Between push and shove.

The NZ government’s handling of the CV-19 pandemic has won international praise for its decisiveness and effectiveness. It is hard to argue with a response that has reduced the number of daily reported transmissions to near zero and the death toll to less than two dozen out of 1500 total cases. Not bad.

But as could have been expected, there are those who are not happy with how the government has comported itself on the matter. There has been much whinging about restrictions on movement during the stage 4 lockdown, and now there is much moaning about ambiguous rules governing shopping, “bubble” expansion and easing of travel restrictions. It seems that some people will simply never be satisfied even if the international community stands in awe of what NZ has accomplished.

There appear to be three types of complainants. The first are the serial whiners. These sorry folk just like to bitch and moan about anything. They do so more as trolls rather than out of partisan spite or informed concern and are best seen as losers. They shall be ignored in this discussion.

The second group are the public health advocates. These include medical professionals, educators, some service sector providers and others who feel the government is moving a little too quickly when lifting the quarantine restrictions on commerce. They believe that the disease must be eradicated or at least its transmission reduced completely before the lockdown is lifted. For them, the current Level 3 restrictions are an invitation to transgression and indeed, that is what has happened in many instances. Some people simply ignore the fact that Level 3 is not about social movement but about gradually getting businesses going again in a limited way. Hence beaches and parks, trails etc. swelled in the days after the move to Level 3 with mindless or selfish opportunists who either ignored or did not understand that Level 3 was not supposed to be an invitation to resume the party.

Public health advocates push for the continuation of restrictions and hence are dissatisfied with the government’s liberal easing of the lockdown after just a month. They want a longer and more complete quarantine as per Levels 3-4, with no imminent move to Level 2. For them, the matter is a public health issue first and foremost, with all economic considerations secondary to that fact.

On the other side are what can be called the profit over people crowd. They are those who demand that the restrictions be lifted yesterday and that the country get back to business as usual as soon as possible. Level 2 cannot come too fast for them and the sooner that NZ gets back to Level 1 normality the better as far as they are concerned, no matter how many get sick or die. They whine about jack-booted government intrusion on their liberties and rights and, while happy to take emergency funds from the government when it suits them, also decry its meddling and interference in their economic affairs. These type of complainants include most of the political opposition and assorted commentators who have been provided media platforms well above their intellectual station. Among this crowd utilitarian logics and lifeboat ethics 101 abound, but the selfish is also strong, as is the self-servingly stupid.

Whatever the specific reason, here economic security comes before public health concerns.

It is understandable that small businesses fear that a prolonged suspension of trade will destroy their livelihoods, and I do not include them in this dichotomy. But the hypocrisy of big corporate players and their political and media acolytes is shameful. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but the overall attitude of many NZ capitalists appears borne of self-interest rather than solidarity. And unlike the public health advocates, who span a range of political persuasions, the profit over people folk are clearly of the rightwing persuasion. That is not surprising.

I admit that these are very crude categorisations and that I have painted things in broad strokes. That was done as a preface to my larger point, which is to note that, because it is unable to satisfy either the public health advocates or the profit over people crowd in the measure that each wants, the government is actually doing the right thing. It is striking a pretty fine balance between the two sides, and its pragmatic incrementalism demonstrates a good understanding of the scientific, economic and political realities in which it operates.

In the end, NZ’s response has been quintessentially democratic. Not because the pandemic emergency response committee is chaired, at the government’s behest, by the Leader of the Opposition. Not because it has allowed for full throated criticism of its actions and used its emergency (coercive) powers very selectively and discretely. Not because it put science above partisanship and politics when addressing the threat. Not because the Prime Minister and Director General of Health fronted daily press briefings for over a month and answered in clear, honest and humane fashion everything that was pitched their way, including inane questions with little relevance to the NZ situation (such as whether it was advisable to ingest disinfectant as a cure). Mostly, because its balancing approach encapsulates the essence of democracy as a social contract: it is not about everyone getting everything they want all of the time, but about everyone getting some of what they want some of the time. In other words, it is about settling for mutual second-best options.

That may not be always the case in NZ and democracies elsewhere. But it is what has been done in this instance. Beyond the positive statistics of the policy response itself, that is the most significant and enduring achievement to come out of this crisis: a reaffirmation of democracy as a contingent sectorial compromise on a grand scale.

38 thoughts on “Between push and shove.

  1. I’m one of those the thinks this lockdown has been unjustifiably harsh, mostly on personal liberty grounds. It has been a strange time for me, I’m normally in strong opposition to libertarian politics but on this rare issue I find myself aligned.

    I find myself wishing there was some check on the Prime Minister’s power (in general), like a constitutional court or a specialised upper house.

  2. Understood. But at least you are not publicly whining about it nor masking your concerns in some “but the economy!” argument. As for the checks and balances. Agreed that there are few but that is where the other parties in the coalition, the opposition and then the courts come in. If the government seriously abuses its authority when it comes to emergency powers, I am confident that it would not be allowed to do so without challenge. Well, at least when there is competent Opposition leadership in place.

    Kia haha–this too will pass.

  3. I guess we are in this position of giving the government emergency powers precisely because the ad hoc policies rammed through in the last last 4 mounths to deal with a pandemic should have been in place years ago. Now we have these checkpoints in place of aggressive track and trace testing and people want more austerity. Yknow at a time when the armies medical field units was disbanded, about 6 years ago we should have been expanding the capability. Yknow but here we are impotent again.

  4. What I find it odd is that the New Zealand bureaucracy, which is so well known for incompetence, has managed to perform so well.

    HOw did a bureaucracy where incompetence is the norm manage to stage a competent response? I don’t have an answer…

  5. I think where we see the bureaucratic weakness is in such things as not having flexibility when considering compassionate grounds for making exceptions to quarantines and having poor triage planning when it comes to diverting resources from other medical areas (such as cancer treatment and elective but serious surgeries) and with regard to equipment supply. But in the scheme of things NZ has performed as good or better than most other nations so it may be an issue of the medical bureaucracy being better under pressure than its normal record, and that of the public sector bureaucracy as a whole, would suggest.

  6. There’s broad brush and then there’s disingenuous.

    I don’t really think they’re particularly strong arguments, but you’ve chosen to completely ignore those who’s basis for saying we need to move more quickly back to ‘normal’ or the restrictions have been to harsh is thinking the impact on people’s economic, social and physical wellbeing will end up being greater than that of the virus. To simply dismiss these people as ‘selfish’ or ‘right wing’ is lazy at best. In the end I think these kind of crude utilitarian calculus’s are deeply flawed, but they deserve to be treated in good faith rather than written off are mere whining.

  7. We are still operating in a low information environment I mean just today I saw a headline on RNZ that one of the Marist cluster kids tested positive 7 weeks later and officaly the incubation period is only about 2 weeks so there’s still a heck of a lot we don’t know about corona virus and that makes me for one very uneasy.

    I agree that keeping the economy closed for to long can create a greater death rate than the virus so I would argue that we use this precious time to build up objective reserves of medical resources and open up the economy and come what may. I mean we can’t leave her running in neutral for a couple of years that would be a disaster.

  8. There is push, Shove. and idiocy.

    Bureaucrats interviewing keyboards to protect ministerial and their own rear ends, need to be viewed with some skepticism.

  9. Yeah well gold is up 20%. Where was all the gold bugs 6 mounths ago?

    Let’s take that concept one step further and ask where was the criticism of crucially underfunded ministry of health?

    I’ll tell you where because it would have been extremely hypocritical for the opposition to come against austerity when it was they in government doing the really tough policy work of budget cuts and handing out tax cuts.

  10. Sorry Pablo it hs been widely acknowledged (not least in this blog!) that incompetence is rife at all levels of the New Zealand bureaucracy, from blindness about foreign threats and corporate espionage at the high levels where strategic culture is a void, to time-serving frontline civil servants who are uneducated and inefficient and just want to collect a too-high salary. Think of all the times that individuals who present a threat to New Zealand have been allowed to enter. Think of the wilful blindness in the face of Chinese infiltration. Think of the permission for the US military to set up infrastructure here. And of course there is the inability of the security apparatus to stop the Christchurch shooter. Incompetence, incompetence, incompetence, the list goes on. I guess that we just got lucky this one time with a coronavirus response, but that doesn’t mean there is not incompetence, it just means that the stopped clock was right once.

  11. National has pretty much conceded they can’t attack the effectiveness of the government response. They appear now to be adopting a new attack line, borrowed straight from the GOP playbook. First, turn an organ of democratic oversight (The Epidemic Response Committee) into a partisan Star Chamber to conduct show trials of key civil servants (Ashley Bloomfield, the Solicitor General) to politicise the facts and to provide a pulpit for privileged business interests to bluster and threaten. Then claim they are victims of liberal conspiracy designed to impose communism on the country. Then rather than discuss the effectiveness of our approach, they scream nanny state over-reach.

    The conscious move to the right and to a US style of paranoid politics by Bridges seems to coincide with the worrying growth of power within the National party of hard line US style evangelical MPs. NZ’s evangelicals are undoubtably heavily influenced ( or brainwashed by via Fox news on Sky like so many Americans have been) by the authoritarian and theocratic tendencies of conservative fanatics in US politics.

    Question – would banning Fox News on any broadcast platform be a good thing in NZ?

  12. Communism? So what would we call The Reserve Bank purchasing $30 billion or 10% of New Zealand’s economy?

    We don’t even have buyers that can buy $30 billion worth of milk solids let alone $30 billion in triple BBB rated dog shit.

    No banning media wont fix the fiscal crises. So if interest rates are near or at zero then only the government can borrow because zero percent interest isn’t enough compinsation for banks to execute all those transaction and keep thousands of employees in the headquarters.

    So the government is going to have to purchase more of the New Zealand economy just to keep the lights on.

  13. I agree with you on almost every point, Pablo. The one area I don’t quite agree with you is regarding the so-called whinging of public health experts. They are at the coal face of this pandemic, and the science is far from settled. It has been a moving feast from day one. I’m personally very glad they’ve spoken up – and have been listened to – when it was vital that they were heard. Particularly around the issue of the lack of testing in the early stages, and then the ramping up of tracing and tracing of contacts. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s been really gratifying to see our government prepared to listen and learn, and to modify and improve their response and then to potentially win against this insidious disease.

  14. @Di: Pablo does not use the word “whingeing” for public health advocates, he reserves it (and rightly so) for the neocon paleoconservative tea party types who want grandma to die for the stock exchange

  15. Another great post. I laughed (I do know it’s no laughing matter) at “those who have been provided with media platforms well above their intellectual station.” Pablo you have a delightful turn of phrase to hit the nail on its proverbial head. If only those cheerleaders would just shut up for a while. They have to acknowledge the good things but it is always followed up with a ‘but.’ I think Simon Wilson wrote about them recently.

  16. I agree Barbara – the problem is people without expertise think their opinions matter – we need to have a less flat dialogue where the voices of experts (like those here) are privileged and the voices of the clueless are silenced, as tehy should be. We do not need people speaking their opinions at this point, we need more heed paid to the voice of authority.

  17. Gorkem:

    Your comments about the clueless reminds me of a teledoco I saw a few years ago about fools. It was narrated by
    Mr T, a character in that 1980’s TV series ” The A team ”

    ” A wise man speaks because he has something to say. A fool speaks because he gotta say something ”

    The clueless won’t change because they know no better

  18. So true. In the very early 80s I lived in a place called Hyde Park in Chicago, around the corner from Muhammad Ali’s mansion and the HQ of the Nation of Islam (then run by Louis Farrakhan and the son of his mentor, Elija Muhammad, who Farrakan eventually displaced). One spring day I took my toddler daughter out for a walk and when we passed the gate to Ali’s place who should walk out but Mr. T himself. Given that my daughter was a fan of the TV show “The A Team” in which he featured, she was besides herself with joy at meeting her idol. He was gracious and gentle in his interaction with us and it left an indelible impression on my now adult daughter. So yes, we need more Mr. T’s and less fools in the world today. Heck, we need an A Team to make things right again.

  19. I thought so, that explains a lot…

    Well let us hope that in the debates that inevitably follow the status quo we hear from more knowledgable experts like Mr T and less from uneducated babblers like Anders Tegnell (who believes lockdown is not needed :-( )

  20. @Sam 7/5 1207

    ” government is going to have to purchase more of the New Zealand economy ”

    This is an interesting comparison with the US

    That is how some financial commentators in the blogosphere
    are describing the action of the FED bailing out the banks
    ( again )

    Which makes me think that nothing will really change in
    “western based economies. The status quo will remain to
    ensure control over the general populace

  21. Central banks around the world are not acting like the lender of last resort because they’re the buyers of risky assets. They’re just shifting all the junk bonds which are loans that exceed revenue and warehousing them in central banks and there’s no separation going on. Yknow good strong middle class people who can’t get answers are on there own, some of them are struggling to keep the lights on, Yknow struggling to pay power bills and Internet and food while 2 months deep into lockdown and they’re asking for help, then they’re sent some BS link to some website where someone might get to your inquiry several weeks latter and it’s like these once strong people are having mental breakdowns.

    An American friend of mine gives me updates like Iv got this one friend I like to ring once a month and he finds it ridiculous how slow things are rolling out in America, just slow to work up a coherent corona response and even slower to wind it all down even one notch. I think the most important way to look at it is the hysteria being created by incompetent leaders. So we’ve got this hysteria side and then when we hear statements of what the other side of corona might look like we hear things like “maybe people might not shake hands again” and that’s not normal but indeed it may be the “new-normal.”

    So I guess when we’re looking at the economy we will see companies that can or can not function in this “new normal” operating environment thingy for example if we look at 9/11 air travel changed for ever, after 2008 melt down leverage went out of the system for awhile so even if we did have a vaccine we will still see people going defensive even if it’s just against the next virus that may or may not come and that’s how I look at things.

    So in looking at technology companies can trade through the pandemic, companies like Push Pay (about $6,450) Spark (about $4,600) and Vista (about $1,200) they’re all up from last quarter and I think in this new operating environment at least one or more could double in value over the next 2 years so Yknow why not take a lazy punt but the real story will be in start up companies. Now this isn’t financial advice this is just how I’m navigating my way through this new landscape so I don’t want no one coming over to me 6 months later saying oh I took your advice and lost a whole bunch of money.

    It’s kind of funny Yknow watching people on social media or even listening to this one uncle of mine use pre corona economic rhetoric Yknow bash beneficiaries, welfare queens are the worst! and so on and so on, Yknow BS like a government budget works the same as a family budget. It’s just funny because none of that rhetoric has any bases in reality and now thanks to corona everyone can see who is incompetent because everyone is experiencing the same things.

    So Yknow we all get told that economics has to be taught as a science with Yknow that economics is:

    -Very sophisticated
    -Very risky
    -Hard to understand
    -Needs to be taught with big boring payoff diagrams like we’re in an economics class

    Those are all lies. This is what freshly minted economics graduates tell girls in bars to make themselves sound smarter and what we tell our employers so we get payed more, so it’s not a total loss. So Yknow ill show people in way more interesting ways so at least they might enjoy it.

  22. Sam what do the dollar figures after the companies refer to? What is the significance of the 6450 figure after Push Pay, for example?

  23. Don’t know what I was thinking. It should have been one dollar forty five per PPH (Push) share, four dollars for Spark and one dollar per Vista share… Sorry.

  24. Thanks for clarifying Sam.

    Why do you think start up companies are a good investment? Start up companies operate in a wide range of different industries, and some are really struggling right now. I know of several start ups who have laid off 33% of their staff, or are trying to get government aid to survive. OF course other start ups are doing fine. It seems to have more to do with which industry they operate in. Logistics start ups are booming, but rideshare start ups are struggling.

  25. Okay I’m in favour of cashing in all of John Keys and Helen Clarks favours for getting assets much early on and better results sooner.

  26. But seriously Amazon is likely to be the top line from here on out, For all intent and purposes they are a trillion dollar company but the real story would be all the suppliers who are heavily exposed to Amazon and have massive growth potential relative to there market cap of size.

    Adobe is another technology company that does a lot of different things.

    In general those companies that can innovate there way out have massive potential.

    Even the companies that are operating right now all there employees will be feeling the pressure to perform because bankruptcy is right there.

    Just look at Warren Buffet he dumped all his American Airlenes stocks while simultaneously saying buy America. That just means he’s rigged the whole game and he never really had a consistent system for gambling on financial markets.

  27. Test

    Edit:must have made a mistake in my email on a previous comment.

    I was saying that now is a time when companies have to innovate or watch the business models change and then the cash drys up.

  28. Sorry, was that John Key/Helen Clark comment a reply to my question?

  29. Then look at it from my point of view.

    Public attitudes for spending and taxing has changed plus Labour doesn’t have a mandate for that at least they campaigned on putting a fiscal straight jacket on.

    My fear is a new right emerges where your Trump/Boris Johnson types abandon neoliberalizm and combine it with this big point reactions and little point is racism with the state.

    So Australia shut down aboriginal communities pretty early on but left the rest of the economy open so I think there’s that. Jacinda is not John Key or Helen Clark and if she doesn’t provide inspiring alternatives then Simon Bridges may very well sneak through because Simon is a really good politician and I don’t think anyone is giving him enough credit. The danger is post this weeks budget is Yknow national is going to go for investments and all the rest of it Yknow national won’t go back to austerity. Simon Bridges is a cannier politician than people give him credit.

    But I wanted to ask you lot a question about a UBI. I’m still kind of sceptical on it. Yknow I kind of get flashbacks of kiwi build and am like well wouldn’t it be easier to resurrect Jesus Christ? So what do you think about a UBI?

  30. Could I have an answer to my question about startup companies first?

  31. Yknow there are loads of economics professors out there that will say if you know how to calculate profit and losses you’ll make loads of money. And I know plenty of guys that can input data into spread sheets and they have no idea how to make money. I guess the first thing to say is if you try and save companies from bankruptcy you’ll never make money, if you know science you’ll be able to get a jump on the market and figure out that one start up that always makes money. I always get asked which is the right one to buy? And well nobody knows until after the fact.

    But having said that there are reasons why people should learn about venture capital. Other than maxing out the credit card venture capital can produce dominant results, Yknow at least 90% of start ups fail. If you get a firm grip on which start ups are performing then you’ll have an understanding about where your economy is heading. Once you have an idea about where your science and research sector is going to go and once you fully understand how venture capital works then that will help you maximise your profits and success in life.

    Understanding venture capital can help you figure out which sectors are the best ones to invest in or work in based on the underline. Understanding venture capital can help you predict prices when market change, it’s not as simple as simple as this how companies change in price prior to maturity with out understanding how the venture capital industry actually works. So let’s say a company records a record sales month it’s still not easy to predict how much prices will move over ten days unless you understand how the whole sector works.

    So if you don’t understand venture capital then you will have no idea how much profit you’ll make.

  32. Sorry but that still wasn’t really an answer to my question… it just seemed to be a bunch of free association around the theme of economics and investment.

    Try starting a post with “I believe investing in start up companies is the best way to make money in the current economic climate because…”

  33. Thanx Pablo that reply was needed.

    Er.. Excuse me what were we talking about?

  34. Hi Peter.

    Not sure which reply you are firing to. I see that you last comment was about bureaucrats interviewing keyboards, but I did not reply to that. Instead I got dragged into an extended digression that, while interesting to a degree, wound up distracting from the larger point I was trying to make in the post. Oh well.

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