Australia or Sweden: which has had the better 2020?

Compared to the trends on January 2020, has Australia or Sweden lost more wellbeing in 2020? And which has seen the greater damage to expected future wellbeing years for after 2020? The Table below summarizes the answers to this.

For the first calculation, let us only count the main elements going into the wellbeing of these two countries in 2020: the experienced wellbeing of the population in 2020 and the excess deaths in 2020. Lots of the other things we normally look at in these covid-calculations, such as changes to GDP, will show up in the anticipated effects for after 2020.

Lost Wellbeing years in Sweden and Australia due to covid and lockdowns
in 2020 beyond 2020
Australia Sweden Australia Sweden
Lockdown Misery 510000 62400 ? ?
Excess deaths -56 3000 -280 15000
Future debt repayment 7773333 886340
Loss per million 20077 6288 306026 86667
Ratio 3 3.5

First, what was the wellbeing drop in Australia? Well, an ANU-sponsored longitudinal panel found a drop from 6.9 to 6.5 in their life-satisfaction poll from January to April, a huge decline that is similar to the drop in the UK. This panel is based on over 3,000 individuals, which is why this drop is strongly statistically significant.

What about the rest of 2020 in Australia though? The same ANU team, headed by Professor Biddle said at the end of 2020 about the lockdowns in Australia that they were “a massive hit to happiness, experienced by Australians from all walks of life”. They document the increased inequality and how things are particularly bad among the young and the vulnerable in general. Their key graph for the whole of 2020 is above. Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus crisis, Cultural Critique, Death and taxes, Ethics, Health, Life, Politics - international, Science | 39 Comments

The more things change … Stefan Zweig on the difference in mood attending the outbreak the two World Wars

I’ve been listening to The World of Yesterday, the memoirs Stefan Zweig. Zweig was probably the best-known author in 1930s Europe and produced a mountain of material. Essays, fiction, history, poetry, translations, you name it. Today few know of him, though that may be different in the German-speaking world. He was known to my Viennese grandmother so it seemed like a great book to transport me into the world that produced my Dad. The memoirs was produced shortly before departing this world by suicide in Brazil (of all places) in 1942. Zweig was a great advocate for, and optimist about the European project. How you manage that from the late 1930s on is a bit beyond me, but there you go. As Manning Clark used to say “who knows what goes on in the heart of a mango?”.

Be that as it may, I was fascinated to hear his description of the blind optimism before WWI, the conviction of the educated classes that progress was ineluctable, that nothing really serious could ever really happen to Europe as its culture grew in sophistication, it’s economy grew in wealth, and its policy transformed towards ever more democratic governance. And then it all changed. There was genuine horror that war was breaking out, but then a sublime moment of calm and unreality as war was organised in front of people’s eyes and the propaganda started gearing up.

I’ve reproduced below Zweig’s musing on the change in atmosphere as WWI breaks out and how utterly different things were 25 years later when it all happened again. It struck me that there’s a pretty direct analogue between what we thought we might be able to achieve as a society at the height of the optimism of the 1960s with its War on Poverty and the various crusades to build the Great Society and the endless disappointments of today. In both cases there’s been a largely deserved collapse of what sociologists now call ‘vertical trust’ – the trust the people have in the institutions and the people ‘above them’, while their horizontal trust – their trust in each other continues on its fairly happy way.

And then there’s the keenness the educated classes feel to be propagandists – just like today – though in peacetime they’re neatly arranged into advocates of the left and right.

Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, History, Philosophy, Political theory | 3 Comments

It’s Crikey time! But now it’s Crikey and Inkl time

Thanks to @followbenwhite for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 🎁

Troppodillians will know that I organise a discount Crikey subscription every year. But this year I’m also supporting Inkl, a new Australian start-up with great aspirations. In lengthy negotiations between our lawyers, comms division and strategists and theirs, we negotiated a 20 percent discount for those wishing to sign up.

It is exactly what I’ve wanted for years – a serious news aggregator. And it does it extremely well as far as I can see. I recommend it highly – and I’m pretty stingy at signing up to subscriptions. My only other ones are the FT and the NYT (Until I can get around to unsubscribing for their disgraceful doxing of Scott Alexander and the onrush of brain scrambling identity politics that seems to be underway).

If you haven’t already got a version of this in your email intray, and you’re interested in either subscription, please email me on ngruen AT gmail if you want to be part of either exercise and please tell me which subscription(s) you’re interested in the subject heading.

Posted in Bargains, Blegs, Intellectual Property | 8 Comments

On the nature of gods and inequality.

Sometimes one has an idea that blazes into one’s consciousness as a solution to one particular concern, which then starts to be something much bigger than just a solution to a problem. It becomes an interesting thing in itself and starts appearing as relevant to many different areas. The idea that humans will soon start constructing their own ‘minor gods’ has been such an idea for me in the last few years. When I say minor gods, I means gods of the Greek and Viking variety, not the Abrahamic ones: powerful and obsessed independent beings, but not omnipotent or indestructible.

The idea came to me in a piece for troppo over 2 years ago when I was thinking out loud whether humanity could escape the problem that our ability to destroy ourselves is increasing all the time, whilst in every era so far there has been some small probability of us actually using weapons of mass destruction on each other. The chance of disaster came mainly from mistakes and stupidity related to political posturing (think WWI or the Cuban missile crisis), not because some evil genius planned our destruction. Just with two elements – constantly increasing fire power coupled with political systems that reward high stakes posturing – the fear then was that it was inevitable that our civilisations would run out of luck eventually and destroy themselves. I expressed the hope in that piece that our religiosity might prevent such an apocalypse, ie that we’d become obsessed about making gods and that those gods would totally change the nature of politics, essentially because we would want them to take over.

In a recent piece for a UK magazine ‘The Mint’, an outlet for diverse economic thinking, this ‘minor god’ idea is developed into a quite different direction: the notion that the advent of actual gods would cut down the most powerful humans to size and make their populations less in awe of them, and thus less willing to put up with inequality. With actual gods running around, there would be less respect for (religious) human authority, engendering a leveling. Check out the article and the magazine!

One thing I pondered along the way and that is in neither articles linked to above, is the question of whether humans can become gods in some way. It is a wish in many cultures for humans to escape their mortality and somehow become gods. I have come to dismiss that idea as fundamentally misguided about the nature of humanity, as well as somewhat dishonest about what gods actually are to humans: whilst our imagery often depict gods as resembling us, gods are not truly like us at all. The key thing about the gods we humans come up with is that there is some aspect of them that is unchanging: they are the god of something, like the god of war or the spirit of the lake. There is something timeless and unchanging about our gods.

Yet, quintessential to all human perception and actions is constant change: thinking and doing anything changes us ever so slightly. That is because we are adaptation machines, ‘designed’ to locally optimise and ultimately ‘go with the flow’. Every thought we have subtly changes the wirings of our brains. Everything we eat and breathe out subtly changes the composition of our bodies. All our interactions subtly change our social and biome realities too. We are no more capable of remaining fixed than a tree is capable of walking away. The fixed nature of the gods we imagine is thus not how we ever are or how we could be, only what we can pretend to be.

Someone who wants to be like an imagined god essentially wants the death of what makes them human. Such people are to be pitied for their naiveté and we should not fear that their hopes become true. Jonathan Swift had it exactly right in Gulliver’s Travels when he depicted amortal humans as pitiable beings, destined to murmur in forgotten languages, going more and more mad, basically being they didn’t change enough to keep up with the times.

It was a huge relief to me to jettison the idea that we humans could ever be gods. It meant I needn’t fear billionaires wanting to be gods or people who want to live forever via clones. “Let them dream and try”, I now think. It also relieved me of seeing gods as something I should desire to be (not that I had that fantasy anyway, but you know what it is like with the fantasies of others: one wonders whether they are onto something). In effect, via constantly changing, each time we do anything our previous selves die a little and a new one grows. To many that is probably a scary thought, but I find it extremely liberating. It doesn’t mean my current self wants ‘me’ to die anytime soon, but it does mean the idea of death becomes much more mundane.

Posted in Dance, Death and taxes, Geeky Musings, Health, Inequality, Religion | 8 Comments

Joy Braddish on homelessness after the COVID measures

I’d like to introduce Joy Braddish who’s studying for a Master of Journalism at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism.  She’s undertaking an internship at Lateral Economics where one of the things she’s helping us with is making some explainer videos. The article below is a project she did on homelessness. When she told me she was writing an article on the conclusion of the COVID homelessness programs, I sent her some unsolicited comments, which she liked, and worked into the article. (Here at Troppo too much Troppo is barely enough). She approached several others in the industry but due to the sensitively of the topic they were reluctant to comment.

“24,000 Victorians will be homeless tonight”: Rough sleepers are not the only Victorians affected by the housing crisis

As Victoria settles into Covid-normal, many Victorians will return to their ‘normal’ – lives filled with uncertainty.

David* used to be a successful carpenter prior to his relationship breakdown which left him sporadically homeless for over three years.

“I had some problems with my partner, and I used to not be allowed back at home for about three or four nights a week” says David, a 47-year-old single dad.

“I had a good relationship with my son, it was just a bad relationship with my partner, and I became very depressed and drank too much and found myself on the streets”.

“We were living in St Kilda at the time. When I had nowhere to stay I used to sleep in Catani Gardens” David says.

Around a year ago David moved into his elderly parents’ home, temporarily.

“I did a stint in jail and I was at rock bottom and had to move in with my mum and dad, hopefully, not for too long. Hopefully I’ll get my act together soon” says David. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Employment, Social Policy | 2 Comments

Founding brothers: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Writing about sortition, equality and merit, I spent a good part of today reading the last chapter of a book I read a decade or so ago on the relationship John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had in their dotage  – including jumping in and out of references and checking up for instance on the origin of the word ‘ideology’. (It was a French coinage! Why am I not surprised?). Early friends and colleagues, if one is to judge from the chapter, they fell out over Jefferson’s partisanship and duplicity and Adams’ intemperance, to use an old fashioned word.

Anyway, I reproduce it for your enjoyment, enlightenment and edification. It touches on some deep themes. Like liberalism and conservatism, ideal and reality, honesty and duplicity, including, of course, what I call ‘self-transparency’. Sympathy and antipathy and how understanding seems to require the former, but can also benefit from the focus given by the latter.

And silence. What is not spoken is often more important than what is spoken – in this case, slavery. It put me in mind of the silences in the area I think about – policy. If one wants to force a bit of self-transparency as I tried to do here, you’re trying to rescue things from the silences. This piece – which argues that government bureaucracies are pyramids of lies – puts it more starkly. In each case, raising this in a meeting with government officials is like breaking the forth wall in a play. Not done. And in many senses that’s true also in academia which hasn’t interested itself in the most salient thing about government bureaucracies – the obstacles they erect against self-transparency – and so to genuine learning through accountability. But that’s another story. I hope you enjoy the essay. I did.

Oh – and, as you’ll notice there are ‘footnotes to nowhere’ in the text. That’s a good reason for you to go out and buy the book :)

Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, History, Philosophy, Political theory | 3 Comments

Guest post from Gene Tunny: Freeing Fiscal Policy from political tinkering – podcast discussion with Nicholas Gruen

This podcast is quite a lively exploration of a proposal of mine that is – frightenly – a quarter of a century old! Below is Gene Tunny’s introduction to his podcast interview with me. NG

Last month, in a Financial Times article, (unpaywalled pdf here) Nicholas Gruen proposed an independent fiscal policy advisory body so that fiscal policy is freed from political tinkering. In his view, during an economic crisis, the fiscal stance, or the size of a stimulus, could be decided by an expert body, rather than being decided by a political process in which political considerations may be decisive. Fiscal policy could be operated in a way similar to monetary policy conducted by independent inflation-targeting central banks.

In his FT piece, Nicholas notes that President Biden and congressional Democrats may have pushed for the huge $1.9 trillion stimulus because they could later lose control of Congress and the ability to boost the stimulus later if required. He also points out that political considerations, i.e. wanting to be seen as responsible economic managers, led the Cameron government in the UK to tighten fiscal policy too early in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, History | 4 Comments