I don’t propose to do that. Suffice it to say that this pseudo-schloarship and pseudo-science relies on various methods of illogic, cherry-picking of evidence, gerrymandering of boundaries (geographic and chronologic) for “studies” and misuse of regression analysis to attribute cause and effect or obscure cause and effect as required by the authors according to their ideological imperatives.

    What is deeply disturbing is the sheer volume and pseudo-scientific veneer of all this stuff. This must be a matter of institutional power bought and suborned by capital. Capital, or rather capitalists, spend billions buying all the elections, and thus all the politicians. in the USA. “As of July 12, 2021, 2,276 groups organized as super PACs have reported total receipts of $6,855,087,990 and total independent expenditures of $4,256,095,206 in the 2019-2020 cycle.” – OpenSecrets.

    There is clearly a big spend going to buy economic “scholarship” as well and I have no idea at this stage how big that spend is in the USA alone. Prof. Bill Mitchell researches and writes as much as ten ordinary men or women. But even he, alone or with his small dedicated band of colleagues. cannot match this Niagara of money and pseudo-scholarship. I fear for the future of Australia, facing this tsunami of neoliberalism coming across the Pacific. Mixed metaphors I know but you get the picture.

    It is this subversion of historical truth, a subversion traveling at the speed of rapidly moving current events, that is truly frightening to me. It implies such a rapid manufacture of ignorance and propaganda that the truth will drowned even as it tries to put its boots on. Or in another metaphor, these neoliberal pseudo-scholars are like the Langoliers in the novella by Stephen King. They rapidly eat the past and make no genuine information visible to the general population, just a giant billboard of neoliberal “truths” and principles” strap-lined at the bottom, “Nothing Behind Here”, while people crawl and die in the apocalyptic landscape beyond. People have certainly crawled and died from COVID-19 in places like India, Indonesia, Africa and South America.

    A factual billboard would read “COVID-19 – Brought to you by capitalism”. This is quite literally true and at multiple levels. See:

    “COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital” – by Rob Wallace, Alex Liebman, Luis Fernando Chaves and Rodrick Wallace (May 01, 2020) – in the Monthly Review.

    I will end with a marvelous quote:

    “As one droll put it: “Coronavirus is too radical. America needs a more moderate virus that we can respond to incrementally.”

  5. @michael lacey: Dr Chant stated precisely when the formal advice was provided. If she informally advised that she wanted to lockdown sooner and was bullied to hold off, then the whole lot of them need to step aside as none are fit to discharge their most important duties. It’s pretty simple really.

  6. Everywhere the “freedumb” narrative holds sway endures disastrous health outcomes. The folly knows no bounds.

  7. Ikonoclast, that comment was about the best article regarding the pandemic that I have read.

  8. Matt B,

    Thanks. I could write a lot more about the COVID-19 pandemic but I will try to confine myself to these, still lengthy, remarks below.

    The myths and slogans that arose about and around COVID-19 early on in the epidemic were astounding and completely unfounded. I think we can attribute them to neoliberalism, post-truthism and plain old wishful thinking. The main myths/slogans I refer to were (and still are in some quarters):

    (a) Herd Immunity (for COVID-19);
    (b) Flattening the curve;
    (c) It’s just a flu or even a cold;
    (d) It’s all China’s fault.

    The first three of these emerging myths/slogans would have been clearly just that to all competent virologists and epidemiologists observing the scene even in January 2020. That is to say even before those myths arose, promulgated by political and economic mouthpieces in the media and public discourse. As soon as the SARSCov2 virus was known to be a SARS coronavirus (early Jan. 2020) this would have alerted virologists and epidemiologists to its serious potential dangers. “The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020.” [1]

    SARS1 and MERS were known to be highly dangerous diseases with high death rates, though they were not particularly contagious, at least not compared to SARS2 (SARSCoV2). SARSCoV2 is a coronavirus and a single-stranded RNA virus. From these “family” traits it could have been inferred by the experts that it would be potentially lethal (well they were already seeing that), that it would likely mutate fairly rapidly and that immunity to it after infection would likely wane over time. Even the high contagiousness should not have been too great a surprise. Those colds caused by coronaviruses are quite contagious, although admittedly SARS1 and MERS were not particularly contagious.

    Another issue known at the time was that no vaccine had ever been successfully produced for any human or any other coronaviruses except for an enteric (not pulmonary) coranavirus vaccine for dogs. Put this knowledge together and all governments advised by all competent virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts would have been told of the serious potential dangers. The clear path, at least from the end of February 2020, if not the end of January, would have been an international lock-down of all non-essential travel and ring-fencing of all national borders. Then the clear path would have been a campaign of global eradication. It is quite an amazing technical breakthrough that we got mRNA and DNA vaccines so quickly but we can put much of that down to the sudden massive public funding of research (as per MMT and certain other principles one can say).

    Herd Immunity.

    Herd immunity per se is not a myth. It can and does occur for some communicable diseases, especially when assisted by good vaccines at high vaccination rates. However, some communicable diseases mutate at a pace which undermines herd immunity. In any case, a herd immunity strategy for a disease of SARS2’s contagiousness and lethality (even before we got variants Alpha to Delta) and without an early vaccine was always going to kill a lot of people. Far more than was acceptable in terms of ethical values, including killing many vulnerable and poor people.
    Flattening the Curve.

    Flattening the curve was “surrender-monkey” talk. It made superficial sense (to not flood the hospitals) if one was going to follow the herd immunity strategy and sacrifice millions of people along the way. But the herd immunity strategy was always flawed as above. Now we have the quite predictable immunity escape and vaccine escape already starting.

    It’s just a flu or even a cold.

    This claim really is beneath contempt. It’s complete science denial. The virus genetically is not a flu nor a cold coronvirus. It clearly does not act like a flu or cold either. In fact SARS2 is a very strange, dangerous and almost shape-shifting beast. Its (current) mode of access to the human body is exclusively or mainly pulmonary. But once it gets inside the body it is a vascular and blood disease. This makes it terribly nasty and it can attack anywhere in the body and every organ where blood goes which means everywhere basically. Considering its “family” and characteristics it could even evolve to generate an enteric disease variant carried in feaces and infective by mouth. This is a serious potential danger for the entire third world and maybe even further.

    It’s all China’s fault.

    This doesn’t stack up either. Yes, the CCP and Wuhan Party Members and Officials were at fault in their early response. They messed it up and (probably) indirectly killed the messenger, an ophthalmologist. That’s all recorded history now and can be found in Wikipedia. The most likely possibility is still that the virus came from the wild via zoonotic transfer to humans, though probably not from the wet market. I won’t go into the other theory (lab escape and gain of function research) here. See the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for such a theory if you wish. As Gore Vidal said, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist – I’m a conspiracy analyst.”

    Although China messed up early, the rest of the world, led by the US, UK and others, messed up big time after that. Early on. SARS2 was eradicable and that’s what should have been done. The costs of what’s happening now and will continue to happen, especially in the third world for years to come, are far greater than early eradication would ever have been. The early eradication policy “dominated” all other policies in the jargon.

    1. Wikipedia.

  9. Professor Bill Mitchell’s Post and Iconoclast’s comment makes me wonder what we can do to get the message across in the mainstream media’s relentless promotion of outdated propaganda about the “Economy’ and our Society.

    I have been sending copies of emails with copies of my Blog Posts to Shadow Ministers and anyone else who might be influential as well as to members of the local Labor Party Branch, of which I am a member, for the last few years. Little or no response. I am probably regarded as as ratbag and obsessive . My Blog Posts deal with much of what Bill”s Posts address.

    How can we ‘spread the word’ to good effect?

  10. Kevin Moran,

    My idea is “keep on saying stuff will happen… until it does.” People like Bill Mitchell have been doing this and he has certainly been relentless and obsessive: virtues when pursuing something absolutely crucial. Bill and his MMT colleagues have been saying that the state can spend more to achieve full employment, full capacity utilization, and achieve necessary social, economic, infrastructure, sustainability goals etc. [1] The MMT group (and others) have been vindicated by the neoliberal’s sudden re-discovery of deficit spending in crisis. Only when neoliberals think collapsing things will fall on them do they suddenly make this rediscovery.

    I’ve been saying, since reading “The Limits to Growth” in the late 1970s that our consumer-capitalist path was unsustainable. The main result was being pilloried or ignored. But very soon a heck of a lot of people are going to (sadly) have some very big shocks which prove the LTG thesis; like the people of Greece currently. These shocks will spread around the world through millions and then billions of people. Great change will come but which way? Socialism, authoritarianism or barbarism? That is the question.

    Note 1. The MMT people have not been the only ones saying this. State capacity has been clear to Marxists, Keynesians and others for a long time. But I am not the best person to discern what is unique about MMT. I have not read up on it enough.

  11. Kevin Moran asks, “How can we ‘spread the word’ to good effect?”

    Keep on keeping on. Even Barnaby Joyce is reduced to asking “what is the plan” (to deal with climate change). It’s becoming obvious that market economics cannot deal with this global problem, in a timely fashion.

    As Marxist commentator Michael Roberts has noted, what is needed is “planning not pricing”. (The whole fossil industry should be bought into public hands and shut down via central bank money printing).

    But Danny Price of Frontier Economics is not convinced – he still thinks the private sector with its market carbon-pricing mechanisms can bring about the necessarry transition. Lets see what happens at Glasgow; I expect a lot of finger pointing and accusations against China, even thouh the whole transition could be allocated to the public sector, the fossill industry could be shut down, and electricity could be delivered free to consumers globally (without taxes or carbon pricing) as the world’s deserts are covered with PVs etc, . and the pumped-hydro storage is built.
    Such a scheme would eventually be DEFLATIONARY , as a result of a global economy powered by free electricity.

    I ‘ll get back to Mr Price again….I like informing orthodox economists of Ross Gittins’ conversion to MMT, as noted in his SMH article entitled “Central bank money printing is closer than you think”. (Google it).

  12. The current COVID-19 Delta variant debacle in NSW (Australia) demands further analysis and critical thinking by all Australian citizens. This is so that we are not pulled into a new morass by over-hyping (very effective) vaccination by assuming that effective vaccination alone can defeat this pandemic. It cannot. Other measures will remain, at least episodically, necessary.

    It is worth pointing out that Australia could have eradicated or seriously suppressed COVID-19 indefinitely through lock-downs, testing, isolation, quarantine, masks, distancing and other NPI (non pharmaceutical interventions) alone. And when the lock-downs were effective and the nation or states in a period after the effective lock-down(s), the other measures could be and were implemented with a relatively light touch.

    In the period from about 18 Sept 2020 to about 15 June 2021 (between the second and third waves here) Australia kept cases below 50 a day and this count INCLUDES imported cases of people returning or coming into Australia. The Federal Govt. had and has a lax “revolving-door” policy where certain people were (and maybe are) able to go out and come back to Australia multiple times. This was occuring even while we were trying to bring back expatriates who wished to come back. In addition, the Federal Govt. completely bungled quarantine by not creating an effective Federal quarantine system.

    Despite all the bungling of the Federal Government and the pressure of importing “incursion cases” over and over again into a poor quarantine system, the states managed to suppress the virus for that period. Australia simply needed a tougher national borders isolation policy and effective quarantine stations to enable the states to do their job.

    Mass vaccination will not be the silver bullet, or silver needle, that amny people are naively expecting. Sure, mass vaccination will be important and effective up to a point but they will need to be supplemented by other measures. For a highly contagious pathogen like the COVID-19 Delta variant, the vaccination rate needed to stop transmission could be as high as 95% of persons over five years old.

    “Twenty-seven people aboard a Carnival cruise tested positive for COVID-19 just before the ship made a stop in Belize City this week, according to the Belize Tourism Board.

    The positive cases were among 26 crew members and one passenger on the Carnival Vista, which is carrying over 1,400 crew and nearly 3,000 passengers, the board said in a statement. The ship, which left from Galveston, Texas, arrived Wednesday in Belize City.

    All 27 were vaccinated, had mild or no symptoms, and were in isolation, according to the statement. The tourism board said 99.98 per cent of the ship’s crew was vaccinated, as well as 96.5 per cent of its passengers.” – Zoomer.

    Due to immune escape and vaccine escape, people still catch and spread COVID-19 after vaccination. Some few still have a serious disease response. And they still unintentionally pose a risk to remaining unvaccinated people if we open up too much, believing vaccination is the complete answer.

    Imagine 80% of people vaccinated with 80% effective vaccines. That is a realistic, even optimistic, assumption. This means only 64% of the population are well-protected and non-transmitters, at best. This leaves 36% of the population poorly protected or unprotected and acting as transmitters of the virus. This is easily enough to generate massive pandemic spread. The 20% wholly unprotected will face standard hospitalization, ICU and death rates for the variant in question.

    “Q. Is the Delta variant more or less deadly than earlier variants? What’s the evidence for this? If it is less deadly, should we be less concerned? – scimex.

    A. The data on this is not entirely clear. However, based on Australia’s data, 9.8 per cent of patients ( with COVID-19 are currently in hospital with an escalating pneumonia illness that is life threatening. 1.6 per cent of patients with COVID-19 are in the intensive care unit. To be in the intensive care unit there is a very high chance of mortality. The difference this time with the delta variant, compared to previous variants, is that there is a more even distribution of age in those that are in hospital. For example, in the ICU in NSW there is a teenager. That is not good. The problem with the very high rate of hospitalisation of this condition is that if we let the virus go, then 10 per cent of the total population will end up in hospital. Currently we don’t have that capacity.

    Q. How do vaccination rates influence the statistics we’re seeing on the impact of the Delta strain in countries like the UK, India or the US?

    A. Vaccination does a number of things.
    1. The chance of dying from COVID-19 is significantly reduced.
    2. The chance of going to hospital is significantly reduced.
    3. The chance of contracting COVID-19 is significantly reduced.
    4. If you have contracted COVID-19, then the chance of passing it on to others is also significantly reduced.

    So, the upshot is that in a vaccinated population, the virus has less chance to spread by opportunities for people to contract it, and if they contract the virus they are much less likely to spread it. Importantly COVID-19 in a vaccinated person is a much milder disease.” – Professor Bruce Thompson, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology.

    What this shows is that at least 1/10 of 1/5 of the Australia population over 16, at least, will end up in hospital sooner or later, probably sooner, at an 80% vaccination rate with 80% effective vaccines and then fully opening up. I can’t find the figure quickly but let us assume 20 million people are over the age of 16. Now 10% of 20% of 20 million is 400,000 people, if my figures are correct. Imagine trying to put an extra 400,000 patients through our hospitals in say two years. It would be impossible. Our funding-strapped hospitals can’t even cope now when there is effectively zero COVID-19. Look at ambulance ramping in Qld for example.

    This demonstrates that there will be a need for firm NPI domestically for a long, long time to come, major quarantine stations and limits imposed for years on people coming into Australia. This problem will need to be managed for many years yet with multiple measures, both PI and NPI.

    If any of my assumptions and estimates above are demonstrably wrong, set me right but only by science, logic and mathematics please.

  13. Ikonoclast,

    Effectiveness is being measured against severe infection, and is higher, especially for mRNA-based. Transmissability is still a guess, but a problem, since it starts multiplying before it reaches the blood and can be fought.
    And, yeah, it might be a scary burden on overworked and overstressed limited hospital staff, wanting to leave in many places of the world. But I believe we’ll also be able to create targeted medications, I think there are fair number of them entering the phase of human trials.

  14. I don’t follow much on this pandemic but much enough to see from a distance that the infection rates in most countries are very low, and the death rates are much lower, and many countries use lockdown of various degrees to handle the situation (many, use strict approach).

    For me, after experiencing, like all of us has, on what happened during the last 2 years, I would not use the lockdown any more, but open the economy up with maximum and strict precautions.

    Wearing face mask, social distancing, prepare all other health related efforts like vaccinations, cure solutions searching, field hospital and so on will be in full force at the same time.

    This reason being…

    if we use the lock down, we might or might not tame the Covid-19 cases, while the strong and healthy population who needs to eat, work and live – how ever difficult that maybe, will all be stopped as well.

    This could mean almost the entire healthy population in each country!

    The is the price we have to pay along with the whole economic system which might crumble sooner than later.

    This path will put the whole population at risk of losing home, lose incomes, suffer family problems, mental health, social collapse etc. on top of the Covid-19 cases.

    The points are: either way, there are consequences, and which one, if we as a policy maker, would choose?

    For me, I want the outcome that the healthy population can go on living as best as they could in this very difficult situation – by opening up the economy with the maximum precaution while dealing with covid-19.

    We must take care of everyone and our economic system as best as we could while handling this pandemic, as the other outcome scenario will be devastated for all IMO.

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