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Prevention is better than cure

I was reminded of this old adage, when I heard it reported this morning, on ABC radio, that the new approach to mental health should be to prepare people to cope better with the adverse effects of the present stressful situation, as compared with treating those who have already developed mental health issues.

Then, later in the day, I read Alan Kohler’s Insight article on page 33 NT News, (12/08/20), Covid-19, needs inquiry, fiscal fix – which should be compulsory reading for anyone with any involvement in economics. (I am sure this article can be easily obtained from other News Corp publications, even though it is probably pay-walled for non-subscribers.)

If I were to be unkind, I would suggest that Scott Morrison is deliberately waging war on universities because he thinks he knows all the answers and does not want to admit that there might be – let alone really are – many people who are far more knowledgeable than he is, on the areas which are vitally important in establishing a new order which might deliver us from the current crisis situation.

To a large extent, since everyone has grown up knowing that doctors know more about the human body than do most laypeople, expert medical advice has been accepted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because it is caused by a novel coronavirus, approaches to controlling the pandemic have changed as knowledge has grown. To wear or not to wear a mask has become a contentious issue, partly because of the reasons put forward for doing so.

An infected person wearing a mask is less likely to infect others if wearing a mask. And people can be infected without showing symptoms.

Wearing a mask will reduce the probability of becoming infected – but not guarantee total success.

PPE is worn by most health care workers, yet even some of those become infected, sometimes because removing PPE carelessly can enable the virus from infected patients to be transmitted.

It really is a silent enemy.

Look at what has happened in New Zealand after 100 days of no infections!

It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime. In many cultures, greeting a family member or friend automatically involved making contact. Yet this is the quickest way to pass on an infection.

Human beings, by their very nature, mostly enjoy company, yet one person in a group may be infectious and pass on the infection to all within the group. The larger the group, the greater the number of infections.

Then we come to the issue of needing to be concerned about others, not just ourselves.

If you unwittingly get infected, before any symptoms show – if they ever do – you can pass that infection on to everyone you spend time with.

Without a mask, every time an infected person breathes out, they send a spray of microscopic particles which can be inhaled by anyone in their vicinity – or land on their skin, clothing or nearby surfaces and find their way into the bloodstream of those nearby.

Insisting on having fun, in company, risks spreading a virus which not only might kill someone, particularly but not exclusively an older person, or it might infect someone who goes through a nightmarish illness from which full recovery is not guaranteed.

And that is just the medical side.

In order to reduce the extent of infection spread, the Commonwealth government closed down many business and social activities and tried to persuade mortgagors and landlords to allow mortgagees and tenants some latitude in relation to payments due.

Not all states have necessarily followed up on necessary directions and legislation and not all mortgagors or landlords have seen fit to comply.

Given the thousands who are currently out of work or struggling with a reduced income,  I do not know who gains anything if mortgages are foreclosed or tenants evicted.

Hold it!

Remember how reducing taxes and allowing millionaires to pay minimum tax has led to a massive wealth gap?

Millions – probably billions or even trillions are stashed away in tax havens, ready to be poured into buying property in a market where house prices will be dropping, at least initially.

The buyers can still make use of negative gearing and can afford to sit on their property empire as long as it takes.

They will recoup little in the short term, but that is no problem as they have more than enough to ride out the crisis.

Government MUST intervene to ensure this currently hidden wealth is put to better use than further impoverishing the already poor!

Alan Kohler’s article is important in at least two regards.

One is the point about re-thinking the whole economic approach and the other is the issue of Modern Monetary Theory.

We are hearing too many horror stories about debt and disaster without realising that the solution is in our hands.

When I studied economics, two early units were microeconomics and macroeconomics – simplistically the household and business aspects vs the issues affecting countries and governments.

I am fortunate in being retired, with an adequate pension from a secure source which is topped up by a portion of the Age Pension.

When I received my two $175 relief payments, I was not in desperate circumstances and I understood that the money was intended to go back into the national economy to stop the wheels from grinding to a stop.

So I passed it all straight on to the Asylum Seeker Refugee Centre.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the ASRC, and his valiant group in Melbourne are struggling to help many who have no other means of support, having been continuously ignored and ill-treated by government…Every cent I sent will have already been well spent!

I tell this story, not to make myself out as a do-gooder, but because the government desperately needs people to spend, while the stagnant wage issue, preceding people’s losing their jobs, means that people can barely afford to buy necessities, let alone spend up big to boost the economy.

I do not doubt that some, not necessarily all, of the really wealthy, are also philanthropists, but there is a mass of wealth – in property and tax havens – which will not get back into circulation, unless the government persuades those holding it, that now is the time to invest in the country’s future.

We have accepted medical advice.

We need to accept advice from climate scientists, because, while a reduction in travel (including by aircraft) and industrial has serendipitously reduced greenhouse gas emissions, it is not enough to allow us to postpone action to further reduce levels.

Gas is a fossil fuel. It might pollute slightly less than coal but fools rush in!

Alan Kohler has provided a very valid suggestion as to how to get some effective economic advice – which is incredibly important at this stage of the crisis.

To be talking now about reducing support payments, without first analysing the impact on rent and mortgage payments, and making more certain arrangements with the banking industry, would be negligent to a possibly criminal extent.

What good are empty houses which people cannot afford to live in?

Get real!

Some of you, reading this, might agree with the underlying theme but assure me that it will never happen.

I am maybe a foolish optimist, but I cannot see any government brazenly pursuing policies that will end in the destruction of society.

If enough people with appropriate expert knowledge can show them that investment for the future, using money held by the already wealthy, plus using MMT approaches to issuing bonds, in order to ensure people can receive enough to survive AND enable the economy to recover, then the government might even survive the next election – perhaps the message might get through!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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1 comment

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  1. Matters Not

    Re Morrison:

    deliberately waging war on universities because he thinks he knows all the answers

    Perhaps. But there is also the ‘issue’ in neo-liberal circles concerning ‘education’ that goes to some more basic assumptions. Specifically – is education (broadly defined) essentially a private or a public good and therefore who should pay?

    While most economists seem to be of the view that public expenditure on schools during the primary years can be justified on the grounds of an overall social benefit (the society as a whole is the beneficiary because of the socialization process with children learning to behave in socially acceptable ways as well as learning basic skills like the 3 Rs etc) – some economists argue that in the post-primary years (and most certainly in the university years), the main benefits are at the individual level. Accordingly it should be the individual who should pay and not the society as a whole (read the government).

    And there they have a point. But as with any argument, there has to be a kernel of validity otherwise the whole ideological point of view becomes unsustainable. No doubt, certain university degrees can lead to disproportionate, individual, wealth accumulation (try certain areas of medicine, law, commerce etc) but, and in contrast, other degrees lead to unmatched social benefits (try teaching, nursing, social work etc). So what to do?

    Seems to me that we have a remedy already on the table in a properly regulated, progressive taxation system. But these days we are intent on going in the opposite direction.

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