covid-19 test
(Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

A cautionary tale

If anything has typified the transition of the right from being market-based capitalism folk to warmongering anti-abortionists, it is their rabid support of Sweden’s “herd immunity” response to COVID-19.

The near-socialist, fun-loving Swedes, led by chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, ignored popular wisdom and allowed residents to largely avoid locking down.

Many have recently criticised Sweden for its high death toll, but that misses the point. While Sweden’s per-capita fatality rate is far higher than its neighbours (at 450 deaths per million people, compared to 58 for Finland and 44 for Norway), Sweden’s death toll is still relatively low at 4639 — a fraction of the UK (which did implement a lock down).

The real failure of Sweden’s experiment isn’t the higher death rate, but rather that Sweden has experienced an economic collapse as well, even with its softer measures. Instead of removing a gangrenous toe with a short lock-down, Sweden is going to lose a leg.

While it didn’t fully lock down, Sweden certainly didn’t remain a completely laissez faire utopia either. Senior schools and universities were shut, large gatherings were banned and employees were strongly encouraged to work from home.

As business professor Scott Galloway would note, Sweden’s lockdown had all the calories of the rest of Europe, but none of the taste. 

Now, with countries like New Zealand, Australia and Austria moving closer to a full opening, Sweden is seeing COVID-19 cases (and fatalities) continue to increase. Meanwhile, the lighter lock didn’t even help economically either, with Sweden’s GDP expected to drop by 7%, in line with most other countries.

Plus, Sweden’s slowdown will likely last for months or years longer than countries that did lock down, as Sweden never resolved the problem (while European countries are potentially going to block Swedes from entering their travel bubble).

Swedes don’t need to worry about a second wave, they have plenty of the first to go.

The folly of Sweden (and the far right) was in assuming something that was good for public health would necessarily be detrimental economically. As we noted almost three months ago, the only economic path was a full, hard lockdown and quick reopen.

Sweden couldn’t have proved this point any better.

Fixer-upper

The impact of COVID-19 in the US and Australia has served to highlight the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

The situation in the US is particularly extreme. As Bill Bonner observed last week, “the 20% at the bottom have lost 25% of their wealth in the last 10 years … [while] according to the Federal Reserve’s figures, the top 10% are up about 75%.”

It’s not too different in Australia either. Since the GFC, asset prices (largely shares and real estate) have rocketed, while real wages have been stagnant.

The government policies in response to COVID-19 will almost certainly exacerbate that. JobKeeper, while ostensibly protecting 3.5 million employees, is really directed at saving businesses, which are generally owned by the already wealthy (and in most cases, people over 40).

The forgotten early stimuli, the federal government’s cash flow boost, which gives up to $100,000 to businesses, is another direct transfer from the poor and young to those who own businesses — the expected cost is a lazy $32 billion.

Last week was the coup de grace, a $700 million package targeting the government’s two favourite constituencies — homeowners and tradies — with an appalling $25,000 renovation grant.

It’s not without irony that while literally millions of young people have lost their jobs and can’t pay their rent, the government is doling out cash to people who want to replace their bathroom and install a Guggenau oven.

Meanwhile, young people were told to pillage their super to help make ends meet (much of which was later spent on repaying debt and gambing), which will probably cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars down the track.

Just do it

There wouldn’t be anyone more vindicated anywhere in the world right now than former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

In 2016, to protest black deaths at the hands of US police officers, Kaepernick famously kneeled during the NFL’s playing of the national anthem. A few months later, Kaepernick was released and essentially blackballed from playing in the NFL ever again. (He would later sue and settle with the league.)

During this time, Nike ran one of the more courageous (and genius) marketing campaigns, starring Kaepernick and headlined, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

The controversial campaign, which (of course) drew the ire of President Donald Trump, who had led earlier criticism of Kaepernick, ended up winning an Emmy and boosting Nike’s stock price by 5% in the weeks following the ad.

As Scott Galloway noted, the campaign was “a genius, shareholder-driven move”.

The post-script. Last week, embattled NFL boss Roger Goodell admitted that the league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” during protests against police brutality, and that the NFL will “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest”.

Testing, testing

One thing Australia (and in particular Victoria) has finally gotten right after a slow start is its COVID-19 testing infrastructure. Victoria’s testing rate went from being far below the rest of Australia to almost world leading.

Last week your correspondent had a sore throat, so in the interests of prudence went and got a test. The entire experience was seamless. Booking took about two minutes online. The entire testing process took about three minutes and the results came back in less than 48 hours. 

The only thing our health authorities haven’t done perfectly is properly advertise just how easy the process is.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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