Adam Creighton is right!

Last year I created a bit of a stir when I declared that The Australian’s Adam Creighton was “pyscho“:

It was clear that Victoria did NOT have the wherewithal to succeed with contract tracing and testing when the second wave hit. That’s why there was a second wave! The only mistake VIC made in that context was not shutting down sooner, meaning we all had to be locked up for longer. That was, in part, owing to the whining of the psychos.

If it had not locked down then the 3% mortality rate would have killed tens of thousands, the economy would have ground to a halt anyway, and the state would have become the isolated leper colony of Australia.

Today VIC should have that testing and tracing capacity, modeled on NSW’s outstanding success, and should open up quickly. Manchurian Dan is moving too slowly but there is no elimination strategy. And yes, he should be out on his arse for his quarantine and contact tracing schmozzle.

All these virus psychos do is whinge using straw man alternative strategies that did not or do not exist. Their trade is in false binaries, not logic or reality. If we’d have listened to Adam Creighton throughout then we’d have mass death, an even worse economy, and resemble the US with no end in sight to both.

But today, the facts have changed. Vaccines are here. Victoria has supposedly repaired its COVID capacity and the future is bright. Yet, psychologically, the Australian population is lagging badly as leadership continues to wield the lockdown truncheon for its own ends. Adam Creighton is now spot on:

The west, and Australia and New Zealand in particular, are suffering mass psychogenic illness, where only sociology, psychology and the perverse incentives of large welfare states, can explain the ongoing obsession with COVID-19 and our medieval responses to it after almost a year of improved treatments and new information.

For three German and Spanish economists, it’s time to ask this question: have we forgotten the rationality that’s meant to define policymaking in advanced liberal democracies? Their new research paper, COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria, lays out how our biological tendency to overreact coupled with a social and mass media that profit from panic, plus powerful welfare states, make mass psychosis likely, and hard to reverse.

“Governments have prohibited activities that reduce fear and anxiety, such as sports and socialising, thereby contributing to anxiety and psychological strain,” one of the authors, Philipp Bagus, told The Australian.

“They have instilled fear in the general public to achieve political goals, exploiting the negativity bias of the human brain,” he said, revealing how a leaked German government paper last year recommended scaring people to ensure compliance with health advice. “Politicians have an incentive to overshoot the mark in their responses to a threat because they are largely exempt from the risk of possible wrong decisions and their costs, which they pass on to others,” Bagus added.

There are all kinds of urgent reasons why we need to get back to normal. Australia as a community is sundered. State governments have Balkanised us psychologically such that fun state rivalries have become almost hard borders and separate identities. Take the latest polls for the WA election which have a whole swag on loon parties in the running for seats including the WAxit Party, which is seeking secession, two anti-vaxxer parties seeking endless virus and The Great Australia Party which is a grab bag crazed grievances.

Foremost among the need to come back together is to get the economy moving in areas of high touch services such as travel so that we can get unemployment down and living standards rising. Psychological risk aversion may do structural harm if it squashes Australian imaginations and entrepreneurialism.

Second, there is a very real danger that Australia will be left behind as other developed economies open domestically and internationally sooner. If we don’t swing from “elimination” to “herd immunity” pronto then as borders reopen worldwide, Australia will be the only one still shut, prolonging the damage much longer than necessary. We are already miles behind on the vaccine rollout.

Third, how are we going to address any of the great national policy challenges ahead if we can’t pull together out of the virus? From climate change to economic reform to China-decoupling and repair to our own liberal democracy, the current state of national paranoia leaves everybody vulnerable to division, populism and conspiracy theories.

Finally, there is a plague of depression and paranoia resulting from fear and lockdown. For our own mental health, and that of our kids, we need to move on and get out some more. I have noticed my own kids carrying an increased burden of cynicism post-COVID.

Ruthless state leaders are trading on our browbeaten state of mind. Making matters worse, we have a political robot for a PM who couldn’t empathise with, nor lift, the national mood to save his political life. So there is very little leadership of the community to bring us back together. Why isn’t he on the hustings championing the better future in prospect? Last week he instead fully endorsed Victoria’s panic attack lockdown.

In short, it’s up to us.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. You are more sanguine about the so-called vaccines than me. They don’t prevent infection nor stop the virus replicating, which has important implications. Firstly, you are not going to stop viral transmission in this way. Secondly, each infected vaccinated person becomes a little Darwinian laboratory where the replicating virus can accumulate mutations which are selected by the vaccine to overcome it – goodness knows how many viruses are in each person, and how many people will be vaccinated, but the math is not on our side. So I’d predict that they’d become ineffectual pretty fast.

  2. Covid has now become the perfect “do something but really do nothing” cover-all for the clusterfuck that is Australian politics. That using this complete BS excuse causes damage to individuals and society never gets a look in. There is not a single serious policy agenda on the table from a party with the backing to make a material difference to the fortunes of the nation.

    It’s clear that luck is the main driver behind our pandemic success. How else can we explain the way slowly closed borders and failed hotel quarantine (that should never have been more than a stopgap) hasn’t resulted in widespread community transmission?

    I hope that lot makes some sense, because I’m really f’n angry and don’t trust myself to write any more.

    • In Victoria in particular all the covid restrictions were designed to protect the public sector and make their jobs easier – police, teachers and healthcare in particular – at the expense of the rest of us. The healthcare system was never under siege. They were twiddling their thumbs. The police wanted a curfew so they could relax. And don’t get me started on the teachers. Of course they kept getting paid.

      And yet we are supposed to look up to these people?

    • What you’re really asking is for someone to make it all go away.

      It’s a pandemic, it’s not going away. It takes a long time for this to sink in given the enormous, out-of-the-blue changes a pandemic brings.

  3. I’d like to see studies done on the overall mental health impact during 20/21 between Europe/USA vs Australia. I’d bet we’re doing significantly better, and due to controlling the virus have less economic hit too. Creighton was and is a psycho, we’d be farked if we had listened to him and his other Murdoch ilk.

  4. “Psychological risk aversion may do structural harm if it squashes Australian imaginations and entrepreneurialism.”

    I thought we were there well before Covid came along. Why else the obsession with “safe as houses” residential real estate?

  5. I will not say Victoria’s lockdown as a ‘panic’ by Dan Andrews. Once the ‘Tier 1’ sites include the entire Terminal 4 of Melbourne Airport, lockdown is the only available response as there are simply too many people to contact trace. The real failure is why everyone in the terminal become a ‘close contact’ even though it should only be the patron of the cafe. My guess is they don’t have a list of who ate there, but they have a list of who was at the airport, so the contact tracers simply used that. >_<

    It takes a while for business to comply with the QR Code mandate to record down every patron visited. It is ridiculous that the Victorian government is happy to shut down the entire state, but the QR Code contact tracing remains voluntary.

  6. When someone starts spouting herd immunity and mental health, I run the other way because I value my physical health sans covid. Creighton is an expression of neoliberal psychopathy — ‘it is all about me’.

  7. I might add that in this era of ‘me me me’ and instant gratification, it is impossible to imagine that people will have the patience to wait this virus out and suffocate it, via the ancient methods of quarantine. So we are destined to be overwhelmed by neoliberal whingers like Creighton — and apparently David as well.

  8. DLS, you were correct the first time with the Creighton psycho take. This change of heart after the latest Vic lock down is wishful thinking.
    “Victoria’s panic attack lockdown.” Please consider the possibility that it was the best course of action from the available alternatives based on the information available at the time. As other commenters observed, there were at least two potential super-spreader events in Vic that lead the contract tracers to advise for a lock down. Businesses should be encouraged by the community response in Vic that has ensured the break out appears to be contained.

    Just providing a list of adverse consequences is not a convincing argument. You need to provide an alternative plan of action, supported by medical evidence.

    • How about some sort of exit plan other than LOCKDOWNS FOREVER.
      Short term actions without a long term plan is how we ended up with a 30 year housing bubble to end all bubbles. Are we heading into 30 years of lockdowns to keep the flu out?

      • bjw678 its never been lockdowns forever. Once we have a broad vaccinated base we still maintain our quarantine until global numbers stabilise and peter out. No one is talking about it as it really depends on how each country goes and how others react to that. Once the OECD is vaccinated we’ll get messaging on a global crusade or a let it rip and screw Africa and Latin America.

        Mutations are driven by two factors: Volume of cases which gets driven down by NPI’s and vaccines and the chronically sick resolved partially by vaccines and further helped by convalescing plasmas and steroids ensuring no one in tier 1 countries habours covid for months on end like they have in UK, Brazil and SA.

        We’re halfway there, now we are faced with a more virulent and deadly Corona 2.0 and no significant vaccination the 12+ month window is still unknown.

        • “until global numbers stabilise and peter out.”
          Like they did for the spanish flu? Which is still here 100 years later AKA the flu.

          EDit: you are right about it not being lockdowns forever, it is literally nothing that will end up turning into lockdowns forever.

          • When was that vaccine developed? Spanish flu was 1918. They only realised influenza was caused by a virus in the 1930s.

          • Yeah there was no vaccine – it just burnt out after taking 50 million lives. That is what the let-it-rip crowd is recommending we just lay down and accept.

          • Come on Babunda, let’s at least do a logical comparison – 50 million lives out of an estimated 500 million infected. A 10% mortality rate. So, 10 times COVID. By all means, lock your front door and never go out again, but I choose not to do this. We need a rational pathway back to ‘normalcy’ where we are open to the world again.

          • “That is what the let-it-rip crowd is recommending we just lay down and accept.”
            This is what I am saying you can not avoid, only delay.

      • The long term plan is to manage it with the available medical tools as they develop and respond as the virus evolves. Probably something similar to the flu where we make a new vaccine every year. We stay vigilant with social distancing and hygiene. We don’t take unnecessary risks and maintain our monitoring and treatment systems in sparkling condition. We don’t make assumptions about when it will “return to normal”, but just wait for it all to play out in its own time.

        It is similar to farmers planning for the possibility of a drought, or a builder planning for interruptions from bad weather.

        • Except it won’t end. There is no exit.
          And whose plan is it that you are quoting?
          Clearly not any australian governments as Eradication is the only thing being done here.

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