As any minor member of the Royal Family knows, leisure centres in provincial towns do not just open themselves.
Nope, someone has to step up to cut the ribbon and unveil the plaque. Its a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Somehow we need to celebrate the event, however small.
Similarly, someone needs to declare the end of the State Of Emergency formerly knows as CV-19.
You remember coronavirus? No? It was that bug that WE WERE ALL GONNA DIE OF.
We certainly felt the fear when it started…so why shouldn’t we take a moment to feel the joy now its fading fast in the UK? This should surely be cause for a small celebration.
Don’t get me wrong, we can’t be 100% sure there won’t be a second wave. And I’m not saying it’s been easy or that our ruling class covered itself with glory…it really hasn’t.
We faced a common enemy and pulled together (well, after the run on bog-roll in the early days). But then things started to go wrong. The cabinet room seemed to be a superspreader hotspot and they started falling like ninepins. The government seemed rattled and leaned heavily on its scientific and medical advisers, using them as human shields from an often hostile TV news media.
My trust in the TV news was pretty much non-existent before CV-19 and things soon got much worse. Media clowns filled the information vacuum with scare-mongering, their gigantic egos and ill-concealed political agendas. The TV news media seem to have appointed themselves as both The Unofficial Opposition and Champions of Lockdown.
This media narrative implied there was some magical policy that could avoid all deaths. There never was but that didn’t stop the lockdown being promoted in the early stages with religious zeal. Back then, different opinions on the lockdown (see here, here and here) either got ignored, shouted down or taken down by Big Tech. The shaming of anyone who questioned lockdown was neatly satirised by The Babylon Bee:
The government reacted to press criticism with its claim to be “lead by the science”. This was always
horseshit a PR strategy. CV-19 was a new virus so the scientists did not know enough about it and they didn’t agree amongst themselves either about the disease or the policy implications. Different experts had very different advice.
It’s easy to criticise politicians, but they had to make choices where no one really knew what was going on. For me, the difference between politicians and the media was that the politicians at least seemed to be trying to do the right thing. The TV news media not so much. Advisers advise, ministers decide and the media screamed blue murder.
Who can forget the medias health & safety frenzy, the endless parade of victims, the dire warnings of rising R numbers, the journalists stalking #1 pantomime villain Dominic Cummings etc etc…and how 5 minutes later that was replaced by the media’s fawning coverage of mass
riots protests. We’ve seen media hypocrisy before but this was just off the scale.
Did the Government make mistakes? Well….durrr…obviously. The Government was woefully underprepared for this white swan event. Should the media challenge the government? Yes, of course! But it ain’t easy running a country in a pandemic and there were no magic wands.
In a situation like this, government needed to be able to deal with uncertainty and react quickly to new information. With the benefit of hindsight, that meant locking down earlier and then lifting the lockdown quickly as soon as we knew what we were dealing with.
Here’s the problem: the lockdown is like a supertanker that takes 5 miles to turn around. So most children are still not back in state schools becos ov safetee consernz. Schools seem strangely reluctant to allow the children back. The fact that the pubs will be open before most children are back in state schools tells you something about the public’s priorities.
One of the more striking poll results that I saw during the peak of lockdown was that 28% of the Great British public wanted lockdown to continue AFTER the disease had fully disappeared. In other words, over one quarter of the population want to pull the duvet over their head and hide from the big, bad world FOREVER. Stop the world, I want to get off!
For me, the key takeaway from CV-19 was how much Heath & Safety
paranoia culture has permeated into everyday life. Why do we imagine there is any such thing as total safety? The idea of 100% safety is a mirage, it’s something to comfort children with.In the real world, the government had only trade offs to choose from: direct deaths from CV-19 or indirect deaths from other untreated illnesses. Deaths now or deaths later.
I’m no epidemiologist but I recognise some of the tricks that experts use to present their case. Take Dr Neil Ferguson, who seemed to have significant influence on government policy. I was more impressed by Ferguson’s Game than by his infection model.
Extracting influence and money from a major Western government and
banging the hottie getting the girl…was this an epidemiologist or a baddie from a Bond film? Talk about Revenge of The Nerds.
Ferguson was an unusual case in many ways. Normally, the problem with academics is that they don’t have skin in the game. In other words, they have safe jobs and don’t get fired when they’re wrong. And they’re wrong a lot.
Anyone who has worked as a professional in business preparing, reviewing or updating financial projections or valuing companies knows the limitations of financial models.
A Big 4 Accountancy firm once did a survey where they found that 95% of spreadsheets used in business contained an error. I never saw the the source data for this but I wouldn’t be surprised if it contained an error and the true number was higher than 95%. But even if you assume that the model is coded correctly and arithmetically correct, using models to make predictions of the future is still fraught with problems.
Models often have 50+ input assumptions. When the model is operated by people with human biases and blindspots, “skew” is pretty much baked into the cake. If you err on the side of caution with each of the 50+ input assumptions, the aggregate impact is huge. The errors “stack” and the end result can be meaningless.
In reality, models are often used as a way of proving the guestimate that you first thought of. In this sense, they are tools of persuasion. This is why mathematical / financial models are only impressive to those people that have never built them. The map is not the territory and scientism is not science. Or at least, not good science.
We seem to have elevated Health & Safety to the sole guiding principle of government and society. The road to hell is paved with good intentions…and what better intention than prioritising safety? Well, the problem with the focus on safety at all costs is that it ignores trade-offs and unintended consequences and it infantilises the population (see film: Wall-E). In other words, it’s Level One Thinking.
What about the second order consequences? Lockdown may have reduced short term deaths from CV-19 (and road traffic accidents) at the cost of higher deaths over the long term from disruption of cancer screening and all the other routine / preventative treatments.
The economy is being damaged by continuing lockdown at this point. It’s much harder to create / rebuild businesses than it is to close them. This has consequences. Make no mistake, trashing the economy via an extended lockdown costs lives (via suicide, depression etc); it’s just a bit harder to join the dots between cause and effect.
The safety-at-all-costs mindset is also bad for your personal finances. To resist peer pressure, to invest in the stockmarket / property, to change career, to stop spending too much on insurance…all these take some courage. The safety culture is driven by fear and it’s a trap. You can be too careful.
It certainly made sense in the early stages of the outbreak to err on the side of caution. In the early days, we didn’t know how infectious or how fatal CV-19 would be. But we now know what we’re dealing with and its really not that scary.
That’s not the message you get from The News. But you don’t need the News Media to tell you what’s going on. You can go direct to reliable data sources, without the media spin and melodrama. The graphs below are direct from the Office of National Statistics.
Deaths involving COVID below the age of 70 are now close to non-existent. The median age of death has been 81. Yes, there have been some younger cases but those anecdotes are statistical outliers. Fear is a tax levied on people that don’t understand basic maths and statistics.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it suits The Prison Camp for us to live in a continual state of anxiety as atomised consumers, fed news by social media, Big Tech and TV corporations. So it’s up to us to choose: we can either live in fear online or turn off social media and go outside and talk to some real people.
I’ve realised that I need to unplug and spend less time online (and somehow I don’t think it’s just me). So yesterday I cycled to the pub on my local village green yesterday and drank beer in the beautiful sunshine (no sunscreen) with some friends before cycling home (no helmet) on quiet country lanes…living on the edge, health & safety be damned. That’s how I roll, baby.
I choose not to live in fear. But you do you. I’m not telling you what you must do.
I’m sorry there was no politician, royal or other minor celebrity available to perform this closing ceremony. And, if I’m wrong and I now catch CV-19 and die, well…shit happens and I did warn you that I’m not an epidemiologist.
I hereby declare this pandemic over.
I send out occasional emails out with my thoughts on investing and news of what I’m up to. You can sign up for those emails below 👇