The Only Honourable Course

YES, be more like this guy. The now former Victorian Treasury economist Sanjeev Sabhlok certainly is. His apologia in today’s AFR is sufficiently important to warrant being posted here in full in the public interest. To those who would argue that civil service rules mandating strict adherence to official government policy chart the only honourable course, I counter that there is a point at which twee convention becomes the Nuremberg Defence and we’re now well beyond it.

Last week I quit my job as an economist in the Victorian Department of Finance and Treasury so that I would be free to speak out against the state’s management of the COVID-19 infection.

I had made a number of criticisms of the state government on social media. The head of human relations at Treasury asked me to remove them. I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too. I resigned on the same day, the only honourable course for a free citizen of Australia. I never dreamed I would see some of the tactics being used to defend the state’s health.

The pandemic policies being pursued in Australia – particularly in Victoria – are the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies. These policies are having hugely adverse economic, social and health effects, with the poorer sections of the community that don’t have the ability to work from home suffering the most.

Australia is signalling to the world that it is closed for business and doesn’t care for human freedoms. This will dampen business investment but also impact future skilled migration, the education industry and tourism.

The whole thing hinges on the scare created by politicians and health professionals. For instance, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton claims this is the “greatest public health challenge since the Spanish flu”.

But this is no Spanish flu – we can verify that easily.

The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918 when the global population was 1.8 billion. Proportionately, to be as lethal as Spanish flu, a virus would have to kill at least 210 million people today. Instead, only around 0.9 million have died so far (compare this also with the 60 million who ordinarily die each year).

What about a second wave? There has never been a second wave hundreds of times bigger than the first. We can be reasonably certain that while this virus may create further ripples, its ultimate magnitude will end up in the range of the 1957 Asian flu.

But even if the pandemic had been as big as the Spanish flu, lockdowns could never have been justified. There are strong scientific arguments against lockdowns too.

So what should the government have done? The data were clear from February itself that the elderly are many times more vulnerable to a serious outcome than the young. It was necessary, therefore, to work out a targeted age-based strategy and start aggressively protecting and isolating the elderly, even as the rest of the population was advised on relevant precautions. But that wasn’t done.

The need for good policy process does not disappear just because we face a public health crisis. In fact, it gets even more urgent.

The Victorian Guide to Regulation notes that “It is not possible for governments to provide a completely ‘risk free’ society, or to prevent every possible event that might cause harm”. Further: “The direct and indirect costs imposed by regulatory approaches may not be … immediately obvious. Risk regulation that is poorly targeted or costly will divert resources from other priorities.”

Governments back in February needed to commission a cost-benefit analysis of alternative policy options that took into account different scenarios (such as with and without a vaccine). Thereafter, the best option had to be picked given the uncertainty, but consistent also with the need to intrude minimally into human freedoms. This cost-benefit analysis and policies needed then to be updated as new information emerged (such as the fact that epidemiological models have badly exaggerated the risk).

Governments should have also realised at the outset that they are hostage to chronic groupthink and actively sought alternative advice. I attempted repeatedly to raise my voice within my public sector role, but my attempts were rebuffed. The bureaucracy has clamped down on frank and fearless, impartial advice, in a misplaced determination to support whatever the government decides, (instead of performing its taxpayer-funded duty of providing forthright analysis of alternatives).

While there is scientific argument against lockdowns, there are divergent views on matters such as the effectiveness of masks. I am a mask fanatic but there was never any reason to mandate these debatable requirements. Voluntary, performance-based rules would allow the private sector to innovate, leaving people with the power of agency, to determine their own fate – thereby minimising economic harm, and harm to mental health and general well-being.

So what happens now? Billions of dollars in income and wealth have been wiped out in the name of a virus that is no worse than the Asian flu and which can (even now) be managed by isolating the elderly and taking a range of voluntary, innovative measures. All the border closures, all the lockdowns, all the curfews in Melbourne will not eradicate the virus from planet Earth.

The problem for politicians now is to reverse course without losing their job. I don’t know how they plan to do it but if they don’t do it sooner rather than later the damage to Australia’s future would have become so great it would undo the good work of decades of reform.

 
Now, I would prefer it if Sabhlok – he blogs here and Tweets here – did not call himself the “pope” in a “Church of Reason and Liberty.” Nor do I have any time for the weird notion that “thinking with proof is the only proof of humanity.” If that were true, all children (and most adults) wouldn’t qualify. He makes himself an easy target for charges of crackpottery – even though fake Catholics like Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk almost certainly have more disdain for the real Church and papacy than he does. Atheist hubris aside, I commend Mr Sabhlok for standing up to the liars. Thank you.

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45 Responses to The Only Honourable Course

  1. H B Bear

    The Victoriastani Nuremberg trials should make good viewing for the rest of Australia.

  2. H B Bear

    Sabhlok highlights the key problem that politicians (and by definition the rest of us) are locked into their positions and cannot now acknowledge that so much of this was not really necessary.

  3. Robber Baron

    He makes a good case for eviscerating the public servant classes.

  4. Matt

    I’m making the switch to get all my health advice and medical treatment from economists – it’s clear to me now that they are the true and only experts that we should be listening to. And think of the budget savings by abolishing health departments and letting treasury run everything. Multiple problems solved. Thank-you Mr Sabhlok.

  5. Colin Suttie

    I’m making the switch to get all my health advice and medical treatment from economists – it’s clear to me now that they are the true and only experts that we should be listening to.

    Clearly your chosen “experts” have done a stand-up job so far, and nobody should even think of questioning the wisdom of the anointed ones /sarc

  6. Lee

    Victoria is in the very deep shit it is because of the thinking of people like Matt and Dictator Dan (and in the latter’s case, of carrying it out too).

  7. Tim Neilson

    Matt
    #3588235, posted on September 17, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    [English translation of Matt’s comment – everything that Sabhlok said is incontrovertibly true, but Matt doesn’t like it.]

    Matt, given that the DHHS wasn’t asked for advice about the curfew but just went along when they were told that the decision had been made, and we still haven’t been told how that decision was reached (and we’re still under curfew), I don’t think that the economists taking over would necessarily be such a bad thing.

  8. Squirrel

    In some respects, the most significant aspect of this is that it was published by the Nine/Fairfax media – not a good sign for a regime used to a cosy relationship with centre-left media.

    This also looks like another reminder of the saying that quitting just solves someone else’s problem – hopefully Dr Sabhlok’s action will embolden others, some of whom might stand their ground within the system and call the bluff of the thugs who want to silence them.

  9. As a bit if a side comment on this, my 90 year old mother is in an aged care facility in Melbourne (a very good one it is). I receive daily emails and phone calls on what’s going on and how my mother is faring.

    Under direction of DHHS, they have been testing residents and staff constantly for months. I don’t know how the elderly there have managed to put up with this invasive testing, as it’s exceeded more than a dozen so far (I’ve lost count).

    The latest tests have returned a negative result for all residents and staff and they have been given clearance letters for all residents. However, there will be further testing in the next few days, all under direction from DHHS. The protocols for deeming when an outbreak is over has changed and may yet require further testing before the aged care facility can be stood down from ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ status.

    Now here’s the disturbing bit. Once the latter has been achieved, the DHHS ‘Outbreak Squad’ (this is what they are called) will inspect and determine whether the facility requires further action or not. ‘Outbreak Squad’? I wonder whether this ‘squad’ will be dressed in black, full riot gear and faux smiles while they line up all residents for questioning?

  10. mundi

    I don’t know what anyone else expected.
    Australia is the most regulated nation on earth.
    Thousands of leagues of regulators were waiting to jump on this problem, just as they jump on any problem.

    We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. The jokes about it being permanent, will not be jokes. They will find a way for the huge government spending to continue, they always do.

    Also we are WAY closer to economic collapse than people realize. From Nov onwards the governments were already underhandedly forcing super to move from shares to government bonds. Indeed the entire reason that the RBA is able to price fix the bond market – is solely because they have backdoor indirect control of the Super annuation funds.

    I dare anyone to look up any super fund and you will see that they are typically holding 30% to 40% in government debt bonds. Bonds that pay effectively zero interest. If these bonds were on the free market, the interest rate would explode and the AUD would collapse.

    Another extremely sneaky thing is the government changed the rules so that super funds only have do advise you of a change within 12 months. So a super fund can go from 0% bonds to 100% of your holdings in bonds – and tell you 12 months later – if you haven’t already pre-allocated it. They are doing this because they want to support the movement of as much super money as possible to bonds without anyone noticing.

  11. Sinclair Davidson

    Sanjeev is a long time Cat lurker and I’m pleased to report that he will be joining us as a poster in the next few days.

  12. cuckoo

    At this moment the ABC is desperately trying to find out whether this guy is a member of the Liberal Party.

  13. cuckoo

    In some respects, the most significant aspect of this is that it was published by the Nine/Fairfax media – not a good sign for a regime used to a cosy relationship with centre-left media.

    Yes, but published in the AFR. It’s weird: Nein tv news mostly carries water for Andrews, demonizes the flouters and sceptics, routinely runs average citizen voxpops supporting the lockdown, etc. But every so often something critical of the regime gets through. There’s an op-ed by Chris Uhlman in today’s Age which is fiercely critical of Andrews, and which accuses him of “destroying the village in order to save it”.

  14. Megan

    At last, a Victorian public servant with a modicum of personal and public integrity. Well done, Sanjeev.

    And for all the dumb, unquestioning followers of public health bureaucrats (Hi Matt!), it’s becoming more and more apparent that the economists could not possibly have done any worse.

    You weak minded DanFans can continue to shiver in terrified and viciously cruel lockdown. I prefer to question the orthodoxy. It’s far more illuminating and can take you places that mindless compliance will not.

  15. Fair Shake

    Victoria Government: appalling, undemocratic, unaccountable, dangerous, blood on their hands

    But hey their intentions are pure, they work long hours, the deserve a break. Can I suggest they make it a long one and far away.

  16. flyingduk

    Brave words by that man! I hope we see some senior VICPOL make a similar stand in the near future.

  17. David Brewer

    Heavens, a man of honour, and an economist, in the Victorian Treasury Department! WYFBI? (Would you fvcking believe it?). No wonder he quit.

  18. Shy Ted

    Sanjeev is a long time Cat lurker and I’m pleased to report that he will be joining us as a poster in the next few days.
    Excellent, he needs a novelty name though or no one will take him seriously.

  19. thefrollickingmole

    Poor bugger, files stamped “ maximum persecution” in Vic Pols filing cabinet.

    Good to see at least one person with courage enough to quit rather than stay silent.

  20. Rabbi Putin

    Thank Christ some decency and principle shown from someone on the inside at last. I hope he’s the first of many but I doubt it. Well done old boy.

  21. HT

    Megan
    #3588296, posted on September 17, 2020 at 5:53 pm
    At last, a Victorian public servant with a modicum of personal and public integrity. Well done, Sanjeev.

    And for all the dumb, unquestioning followers of public health bureaucrats (Hi Matt!), it’s becoming more and more apparent that the economists could not possibly have done any worse.

    You weak minded DanFans can continue to shiver in terrified and viciously cruel lockdown. I prefer to question the orthodoxy. It’s far more illuminating and can take you places that mindless compliance will not.

    Maaaaate, shaking a matchbox with a cockroach inside to see it landed up feet or arse up couldn’t possibly have produced worse choices!

  22. Roger

    I’m making the switch to get all my health advice and medical treatment from economists

    Setting the sarcasm aside, you may be surprised to know that every aspect of your health care, whether publicly or privately provided, has been or will be subject to economic analysis at some level.

    Health needs are infinite, resources to pay for them not so much.

  23. HT

    flyingduk
    #3588305, posted on September 17, 2020 at 5:56 pm
    Brave words by that man! I hope we see some senior VICPOL make a similar stand in the near future.

    We did, once. The Deputy Commissioner(?) that freely contradicted Andrews about the compliance of Victorians. I sadly forget his name, but well done that man. As opposed to Chief Wigam and his boss Suckton.

  24. duncanm

    Matt
    #3588235, posted on September 17, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    I’m making the switch to get all my health advice and medical treatment from economists

    its not about health advice, its about understanding numbers, statistics and history.

    “Save all people from covid” at the expense of other factors is naive and frankly stupid.

  25. billie

    what agates he has …

    I wish him all the best

    can you imagine the repurcussions of this?

    head will roll for not containing him

  26. HT

    Roger
    #3588392, posted on September 17, 2020 at 6:58 pm
    I’m making the switch to get all my health advice and medical treatment from economists

    Setting the sarcasm aside, you may be surprised to know that every aspect of your health care, whether publicly or privately provided, has been or will be subject to economic analysis at some level.

    Health needs are infinite, resources to pay for them not so much.

    WHAT!!! You mean somebody actually weighs cost versus benefits of health expenditures and outcomes? That there is price society won’t pay to keep me alive? OUTRAGEOUS I tell ya!

    Maybe we should label these infidels, maybe something like #HealthEconomists would work. And we could really shame them by having them argue publicly that the costs of handling this “pandemic” are magnitudes of order disproportiant to the societal benefits.

  27. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    I don’t think that the economists taking over would necessarily be such a bad thing.

    Tim, I’m an economist and I think it would be very very bad thing. Especially if they were drawn from the cohort of economists who are wrong about everything, all the time (that’s 91.3% of them, BTW).

    Sanjeev and Sinc are of the other cohort that are only wrong about everything 97% of the time.

    Nonetheless, I’ve long maintained on this blog that the “cure” for this non existent pandemic will be infinitely worse than the non existent pandemic itself. Any sound cost benefit analysis of the virus response measures would have clearly borne that out.

    The opportunity cost of the federal government measures (double dole, jobkeeper, etc) is incomprehensible. Billions and billions wasted on debt interest alone, all thieved out of current and many many future generations of taxpayers’ pockets – a significant proportion of which will be doled out to many of those unfortunate enough to have to exist in Disasterstan under the not so benevolent rule of that staggeringly incompetent arrogant utterly grotesque jug eared quisling imbecile.

    The saddest thing is that none of of this preposterous hysterical totalitarian idiocy ever even needed to happen.

    Good on you Sanjeev, your appearance on Credlin tonight was also very good value.

  28. Des Deskperson

    ‘I had made a number of criticisms of the state government on social media. The head of human relations at Treasury asked me to remove them. I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too.’

    One hates to carp, but this seems to me to be a prima facie breach of the VPS Code of Conduct for Employees in the use of social media, and this section in particular:

    ‘Staff must ensure that any personal comments don’t compromise their capacity to perform their public role in an unbiased manner.’

    Public sector employees are responsible for providing free, frank, evidence-based advice to the government of the day. That government is not obliged to take that advice. A public servant whose advice has been ignored and/or believes that the government is wrong can either:

    continue working and do their best to change the government’s course through evidence based advice, or

    resign.

    They shouldn’t be able to continue to take their pay while sniping at the government on social media or in any other forum. This is a perfectly reasonable principle, no matter how bad the government is. I’m sure that Cats would be outraged if a Marxist public servant was to publicly slam a conservative government while continuing to be be paid to – maybe – implement that government’s policy.

    I understand and applaud Mr Sabhlok’ courage and honesty, but he should have resigned up front if he couldn’t stomach, as its employee the Victorian government’s policies.

  29. candy

    I also applaud Sanjeev Sabhlok’s strong principles. Perhaps he’s had some experience or family with experience with the downside of this whole business and feels he must make a stand against government policies that are causing harm. In some way it has become personal for him.

    I do hope he’s not disadvantaged economically or career wise though. That’s a real tough one for him. That is quite a worrisome issue.

    My only input in this is that the Italian news of older people being left to choke and die and so many bodies etc.
    It put the fear of God into us all for a while. Once that fear is there, it’s hard to disperse with logic and statistics, because it’s a fear of suffering and death.

  30. Petros

    Matt is unaware of how the pharmaceutical benefits advisory committee makes its decisions.

  31. Ozman

    Sanjeev Sabhlok has taken a strong stand.
    Daniel Michael Andrews (48 years old) is a wanted man–quaking in his dacks!
    Matt has been sent to prowl the cat.

    Pity about the paranoia about not wearing masks.

    Neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock: Face Masks Pose Serious Risks to Healthy Individuals
    Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD reports that wearing masks may actually harm you:

    Dr. Russell Blaylock warns that not only do face masks fail to protect the healthy from getting sick, but they also create serious health risks to the wearer. The bottom line is that if you are not sick, you should not wear a face mask

    Published June 29, 2020 at 5:20pm Gateway Pundit

    Matt, you paid stooge, rub your nose in the cost-benefits of this:
    https://youtu.be/RBlyh96yL7Q?t=144

  32. Petros

    What if he did so anonymously or pseudonymously, Des?

  33. louis

    Look I’m in the public service in one of the States and I can tell you nothing is going to improve until the public realizes that the public service is the enemy, it has become the problem no matter who you vote in. You need to start demanding that politicians see it that way too.

    Maybe 1 out of 100 public servants I talk to can even grasp what this is doing to the economy, and the knock on effects for health. Their general attitude is that they are still getting paid, so what’s the problem. None seem to be able to think it through to fact that all the increased costs on the public and the destruction of real jobs will collapse the tax revenue and thus they too won’t be getting paid pretty soon.

    When you point out the drop in revenue and the huge amounts borrowed, the attitude just becomes ‘Oh well, we’ll just have to raise taxes and fees’. There is this belief that you can always just extract more out of the public. A lot of this has to do with the fact the service is overwhelmingly made of two income couples, both employed by government or some government funded agency.

    A big culture shock for my public service will be the travel ban. More than half the people I work directly with travel overseas for holidays every year or two. So I expect the travel ban to face internal pressure in government.

  34. Des Deskperson

    ‘What if he did so anonymously or pseudonymously, Des?’

    Makes at least some difference in that he is not publicly undermining confidence in the government he is paid to serve.

    On the other hand:

    Such people ultimately tend to be unmasked by their organisation because of their display of insider knowledge

    If the happens, to what extent should any organisation – public or private – tolerate an employee who accepts its pay while working against it?

  35. Tim Neilson

    Tim, I’m an economist and I think it would be very very bad thing.

    I’ll take your word for it, but if it would be a bad thing for them to overthrow the Hunchback and his clown troupe, Sutton, Patton et al, that’s a scary analysis of your profession.

  36. Petros

    I agree with you, Des, provided private businesses can do the same.

  37. Rebel with cause

    In the case of the APS, the High Court majority noted in the Banerji case that there was no reason to suppose that anonymous communications would not breach the Code.

    It does appear that cases of public servants being sacked for political comment are extremely rare at both state and federal level. I suspect most government hr departments turn a blind eye unless the criticism is sustained and extremely shrill – or really touches a nerve.

    I admire Sanjeev having the courage to resign. Good on him.

  38. Hay Stockard

    A Victorian economist actually doing something about the dictatorship they are in rather than whine on this blog.
    I thought there were only a couple of hundred brave people in Victoria. Well the number has grown by one..
    I wish a few more of you whining whipped curs would get up and fght for your rights like your ancestors did instead of expecting others to do the heavy lifting for you.
    Remember what happened in Athens when they asked Sparta to remove a tyrant for them.

  39. Des Deskperson

    ‘I suspect most government hr departments turn a blind eye unless the criticism is sustained and extremely shrill – or really touches a nerve.’

    In my experience, unless an employee’s comments or criticism relate directly to that employee’s specific duties and responsibilities, agencies are preprepared to overlook them. They are mindful that the courts have generally been inclined toward protesting free speech in these cases.

    Banerji’s criticisms appear to have been both shrill and sustained. The court heard Ms Banerji tweeted approximately 9,000 times in 2012, an average of 24 per day.

  40. John A

    The problem for politicians now is to reverse course without losing their job.

    Good on him for thinking clearly and acting on his principles.

    But here I think he has not realised the political problem of a government which has gone at least one bridge too far.

    I believe the only way out for the Viktoriastani Gang of Eight is to resign from the Parliament – in disgrace.

  41. Rebel with cause

    Banerji’s criticisms appear to have been both shrill and sustained. The court heard Ms Banerji tweeted approximately 9,000 times in 2012, an average of 24 per day.

    A look at Sanjeev’s Twitter indicates that he too is fairly prolific.

  42. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    if it would be a bad thing for them to overthrow the Hunchback and his clown troupe, Sutton, Patton et al, that’s a scary analysis of your profession

    Tim – I’m wholly on board with overthrowing the junta in Disasterstan, but we must caution against “the tyranny of the experts” which is what got VenOztraliastan into this unbelievable mess in the first place.

    Economists haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory (especially those of the first cohort mentioned above) over the last 80 years or so.

  43. Anonandon

    Where is Iampeter? Did he change his name or disappear because I miss the cvnt?

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