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The class politics of the Covid-19 pandemic response

Written By: - Date published: 7:35 am, April 28th, 2020 - 59 comments
Categories: class, class war, economy, Economy, national, same old national, uncategorized - Tags: ,

So the country has reached lockdown stage 3 and a cautious loosening of the country’s restrictions has occurred. Hopefully the trend of reduced occurrence of new infections will occur. I for one will celebrate if and when we reach zero new daily infections.

It has been interesting to see the right’s response to the Government’s handling of Covid-19.

The right wants to present the Government’s response to the virus as a failure.

The angles of attack have essentially been that the Government has been too aggressive and at the same time not aggressive enough. If only they had closed the border quicker but they need to ease off quicker as well so that businesses can get going again. After all it does not matter if we have a new surge of infections, the temporary improvement of business conditions is much more important.

As proof they have offered up Australia. If only we had followed the right wing rule book and emulated what the right wing blokes were doing we could have been in such a better position.

And correlation is clearly causation.

Is Australia doing well?

It appears so. It might be because it is a warm country and flu like infections find it harder to gain a foot hold. Although Singapore’s experience suggests this may not be so helpful but is that dry heat or humidity that is the problem? Or maybe its health system has a really good tracking system and this has allowed its authorities to get on top of outbreaks.

How is New Zealand doing by way of comparison? Far better in terms of numbers. Similar in terms of per head of population figures and in terms of deaths and infection rates. But New Zealand is colder and more urbanised. So the comparison may not necessarily be so accurate.

How is New Zealand doing in comparison to other western nations run by conservate white male leaders?

America is a basket case. Check out this recent graphic I grabbed from the Johns Hopkins Covid website showing daily infection rates for the US.

Here is the UK equivalent.

Slightly more reassuring but not by much.

Here is Australia’s:

Not too bad for a country run by a stale pale male. But let’s look for other examples. How about Social Democrat stalwart Sweeden?

Or Singapore where they thought earlier on they had the infection under control?

For comparison here is Aotearoa New Zealand’s graph from a couple of days ago. We are not there yet. We are tantalisingly close to eradication but there are still new cases appearing each day.

The right is cherrypicking its data. It is claiming that one right wing led country is doing similar so this left wing country has been too nanny state and maybe we should have been allowed to get our haircut and our take out coffee.

And here is the thing. Eradication is really difficult. It is performing whack a mole when you get down to single digit daily infection rates and hoping you captured all of them. Missing two infections will mean there is another one out there. Singular instances of failure are a massive bugger.

Things are getting really ridiculous when right wing politicians claim that the solution to our problem is, wait for this, you will never guess this, I can tell you will be really surprised but here it is, we need labour market reform and more market forces to get us out of this.

I swear that if we were ever invaded by aliens there would be a cluster of right wing politicians claiming that we just need to weaken legal protection for workers and allow rich people to make the decisions for us.

But this is what Paul Goldsmith has suggested in this Stuff article, obviously in the interests of balance between of course we have to do this and you have to be freaking kidding.

Goldsmith has a three point plan.

The first point is that we should end the lockdown as soon as we safely can. Who could disagree with this? Should we end the lockdown before it is safe to do so or should we keep the lockdown in place even though it is safe to end it?

Then he comes out with the Right Wing recipe for pretty well everything with some stylised union bashing.

[W]orkplace rules will be a drag on our productivity for the rest of year; handled well, with clear and pragmatic rules, access to swift testing and PPE, we can regain momentum.”

So much to unpick, workers rights I gather are a drag on our productivity and health and safety concerns can be ignored as long as there is sufficient access to swift Covid-19 testing and enough PPE, which right wing governments have shown is a nice to have.

And there is this pearler.

[T]he core engine of growth will always be private sector investment – men, women and their businesses taking on new ventures, rebuilding their businesses, expanding, hiring people – taking mad risks … Successful economies make it easy for the investment to flow to more productive activities – they welcome investment, they don’t over regulate or over tax, they provide clear and consistent rules, properly enforced, and don’t go changing them all the time.”

We are witnessing the failure of the capitalist system and Paul’s solution is more unbridled capitalism.

So far the country is doing exceptionally well. And the pandemic has exposed the deep flaws in neoliberal capitalism.

I am pleased that the Government clearly has a progressive interventionist approach to what is needed to keep the country going. National’s approach, which is being used in the United States, would wreck the place.

59 comments on “The class politics of the Covid-19 pandemic response ”

  1. Market forces have failed us in so many ways. They promote useless unnecessary products, built in obsolescence, and they glorify profits over people's well-being. Some sound, long-term infrastructure projects are needed to reverse these trends as we begin to tackle climate change. Private money doesn't care about that. We must not go back to "normal."

  2. [W]orkplace rules will be a drag on our productivity…

    It's their big lie and a really obnoxious one. They pretend that driving down workers' pay and conditions improves productivity, when in reality the reverse is true.

    When workers are expensive and hard to obtain, businesses invest in equipment, process improvement, research and development etc to enable them to produce more without needing more workers. When workers are cheap and expendable, any problem just gets more labour thrown at it. National supports low productivity for this country and always has done.

    • You_Fool 2.1

      Not to mention, low wages is equated to low worth placed on that labour, which responds to low loyalty felt by the worker to the company. Thus any investment in the worker in terms of training, safety or process improvements will be wasted when the worker finds a better deal, which leads to lesser desire to invest in those things, which restricts any possibility for productivity improvements. This leads to companies stuck in the way they have already done things, which means they will always get the same results they have always got.

      Not a forward,innovative view-point at all…. but stale and backwards, pining over the "good old days" that were not.

    • georgecom 2.2

      what a great idea, scrap all workplace rules. health and safety, legal rights, good safety, consumer rights laws etc. That will really encourage productivity, business can act like it wants.Imagine, for example, none of those BS food safety laws. Business will flourish.

      What might be useful are 'rules' which link pay increases to productivity, where the one increases inline with the other. would be the first time in 30 years that occurred. any productivity increases are spread throughout the economy, money in more pockets to spend and kick start aggregate demand within the economy. Wonder if Goldsmith will ever advocate for that – sharing equitably the dividends of productivity

  3. Andre 3

    Anyone want to refresh my memory with actual links as to what our local right wingnuts were advocating before the lockdown? All I remember was tax cuts.

  4. Ad 4

    Seems a good ploy to front Goldsmith and Woodhouse for the remainder of at least Level 3.

    Goldsmith is going to get traction with our capitalist community unless Minister Robertson starts showing he can lead the business community prior to Budget on May 8th: just over a week's time Can Robertson do it? I'm not convinced.

    The business community by and large are pitiless and will vote with their commercial interests, no matter how much subsidy they've hoovered up. They are National's.

    So there's still plenty of scope and time left for Labour to lose this election.

  5. Scumbag Andy 5

    And here is the thing. Eradication is really difficult. It is performing whack a mole when you get down to single digit daily infection rates and hoping you captured all of them. Missing two infections will mean there is another one out there. Singular instances of failure are a massive bugger.

    Here's the thing about anything though: you have to actually do something to have a result. "We" didn't get down to zero new cases before going to level 3. If "we" didn't do that, then we might as well have not begun lockdown. Because the problem is, and I'm sure everyone's noticed, if you frustrate The Greed, it comes back ten times harder. There is no compromise. Lockdown frustrated The Greed.

    Now the government is asking "us" to shoulder their responsibility by voluntarily telling them where we are at all times with tracking devices, so when "we" get a case "we" are isolated and discarded in the otherwise accelerated New Greed Environment that "they" created.

    Two options: either the government are utterly clueless about human nature, and are unable to implement even a flawed plan with determination, or they are deliberately fucking us over, again.

  6. Tricledrown 6

    Other than stating the obvious Goldsmith said nothing.Platitudes and pontifications.

    Cutting Health funding for 9 years running has left us with one of the lowest per capita health funding in the developed world.We have the lowest number of ICU's on par with the US.This is Nationals deliberate run down of the public health sector to force people into private for profit healthcare how is that going in the US.

    • Carolyn_Nth 6.1

      Yep. And probably accounts for Aussie's different response: probably hadn't dun down their public health service as much as NZ. Aussie had testing and contact tracing up and running, and with more tests early than did NZ.

    • dv 6.2

      Yes and the USA has over 1million cases and 56000
      And increasing by abt 30 k per day and 2k deaths.
      deaths.

    • Sacha 6.3

      It would be good for some attention to rest on Tony Ryall and Jonathan Coleman and their cabinets who deliberately gutted public health then walked away without consequence.

      • Gabby 6.3.1

        Be fair, Croaker Coleman walked off into a private sector job to devour the flesh he'd carved off the public health system didn't he.

        • Sacha 6.3.1.1

          And recall that Ryall scurried off suspiciously fast to pastures lush and private after having already been re-selected by his electorate..

      • KJT 6.3.2

        Lucrative directorships in the private health sector, was a consequence, I suppose?

    • thebiggestfish 6.4

      Yes our healthcare funding has fallen on a per capita basis since 2014 per the World Health Organisations (WHO) website. Which is a shame.

      However to state we have one of the lowest per capita health spend in the developed world is just total fabrication. According to the WHO, NZ has currently the 20th highest healthcare funding per capita out of 188 countries.

      Additionally per the WHO and UN there are 60-63 depending on the source developed countries in the world. Therefore we are in the top third for developed countries .

      Ideally we should be striving to have a healthcare system that is second to none. But we are not as you say one of the lowest per capita health funders in the developed world.

  7. ianmac 7

    Yes Tricledrown.

  8. Enough is Enough 8

    To be fair I think people are cherry picking Australia because they are having similar results to ours. It is therefore not very surprising that people will look at how they have achieved it. It hasn't really got much to do with an artificial and meaningless right v left debate.

    Looking at where other countries have failed and succeeded is something that should be encouraged, without worrying who their Prime Minister is or what colour flag he flies..

    • Sacha 8.1

      The experts are looking at every other nation for ideas, yes.

      • Enough is Enough 8.1.1

        So the opposition (and anyone else with a voice) should not ask questions and just leave it the experts?

        • KJT 8.1.1.1

          Constructive criticism is one thing. National could actually have been helpful with things that could of helped businesses in reality. Such as rent and mortgage freezes while they couldn't go to work.

          But, their funders would never have allowed, it.

          Barking, and throwing shit randomly at the Government, in the hope that some will stick, is another.

          • Enough is Enough 8.1.1.1.1

            I agree with you on all that. My point was about the claim that they were only cherry picking Australia because Scomo is on their side, which I think is silly.

            • KJT 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Yes. The political orientation of the State Governments, who are responsible for the States individual actions, vary considerably.

    • Gabby 8.2

      Are the ockies counting out of hospital fatalities?

    • Stunned Mullet 8.3

      Good grief someone talking sense…..

  9. AB 9

    Crisis capitalism is as natural to them as breathing – of course they'll use C-19 as an opportunity to push ideas they had in their heads long before C-19 appeared. Meanwhile they'll hypocritically bloviate about how outrageous it is for the left to even talk about using a public health crisis as an opportunity to make permanent changes to the economy. We've got a way to go in learning to be as ruthless as them.

  10. Sanctuary 11

    "…We are witnessing the failure of the capitalist system and Paul’s solution is more unbridled capitalism…"

    Actually Paul's problem is National's wider problem – they've simply not updated their policy prescription (or even been open to new ideas) for thirty years. Goldsmith himself is an anodyne retread of the colourless pinstripe suit money man so popular circa 2000 as the last word in modern common sense.

    Jacinda and Grant Robertson seem to me to be powder pink "lefties" but they also seem to be (or perhaps have been forced to be) post-neoliberal pragmatists.

    Effectively, National and ACT have become the last defenders on an exhausted dogma and it shows when they talk about policy. Their response will probably be seek ever more extreme measures to preserve the neoliberal crony capitalism they now regard as business as usual by adopting culture war diversions, seeking voter suppression measures and creating an atmosphere of distrust and fake news.

  11. Andre 12

    Anyone seen a good point-by-point comparison of our lockdown compared to various states in Oz? As far as I can tell the differences really are quite minor.

    • RedLogix 12.1

      Here in QLD I'd describe the rules as equivalent to NZ's Level 3+.

      The range of 'essential services' has been wider and in general trade businesses that can operate with social distancing and precautions have been allowed to operate almost normally.

      Traffic volumes are lighter, but definitely not the deserted pictures I've seen from NZ. Quite a few people are still out and about, but social distancing is being observed quite well. Social gatherings are definitely off.

      I'd say Australia was always in a more flexible position, it had more medical resources to throw at this crisis, and could take a slightly less draconian position. By contrast NZ's leaner medical system was more vulnerable to a breakdown like Italy and it was probably the right thing to 'go hard, go early'.

      But from an epidemiological perspective, I think the difference between the two countries is minimal; and certainly not grounds for scoring political points.

      The common factor with all nations who have done well is strong governance at the national level, particularly if they implement early aggressive testing.

      • observer 12.1.1

        I wonder what the reaction (from the Hosking mob) would be if the NZ gov't had announced the police would be enforcing level 4 by handing out on-the-spot fines.

        "No problem with that, it's what they do in Australia". I doubt it. There would be Outrage at the Commie Dictator Ardern.

        Those cherries must be picked, only if convenient.

      • KJT 12.1.2

        And. Don't forget, spot fines for not following the rules. From a police force that likes to beat people up in cells, to reinforce the message.

        I wonder what our pet righties would say about that, if we had done it in New Zealand?

      • KJT 12.1.3

        We started worse than Oz, after the last few weeks, better

      • KJT 12.1.4

        We started worse than Oz, after the last few weeks, better.

        According to this, anyway.

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/author/derek-cheng/

  12. The Covid 19 press conference a couple of days ago said that in order to compare NZ to OZ Covid 19 cases on the same basis NZ's figure had to be reduced from approx. 1450 to 1100, meaning the per capita cases in NZ are less than those in Oz.

    • Tricledrown 13.1

      EiE leadership vacuum you can raise issues without being a hypocritical or a Dick

      • Bearded Git 13.1.1

        Not sure if I can make any sense of this response. I was just pointing out a statistical error in the relative published Covid19 figures between the 2 nations.

    • Shanreagh 13.2

      Yes to Bearded Git that is correct. Dr Bloomfield restated this today at the presser. NZ counts probables in with its totals (probables are clinician diagnosed on symptoms and location). The figures that NZ submits to WHO are the lower figures 1100 odd.

      UK counts only those who have died in hospital, not at home or in care/rest homes. NZ counts as Covid-19 deaths no matter where they occur. I am not sure if Australia counts all deaths no matter where they occur.

      I have great deal of scepticism about the what I call the 'myth making' around the Australian response & figures to Covid-19. It first started to be used by RW pundits to beat the NZ Govt over the head about being Australia being able to have it both ways with milder lockdowns, ongoing economic activity.

      I have a feeling that the spread of Covid-19 by community transmission is/will continue to be higher in Australia and I am not sure that they are on top of it. I did find a comment in Guardian Australia of 28/4/20 that others are sceptical as well.

      Mon 27 Apr 2020 01.22 BST

      'According to experts, the growth in new coronavirus cases in Australia is slowing, likely due to the decrease in travel-related cases. However there is still a long way to go in controlling the spread of Covid-19, and particular attention needs to be paid to the rate of community transmission.'

      https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/datablog/ng-interactive/2020/apr/27/coronavirus-australia-numbers-how-many-new-cases-today-maps-deaths-death-toll-covid-19-stats-statistics-graph-map-by-postcode

      Hence even by the end of the year I would not welcome air travel services to/from Australia.

      We talked a week or so ago about our possible trading partners/bloc being those who have achieved good results and at the time that was Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. Singapore has since had a bounceback with cases involving its migrant workers but my inclination would be to build up trust/travel/trade with those countries as well as Australia.

      Over the last few years Australia has been a fair weather friend only to NZ and its citizens while aligning itself strongly with the US.

      So let us not be beguiled by Australia and its Covid-19 response being any better than ours.

  13. Nic the NZer 14

    I recently developed a particularly good analogy for the economic theory which drives people towards this kind of thinking,

    Imagine the economy is a motor vehicle and that the economic theory is a plan for the engine design. Now unfortunately we decide that to justify investment in the vehicle we will have to assume that the engine efficiency will be increased by design improvements over time. Clearly the efficiency of this engine will eventually grow towards 100%. So rather than trying to anticipate the un-for-see-able specifics of how the engine will eventually work with specific efficiency we put those aside and assume that the design includes the upgrades and that eventually our engine will be working at 100% efficiency, which is similar to assuming the economy automatically gravitates to an equilibrium state. At this stage the answer has been clarified and becomes obvious, we will not be needing that engine cooling system and its just hurting our design because 100% efficient engines don't produce excess heat. Eventually the vehicle is manufactured, in practice it overheats every few KM and needs hours of cooling off, but that's just due to a few negligible real world engineering limitations. The vehicle designers are well rewarded for their innovative and efficient specifications.

    And so you have serious political figures suggesting that the economy will recover most efficiently when the work force is petrified of contracting illness from their employment.

    • Nic the NZer 14.1

      But surely it could not be so ridiculous?

      Well here is a critique of the mainstream modeling assumptions of models which the NZ treasury uses in its capacity,

      https://larspsyll.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/the-bad-luck-theory-of-unemployment-3/

      "In this model world, unemployment is always an optimal choice to changes in the labour market conditions. Hence, unemployment is totally voluntary. To be unemployed is something one optimally chooses to be."

    • Ad 14.2

      Do you think Grant Robertson has an economy theory that guides him, or even an operating framework that he is working to?

      • Nic the NZer 14.2.1

        As the finance minister Grant Robertson bloody well better have a model (a concept) of how the economy works. We should hope that what ever is the basis for that he is not too attached to it.

        I am pretty sure that Grant Robertson sticks very closely to the mainstream of economic theory in his thinking (as did Dr Cullen, more so). This means for example that the government had until Covid-19 made no change to the hegemony of monetary policy over fiscal policy as a way for the government to act. The intellectual roots of that policy choice are exactly in the the ideas that Lars P Syll is criticizing in my link (if there is no such thing as involuntary unemployment then use of monetary policy over fiscal policy could be justified, probably the regressive ongoing WINZ policies of 2 decades can be too). He may not understand strongly on which basis a treasury projection of the situation in 2-5 years is constructed, but he is still responsible for how the government acts on that basis.

        • pat 14.2.1.1

          I would have agreed about Robertson a year ago but now Im not so sure….I live in hope he may have had an epiphany…his recent statements indicate so, lets hope the budget confirms that.

  14. bill 15

    I believe it's generally the case that viruses persist longer in colder climatic conditions and that's why they tend to thrive better in winter months.

    So maybe it is the case that NZ could have got away with a more lax Covid response insofar and if summer has played a role in Australia's infection and death rates.

    But that's a few fairly major "ifs" and "maybes". And here's a couple more…

    If Covid fits within the general case for viruses, then with winter coming, there's a risk that a fairly major second wave hits countries like NZ and Australia that appear to have done much better than countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

    • Carolyn_Nth 15.1

      Brazil is a southern hemisphere country, and pretty warm, isn't it?

      It has been tipped as the next C-19 hot spot with the hospital system on the verge of collapse.

      • bill 15.1.1

        And Argentina and Chile and plenty of countries around the equator and across the tropics…

        But the general take on cooler temps and viruses in general apparently stands scrutiny. I didn't say they couldn't survive warmer conditions – just that they don't tend to thrive to the same extent.

        MERS (another Covid virus) hangs around the Middle East, but since camels are the main host species and it’s got a high kill rate…

        Spanish Flu apparently peaked in the summer…

        And I think there are many reasons why Brazil might tank, not the least being their idiot President. (Are there any measures in place there?)

    • Andre 15.2

      It may be that coronaviruses in general do better in cooler conditions, but it's yet to be shown that SARS-CoV-2 is any more or less dangerous at warmer or cooler temps. It just hasn't been around long enough to develop that information. Plenty of warmer places have been hit hard, Carolyn has noted Brazil, Ecuador has also been hit hard, Singapore …

      But it's a long stretch to say viruses in general do better in cooler temps. Ebola, dengue, yellow fever, HIV, rotavirus, Lassa fever are just some of the viruses that appear to be a lot more dangerous in warmer conditions.

      • bill 15.2.1

        I don't know jack-shit about the transmission vectors for most of those Andre, and I'm not about to look them all up.

        How many kill their host too fast to spread? How many originate (like MERS) in animals living in warmer climates? And HIV? Why is that even on your list?

        And what would happen if an infectious virus from a warm climate somehow got a toe-hold in a cooler one? Would it, all else being equal, potentially be more virulent? (If “virulent” is the right word to use for persistence in the environment and subsequent rate of infection)

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