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We don’t know how lucky we are

Written By: - Date published: 10:59 am, June 24th, 2020 - 32 comments
Categories: business, Economy, Media, Politics, Social issues - Tags:

Looking at the rises in covid-19 infections worldwide is just damn depressing. So instead National and some of our media choose to focus on the little inconveniences of local life. For anyone who isn’t a selfish myopic like your median National voter, concerned only with their own wallet and convenience, this just makes a lot of the local news written for them simply not worth reading.

Instead I look at the 14 day rolling average of confirmed covid-19 cases in the basket-case US, up 32% from almost flat 2 weeks ago, and try to imagine what this will do to our exports to that country – our 3rd biggest destination. The problem is that I really don’t know where our exports go there. Probably not the South and the Western states that are the focus of the new outbreak.

Including our other top 3 export destinations of China, Australia, and Japan who are all more or less containing their outbreaks, that is more than 60% of our exports. I don’t think that our exports are going to be significantly affected by covid-19. Which means that we are likely to continue to pay our way in the world.

But I can completely understand why the EU is not planning on opening up travel from the US.

The European Union plans to ban travel from the US when it reopens its borders on July 1st because of the Trump administration’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from The New York Times. Under current plans, the US would join Brazil and Russia on the list of forbidden countries, as all three countries have had comparably poor responses to the virus since the worldwide outbreak at the beginning of the year. Travel from China, as well as some developing countries, will be allowed, the report states.

Who wants to import cases from a state that can’t control their own spread.

In NZ, I can’t see us wanting to open up our borders to anyone apart from returning kiwis (even if a few do tend to whine like crazy for the NZ Herald readership), and the people that are useful at keeping our economy ticking over. Avatar creatives maybe – keeps our actors and crew working. Specialist engineers who maintain our hydroelectric generators – definitely (picking an instance where I know we lack internal expertise).

Aussie is having hotspot outbreak problems in Victoria. So while I currently don’t have a problem with travel to Queensland (fewer cases than here), the legal cases about section 92 of the aussie constitution may mean that we can’t restrict to the clean states (essentially everywhere in aussie apart from NSW and Vic). Not to mention that the Federal government controls the airspace over aussie – and they have made it pretty clear that all of their fracticeous states open or none do. October looks like the absolute earliest realistic date – and I’m pessimistic about that as well.

As for opening a pacific bubble? No way. I don’t want us to be the cause of another epidemic – like Samoa in 1918, as I’m pretty sure would be likely to happen. Most pacific nations simply don’t have the required medical infrastructure to handle widespread outbreaks. I’m pretty sure that no-one else in NZ would be so heartless as to want to cause that also.

I’m afraid that the sectors of our economy dependent on international travel are just going to have to suck it up. Tourism, international students, and those basing their prosperity on immigration or even international seasonal labour are just going to have to suck it up. These were always a risky business models that suffered desperately in each of the preceding economic shocks in 1997 and 2008. These simply aren’t the kinds of industries that we need in NZ. They are risky for us in downturns or even when aircraft kerosene prices rise.

What we could do with is the kind of investment in productivity that allows wages in some of the overseas labour reliant industries to rise. This isn’t exactly a short-term problem. I spent a year on farms as a farm hand back in 1977 at about a fifth of the cash in hand that I’d been earning on a factory floor. Even when you factor in the accommodation I was doing far more work for less than half of the return. I gather that it isn’t that much different today. Jehan Casinader at BusinessDesk has a paywalled article “Why are our key sectors struggling to attract talent?” that looks at this issue.

But this is common across whole swathes of our economy. In my tech sector (I’m a computer programmer and defacto engineer), we’re a low wage economy compared to most other parts of the developed world – especially when you factor in the exorbitant cost of our housing. It is a good thing that family and a weird sense of patriotism keeps me here.

But it is also because the internet arrived about the time I started to get really itchy feet. So instead of being immured in the stifling economic and intellectual myopia of National’s New Zealand, I could accept the lower pay packet, surf the world net, and work on interesting projects elsewhere. These days from a safe social distancing.

Sure we’re going to have border issues. That is the nature of doing something that, to my knowledge, has never been done in NZ – actually run a border quarantine. We now have the capacity and reporting mechanisms to contain small leaks. In other words the fallback systems. What I get concerned about is if we don’t identify and correct any mistakes. Recently I haven’t seen that inability to learn and deal with issues happen here – at least not outside of the National party.

Kiwis seem to be feeling confident in what has been happening. It is bloody hard to find parking at my local takeaway on Ponsonby Road even on a Tuesday night. Because the place seems to be swarming with revellers. I was there because ran out of time to cook because the Aussie webinar I have been on for work for the last few days runs on Queensland time. And I’d swear that there is way more traffic than there was pre-lockdowns. I was hoping on my trip to Rotorua that the missing tourists would mean a better drive – but that was not to be.

I agree with Jack Vowles excellent NewsHub article “Some in the media need to calm down“.

Compared with the failure to manage Covid-19 in many other countries, New Zealand’s performance remains impressive. Our short sharp lockdown has enabled a return to near normality. Only a few other countries are in our position.

What happens in the future is still uncertain. More needs to be learned about the virus and from the experiences of other countries. Is there any such thing as ‘immunity’? Will there be a vaccine? Will Covid-19 evolve into a less dangerous form? Will more effective treatments for those worst affected be found? Calls for ‘a plan’ and a timetable are premature; scenario scoping is what is required.

This is no time to lose faith in the Government’s response. Political criticism from journalists and the Opposition is all well and good. It does not serve the country well if it undermines the trust, confidence, compliance and cooperation and ‘kindness’ necessary for New Zealanders to work together against Covid-19.

Let’s all calm down, and carry on.

And above all – thank the people who gave us the internet – because otherwise this whole exercise would have been desperate.

32 comments on “We don’t know how lucky we are ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Yes to all that. I'll just add that we're still not seeing the shift to resilience design of the economy that we discussed here a couple of months ago. I know Labour & NZF are two chronic bunches of slow learners (I don't expect National to ever learn anything) but it does concern me that the Green parliamentarians have also dropped the ball on this.

    We need to see all three govt parties openly acknowledge that a transition away from hands-off neoliberalism is now essential. And as soon as possible. Folks will say govts don't design economies. True, usually, since economies are self-organising systems. Yet the crucial role of govt in creating the right conditions for an optimal system was demonstrated by Lee Kwan Yew long ago. China's regime learnt from that, apparently, since it seems to have replicated his model. With great success.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      We need to see all three govt parties openly acknowledge that a transition away from hands-off neoliberalism is now essential.

      Pretty sure I've seen all three parties proudly declaim that we're a trade dependent nation. To get the resilience that you want we'd have to become a nation where trade was a nice-to-have but not essential. And we haven't had anyone in government with that attitude since Muldoon.

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        Yep, that's the problem. Solution: declare the shift as a switch in long-term strategy. Explain resilience as a policy priority using examples such as tourism & airlines in current dire straits due to being unsuited to the changing times.

        Remembering not to spook the horses, make sure voters get that change will be incremental, as comfortable as is realistically possible. Declare resilience the key initial component of the trajectory toward the long-term goal of transition to a sustainable society – then reassure them that the neoliberal trading practices will continue as long as they remain an economic necessity.

        • greywarshark 1.1.1.1

          DF Good strategy it seems. Let it be so. What can we do though about the trade agreements the CPTTAAFGHJT or whatever are the latest letters?

      • Pat 1.1.2

        You misrepresent Muldoons position….he was as trade focused as any current politician

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.2.1

          And he still built up our power generation and fuel production capability to make us as independent as possible.

          Sure, he still wanted trade but think more mercantilism where imports would be less than exports (I didn't say that he was a shining example of an economist – he was still National after all).

          • Pat 1.1.2.1.1

            you did however claim he thought trade was not essential….not the case at all, indeed he was so focused on earning FX he almost bankrupted the country with SMPs

  2. Paaparakauta 2

    Re. “We don’t know how lucky we are” ..

    You are describing a point in time during a rapidly evolving situation. Put 'pandemic history' into startpage.com .. but I should warn that the scenarios will not be palatable to our largely middle-class internet users.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonine_Plague

  3. ianmac 3

    Great post thanks LPrent. Maybe the media will start remarking on the fact that no community infections have been reported for weeks which should indicate a successful protection operation. Politics gets in the way of commonsense. Bugger!

  4. Obtrectator 4

    "Specialist engineers who maintain our hydroelectric generators – definitely (picking an instance where I know we lack internal expertise)."

    According to a quick check I've just made, NZ has been generating hydroelectricity for over a century. We ought to have an adequate pool of this sort of expertise by now. Or are we too small an operation to be able to maintain one on a permanent basis?

    • lprent 4.1

      We don't. Think of it. We have generation equipment from nearly a century of projects. From different manufacturers. Some refurbished. Most of them haven't been pulled apart in detail by anyone living in NZ. Our local engineers do maintenance. Have manuals. But little experience for when things really go wrong as they do every few decades.

      When something craps out – we call in specialist who knows the same gear worldwide.

      How do you think we keep 60 year old Hercs in the air? Or sewer pumps or water pumps. In a population of about million people there is a limit on the degree of specialization you can have on the shelf idling and waiting for the next problem to show up.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        How do you think we keep 60 year old Hercs in the air?

        Through the skills of our engineers?

        The concept is complex but has been built on the knowledge, innovation, skills and abilities of Air Force engineering personnel—engineering and design skills that were not readily available offshore except in the aircraft’s original design office. It exemplifies what can be done by New Zealanders with the right background and opportunities.

        We seem to have quite a skill base for aircraft engineers.

        In a population of about million people there is a limit on the degree of specialization you can have on the shelf idling and waiting for the next problem to show up.

        Which, of course, is the major problem with holding on to specialisation – especially today when so much could be done through good software that does all the maths and simulation.

        We shouldn't be whinging about how we don't have enough people to do something but looking for ways to allow us to do it anyway. Automated manufacturing, automated farming and health. In fact, automate as much as we can as fast as we can so that we can then divert more people into R&D.

        Of course, to that does require that the government stop waiting around for the failed private sector and get stuck in and do it.

    • I Feel Love 5.1

      I was gonna post that too, but yep, sums it up nicely.

      • greywarshark 5.1.1

        Paul I didn't know how to post that – so glad you did. She comes out with good cartoons usually, and sometimes ones that shine beyond excellent.

  5. Intensive testing and no community cases could leave the the Nats crying "But… but not everyone has had a test!!" When do people begin to see their response as pathetic and unhelpful. 5000 000 tests??????
    When did we become free of covid ?” is the same as "When did you stop beating your wife?"

    • Cinny 6.1

      It's like the nat's want NZ to fail re Covid, which is a sick and twisted mentality, but it's how they roll, anything for a vote.

      • greywarshark 6.1.1

        How long is a piece of string? When can we be free of worries about Covid-19? When climate change becomes our main worry!

        Can we make a connection with dealing with Covid-19 and string? If we put our minds to it we could take away the worries about the virus and a PR man could give it a sexy gloss. It's all perception National thinks. Why should we be happy to be virtually free of Covid-19, we must find something else to bring anxiety to our breasts or chests. At the end of the day it will be their PR team against the Labour Coalition one, perhaps minus winstone – who will have sunk out of sight to the bottom of the pool.

        I'm all strung up about this. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qNj-QFZbew

  6. Paaparakauta 7

    "Feds About To Bail On Supporting COVID Testing Sites In Texas And Other States"

    https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/exclusive-feds-about-to-bail-on-supporting-covid-testing-sites-in-texas-and-other-states

    Josh Kovensky

    June 23, 2020 12:15 p.m

    The Trump administration is ending funding and support for local COVID-19 testing sites around the country this month, as cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing in many states.

    The federal government will stop providing money and support for 13 sites across five states which were originally set up in the first months of the pandemic to speed up testing at the local level.

  7. JanM 8

    'We don't know how lucky we are'. Wouldn't that make a cool slogan for Labour for the coming election! Maybe change it a little to 'You don't know how lucky you are'. I can't bear to think of the circus this would all be if we had National in charge of this crisis.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 8.1

      Good slogan; pity that the late great John 'Fred Dagg' Clarke isn’t available to front it.

      Maybe ask his family if the tune could be used for Labour's election campaign – it's certainly consistent with a 'relentless positivity' theme. Might risk being lampooned as lightweight; watch that meme to ramp up, 'in spite' of Ardern's capability/empathy.

      We Don't Know How Lucky We Are
      (If things get appallingly bad, and we're all under constant attack…)

  8. Draco T Bastard 9

    Is there any such thing as ‘immunity’? Will there be a vaccine? Will Covid-19 evolve into a less dangerous form? Will more effective treatments for those worst affected be found?

    There's another question that needs to be asked in that lot:

    Would it be better to let the covid-19 virus spread wild?

    Yep, a billion or so people would die but it wouldn't endanger humanity at all while also bringing about the ability of our immune systems to deal with it.

    • JohnSelway 9.1

      Would it be better to let the covid-19 virus spread wild?

      You might think differently when it's your family and your loved ones dying.

      • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1

        Death is as much a part of life as being born.

        • JohnSelway 9.1.1.1

          Yes of course.

          But that doesn’t mean being happy about letting a pandemic ravage the community, letting hundreds, of not many thousands of people you love, die.

          I’m really hoping you don’t have children if that’s your attitude. I can’t see myself reassuring my daughter as she dies from Corona Virus (my daughter has a compromised immunity so she’d would be very susceptible) “Don’t worry – like Draco said, we all going to die”

          • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1.1.1

            I didn't advocate for it – merely said that it was a question that needed to be asked. But, I suppose I should be used to you misrepresenting my position as you've pretty much done it every single time.

            This is especially true in regards to the apparent lack of a viable vaccine. Without any sort of vaccine to build artificial immunity then we're always going to be vulnerable to it which means that we're probably going to be going through this type of uncertainty and disruption on a fairly regular basis.

            • JohnSelway 9.1.1.1.1.1

              Listen pal, if you want to be understood better perhaps try harder to be more eloquent. Leaving a single fucking sentence for someone to work off doesn’t leave much for the listener to interpret.

  9. Cinny 10

    Good post Iprent.

    Have been watching the rising numbers coming out of Florida and remembered all those trump presser's I watched during lockdown. He was telling people that sunlight kills the virus, and people in warmer places would be just fine. As a result maybe Florida let their guard down and now it's a hot spot.

    We are so lucky to live in a country where people will work together for the good of all, makes me proud to be a kiwi.

  10. observer 11

    And the madness continues.

    Tourism spokespeople have to go on the TV news to reassure us it's OK to visit Rotorua, despite the Hotels of Horror. So here's a simple, statistical fact to help them.

    If you drove from Auckland or Wellington to Rotorua, you would be in more danger to life and limb on the journey to get there than you would be from Covid-19 in Rotorua.

    In fact you're probably in more danger from the attractions in Rotorua (stay on the tracks or you'll get sulphur burns, and do they still have that scary luge thing?).

    Plot, lost.

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