THE Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett and Will Mackey are not medicos, epidemiologists or even academic scientists. More importantly perhaps, they’re not historians or philosophers. They’re economists. Duckett is a public servant and Mackey a graduate student. Their thesis – that Australia should close its borders and accept “yo-yoing between partial freedom and hard lockdown” until coronavirus is ‘eliminated’ or a vaccine developed – could only have been written by men who do not run a business, do not have to venture beyond their laptops to make a living and do not place great value on personal freedom (vis-a-vis a virus that is harmless to almost everybody). Of course, you wouldn’t know COVID is preponderantly benign – verging on physically irrelevant – if you relied on virtually any Australian commentator, journalist or politician. The media is heavily committed to melodrama and ‘crisis’ (as always) and the “National Cabinet” is in way too deep to come clean with voters; that confession would attract an electoral penance for the ages. We’re way past three Hail Marys. Beyond mere politics, the liability for admitting the pandemic “catastrophe” is man-made would cripple the moral authority of government itself for decades. They think that would be a bad thing.
I say it would be a good thing if voters – yes, voters; it sounds almost antiquated, doesn’t it? – were told the truth. The truth is coronavirus cannot be “eliminated,” lockdowns do not work but only postpone a resurgence of “cases” (very few of which will be fatal) and democratic society as we know it cannot continue if the state – qua yo-yo master – imprisons entire populations to save fewer lives than are lost in a single weekend on our roads. At some point – sooner would be better – exterminating liberty, wealth and the rule of law because of a prideful desire to snatch victory from the jaws of idiocy will be called off. “Some day this war’s gonna end,” Colonel Kilgore sadly tells Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. The Kilgores are still running the campaign, though whether they actually believe in the hopeless cause or just love the smell of relevance in the morning is impossible to tell. Either way, my point is this: there is no better time than now to weaken the authority of the state by exposing reactionary fallibility dictatorially sandbagged.
Over the past week or so, we’ve seen a lot of sanctimonious high-fiving from lockdowners about the alleged toll for Sweden and the United States of erring on the side of prudent socio-economic openness. One of the most voluble of the school has been Ray Hadley. A man who has spent more time sounding off in a glass booth than most payphones, the germ-proof but virus-frightened 2GB number 2 has taken to conflating lockdown sceptics with anti-vaxxers. Greg Sheridan and the Keating-ites at The Australian have been comparably hysterical. That newspaper’s many editorialists include a goodly number who were always impressed by the former Treasurer’s belief in solving big conundrums by knowing when – and how robustly – to pull government “levers.” Too few ever scoffed at these motorman delusions. Now they’re praising or castigating today’s politicians for their lever-work. This is big government hubris of Lyndon Johnson proportions.
It’s very easy to tut-tut the Swedes and the Americans but whether they suffer more excess deaths than their neighbour states or not – even whether their economies fare better or worse – is not the key moral criterion of their sagacity. It’s not even the key technocratic one. They have bravely maintained a sensible and safe leash on police statism. That is a life-affirming and life-safeguarding achievement. By comparison, the death of a single nonagenarian in Victoria has led to detentions, renditions, the deployment of spy drones and the mobilisation of the army. That level of gutlessness will not be easily lived down and will cost future generations a lot more than money. We eagerly await a vaccine but truth and humility from our leaders will do more good – both in the mean time and as a general, immovable rule.