Prompted by Don Brash, Chris Trotter mulls the question of when the Government’s meritorious quest to save as many New Zealanders from Covid-19 as possible runs up against the buffers of economic rationality

Prompted by Don Brash, Chris Trotter mulls the question of when the Government’s meritorious quest to save as many New Zealanders from Covid-19 as possible runs up against the buffers of economic rationality

By Chris Trotter*

Don Brash's knack for scandalising public opinion is well known. Asking inconvenient questions has never been the swiftest route to the public’s affections, which largely explains Brash’s enduring unpopularity among those who prefer their leaders to be cheeky and cheerful and generally averse to either asking or answering inconvenient questions.

Fortunately, Brash is one of those “influencers” who don’t much care whether the public approves of him or not. If he sees a problem, his first instinct is to identify it. And, if the problem’s solution requires massive upheavals and copious human suffering, then so be it. The fault lies not with the solution, but with those who refuse to accept it. Brash, and people like him, may unsettle and annoy us, but we need them – especially in times of crisis.

Yesterday morning (29/3/20) on Magic Talk Radio’s “Sunday Café” programme hosted by Roman Travers, Brash once again presented the New Zealand public with a decidedly inconvenient question. At what point, he asked, does the price of saving human life become too high? It’s one of those questions that is normally only posed, well behind the scenes, by specialist clinicians and senior civil servants. Politicians, unsurprisingly, shun such questions like the plague (if I may use that term). Their stock response is that human life is not subject to such crude cost-benefit calculations. That no price is too high to pay to keep our fellow human-beings alive.

Which is exactly the comforting response citizens living in a democracy expect to hear from their political leaders. No one is ever likely to feel comfortable about placing a value on their own life, or the lives of their loved ones. Most of us are, after all, very far from being financial titans, Nobel Prize Winners for Literature or specialists in medical research. When set against the achievements of the Great and the Good, our contributions seem very modest indeed. The vast majority of humankind, in the opinion of the vast majority of humankind, belong on the very-far-from-little “List Of The Ones Who Won’t Be Missed”. Hardly surprising, then, that voters respond well to politicians who reassure them that – to the contrary – they are pearls beyond price.

Except, of course, they’re not. The assurances of politicians notwithstanding, the state is constantly putting a value on human life. Because the resources of the state are not limitless, clinicians and bureaucrats cannot avoiding asking – and answering – all manner of inconvenient questions. From a cold-blooded administrative perspective, it is actually important to know when the benefit of saving a human life is outweighed by the cost. Likewise when the death of a few may be necessary in order to secure a more abundant life for the many. In ‘normal’ times there is no need to perform such ruthless utilitarian triage. Unfortunately, Brash’s premise: that we are no longer living in ‘normal times’; is incontrovertible.

It is also the explanation for his using on commercial radio an acronym not generally encountered by members of the public: QALY. It stands for Quality Adjusted Life Years. Brash explained the term by means of an example. Where, he asked, should the limited resources of the state be expended? On saving the life of a 95-year-old cancer sufferer? Or, on a 5-year-old child with a surgically repairable hearing disorder?

It is easy to understand why concepts such as QALY are generally kept away from the front of the political stage. What politician is going to tell her constituent that, really, her 95-year-old grandma has had a good innings, and that, consequently, the taxpayer is no longer going to fund her inordinately expensive treatment?

Standing silently at the back of Brash’s queries were a grim collection of other much larger and altogether more inconvenient questions. When does the Government’s meritorious quest to save as many New Zealanders from the scourge of Covid-19 as possible, run up against the buffers of economic rationality? Is it truly morally defensible to drop the New Zealand economy into a black hole – with all that implies both socially and politically – rather than allow the very old and/or those already diagnosed with chronic medical conditions to take their chances with the virus?

Brash’s questions are exactly the same questions being asked by business leaders, financiers  and economists across the capitalist world. Historians, too, cannot avoid assessing the grim outcomes of the last great global depression. They know that in addition to the mass suffering occasioned by horrendous levels of unemployment, the Great Depression provoked (and was only ended by) the most vicious and destructive war in human history. The global influenza pandemic of 1918-19 is estimated to have cost 50-60 million lives. The best estimate of the human cost of World War II is 75 million.

My response to Brash’s inconvenient questions – because, yes, Dear Reader, I was the other participant in the Sunday Café’s “Political Panel” – was not (as some of you might expect) outrage. The former Reserve Bank Governor and Leader of both the National and Act parties was merely giving voice to the doubts and anxieties of many thousands of New Zealanders – especially those with businesses teetering on the brink of utter ruin. They merited a considered and non-judgemental reply.

The first point to make is that we are a long way off this dire either/or moment of utilitarian ruthlessness. The steps taken by the Government, and their timing, may yet prove sufficient to “flatten the curve” and thus avert the medical and economic catastrophes we see unfolding in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. It behoves us, therefore, as a people, to give Jacinda’s best possible solution our best possible shot.

The second, not unrelated, point is that if we are to give the best possible solution a fair chance of success, then it is vitally important that we do all within our power to maintain the social cohesion indispensable to the “Lockdown” option’s success. As a simple matter of practical politics, indulging in open-ended discussions about at what precise point the utilitarian imperative should kick-in – when Grandpa and/or his asthmatic grand-daughter should be sacrificed on the altar of economic viability – is just about the worst way to keep New Zealanders together.

The third – and probably the most important – riposte to Brash’s thrust, is that simply letting Covid-19 “rip” through the New Zealand population would (by the best estimates of our epidemiological modellers) produce a death-toll of approximately 80,000. Just think about that. New Zealand’s combined losses from World Wars I and II was approximately 30,000. Is it really all that likely that this country could lose nearly three times that number of its citizens in a matter of weeks without spiralling into terminal social and economic collapse?

And doesn’t that place Dr Brash’s utilitarian “solution” in the same perverse category as that of the American commander in Vietnam who informed reporters that: “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.”

One last observation is also worth making. And that is how very difficult it is to know what and who is valuable, and what and who is not. In the course of the last few days, nearly all of us have had occasion to visit our local supermarkets. There we have encountered check-out operators and shelf-stackers – the people without whose courage and dedication we would be forced to return to our families and friends without the necessities of life. As a former trade union official in the distribution industry, I know very well how much our society usually considers these retail workers to be worth.

Well, now we know, don’t we, what they’re truly worth. Now we know that when the chips are down there are no shit jobs – only shit wages.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. His work may be found at He writes a fortnightly column for

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The economy was going to be stuffed either way. The only difference was the number of lives saved. Its not just a few oldies dying that have a couple of underlying heath conditions once this thing is let rip into the general population. In any case the social experiment of ignoring peoples health first is already underway compliments of Trump in the USA so lets see how that works out.

Correct. Every country that wanted to avoid damaging their economy, and thus attempted to downplay the threat, will inevitably be forced into a lock down anyway. Whats worse is their lockdown will need to go on for longer (thus damaging the economy more than an early lockdown would have), while at the same time resulting in far more unnecessary deaths.

What is needed most is clear decisive leadership. I’m not saying they have got it right but at least we do have that. The last thing a country needs is to go down the path of saving the economy then backtrack into lockdown. Make the choice now, communicate it and stick to it.
Personally I think the best option is to encourage everyone over 60 to self isolate while the rest of us carry on. That would genuinely flatten the curve (the current response is more like temporarily delaying the curve) and allow the economy to mostly carry on. Allow people to isolate if they want, and a lot of people can work from home etc. the lockdown approach is only valid if you can get rid of the virus long term which seems unlikely.

No. Incorrect.
The imperial college paper did not recommend lockdown. It recommended what were doing before and closing schools and universities.
The 80 000 number is ridiculous. One of the lead authors of the Imperial college paper (which the Auckland uni paper is the same as but with different letterhead) has already retracted his 500k people will die in the UK and now saying something like 20k is more likely.
That's hardly surprising if you read the the paper. The modeling is loose at best and uses early outbreak data including lots from Wuhan. Chinese data cannot be trusted. There are at least 8 assumptions in the paper. It's too much guesswork to be useful for much.
And it's advice is not even being followed here. We have decided to wing it.
The paper states that you need to keep the population in the most restrictive level, until there is a vaccine or herd immunity. Herd immunity won't happen in lockdown so we are gambling that we can stay in lockdown until a vaccine comes hopefully shortly, but maybe 6 months, maybe 18 months maybe never. A vaccine is not certain, why should we gamble on that?
Going into lockdown has pushed us into recession instantly. The US jobless claims point to a global depression. We have a society. The health system is just one part of that. We are shutting down the whole to save the part. It is ridiculous.
Now we are in recession. That may already be a depression or it may soon be. Then we will be forced out of lockdown because staying in lockdown is not economically viable. We will leave lockdown with a disgruntled population that has been told to be afraid of each other and walk into a depression economy. And then we get whacked by the virus anyway. How do we make sure our health system has what it needs if we are bankrupt? Why will international markets loan us money if we are all sitting around doing nothing and waiting for a vaccine that may never come. Why will our borrowing rates / credit ratings and currency value remain sustainable under that scenario. It does not matter how good our debt to GDP is if no one wants to lend us money.
The lockdown is giant experimental gamble, panicked like most responses globally aside from Sweden. We could have had the viral pain now in a position of relative strength or we can have it later when we are not as strong. We have made the wrong choice. We should have done our best to protect the old and weak with masks and isolation while the rest of us continued to fund the society that keeps everything ticking....not just the health system.
The fact that everyone here seems to agree confirms we have panic induced groupthink.
But the worst part? The worst part is that this is another burden we are leaving to our children. Another debt incurred because in the West we kick cans down the road for as long as we possibly can. And then all look surprised when it blows up in our faces.

This virus has shown that its not just oldies who are dying its also the millennials and even babies.

Its a fair question for Brash to ask. The Covid financial response, however well meaning, confirms that the rough calculation has already been made. Perhaps the level is to pick a disease that we already have good statistics for, such as each annual version/dose of influenza, and say that the number of deaths we are willing to endure as a society is a percentage of the high water mark in recorded deaths connected to it (or 50% of it, or 20%, or 1%, or whatever we agree is affordable). As a numbers man though, he isn't good at emotional intelligence, which the current PM is very good at. It partly means you are able to synthesize the most appropriate ongoing response by communicating continually with your electorate. Perhaps this explains why Brash never got the hot seat.


Human life encapsulates civilisation and vice versa. That is why Churchill stood against the appeasers, Halifax, Butler, Hoare etc etc, and committed an economically already worn out Great Britain to war to the bitter end against the Nazis. Stalin did the opposite, up until Barbarossa, the Soviet Union heavily supplied Germany’s war machine with raw material, an economic bonanza that was soon fired back at them. Moral of the story, protect your people as first priority against any form of evil.

What's the minimum and maximum lockdown amount you would be comfortable with

It may be a fair question in general. However when you are dealing with a lethal infectious disease that has shown exponential growth if left unattended it becomes a pointless question.

There are only two options:

1) You can let somewhere between 0.5% to 4% of the population die (depending on how quickly and thoroughly it spreads). And this will still have majority economic impacts (due to people being ill, medical costs, and the hit to economies as people try and avoid catching it)
2) Go into a severe lockdown to contain the virus (the earlier you do it, the less of a hit you take to the economy).

But you only contain the virus if you stay in lockdown. Otherwise you get the outbreak just as you would have with no lockdown.
The only thing that would let us get out of lockdown is a vaccine and a vaccine may be 6 months away, or a year away or it may never even happen.
You speak as if the lockdown provides a solution. It does not. It buys time. But if we stay in lockdown for 2 months or 3 months we are bankrupt. So the vaccine has to be in the next 2 to 3 months or else we exit lockdown with mass unemployment and a broken economy. Who pays for the heath system then?
It will be worse than if we had not gone into lockdown at all.

But this is where the media hype and bad science is clouding the options. The best estimate of death rate I have seen is 0.7%. And that is of people who catch it - some will not. Also despite a lot of media reports the vast majority of those are very old people - many of which would have died within a year anyway. My crude guestimate if they were to isolate the pensioners only is < 0.1% death rate or < 5000 people. It’s still a lot of people but hard to know if it’s worse than killing the economy (which also has a significant death rate).

My opinion is that you have to put life first. Something that most people don't know is that during the great depression, life expectancies actually increased.

Yes but the great depression lead to the rise of Facism and the second world war.
It is estimated that 7 million Americans starved to death in the Great Depression which is about 5% of the population at the time.
What was the life expectancy during WW2? Is that included in the life expectancy figure you quote?

It was the utterly misguided responses to the crisis that led to a Great Depression and the awful later consequences. Governments at the time tightened up and made things much worse leading to debt deflation traps. Much like the self defeating policies of austerity in the uk and elsewhere after the GFC. Also borrowing costs the Government essential nothing in the current low interest world.

Governments (and people in general) always have to makes choices between longevity and quality of life. This is just another one of those choices. Choosing longevity is not always the best outcome; for example the government could save so many lives by banning cars, sports, booze, ciggies, activities in general, Bush walks, exposure to sun, most food, etc. We may live an extra couple of years on average but life would suck.
One way to measure quality of life is GDP. It isn’t perfect, but I would say there is a fairly reasonable correlation between GDP and quality of life. But even if you don’t want to use GDP as the measure, you still need some kind of way of balancing the cost of longevity. Saving lives without worrying about that cost is a terrible idea.

Excellent piece.
Do we spend billions every year to try and save most of the lives lost on our roads?


What we spend on roading is only a bandaid. If we were serious about saving lives on roads, we would be building 4 and 6 lane motorways all over the place!

With speed bumps every 20 meters.

We're spending massive amounts on upgrading known dangerous patches of highways, aren't we?

Ask the good people of Katikati

The key to the road toll is about taking precautions and driving sensibly.... not stopping driving altogether. We dont know too much about the virus eg why are females overrepresented? We can take the most conservative view of the health professionals or something slightly bolder. Nobody wants a cavalier approach but many people (me included) would be happy with a sensible less restrictive approach.... how about it

Seems like, rather than engineering the road, it's the speed sign that gets engineered.
Limits down to 80 km limits down to 60km.
On roads the middle of no where.
Terrific engineering.

Isn't the unofficial cost of an average life about $4m to $5m? Being debated on other forums is whether all multiple lane highways should have those wire crash barriers down the middle. With I think Sweden saying yes and most other places compromising between more infrastructure and making old infrastructure safer.

Most of the transport spend is actually about moving more people faster (or not as slowly in the case of Auckland). Very little of it is true safety spending. We could probably halve our road toll with a small drop to speed limits, and then halve it again through wire median dividers. We don’t do that as safety is not the objective.


Of course Brash is coming from the delusional direction of assuming the economic/financial system is healthy when infact it is possibly in a similar position to the 95 year old.


I'd also point to my formerly 75yrold father being given many thousands of dollars worth of chemo drugs to prolong his life by around two years. His still alive twelve years later, having spent most of that doing almost full-time voluntary work driving sick people to and from hospital. Of course that work has practically no value in Brashs world as it's unpaid.

You are giving anecdotal evidence. That is not useful for a response that will adversely affect the entire population.
There are far more 75 year olds who get expensive chemo and don't even live the 3 months promised, or 6 months promised.
That is the reality. That is what the decision has to be made on.
Not your outlier story.

A man was told by his doctor " if you give up the booze and ciggies and wild women you should live to be a hundred " to which he replied " you call that living?"


All those promise billions of relief fund, extension/enlargement of wage subsidies, RBNZ involves, Banks involves, musical chair lock-down, more continue relief measures to be announced; this is just an indication the magnitude of this disaster - NZ just want to be in slightly better off relatively to the rest of the world, it's just that we're in our Noah's Ark boat. What happened to the rest of the planet? - are we going to be affected?


The question is why we didn't price this in before. Nicholas Taleb has said this isn't a black swan event, but that he means it was predictable.

The answer is that guys like Brash are part of managing an economy that runs right at the edge with no fat in the system.

You are right there. The whole just in time economy is useless and unsustainable. It is short term gains with little consideration for the long term.
We have no savings anywhere. We just have credit. It's not the same thing.

Excellent article and an entirely appropriate question. But it is rooted in a problematic perspective - resistance to change.

As individuals, most of us would like to think there is no limit to what people will do to save our lives. But this view is while we also know that there are significant limits to medical science and technology as well as resources. As a country however Brash's question is more along the line of what is the value of an individual to a nation? This is much harder, and as we already know, many of the political and wealthy elites firmly believe their value to the nation is much more than any one else. The question can and should be discussed from several perspectives; from JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". What value do you as an individual bring to your nation?


If we look at this on a practical level... assume our lockdown is effective and in four weeks time we have controlled the virus.

We won't be able to open our borders as the rest of the world didn't catch the virus early enough. Our tourism businesses are going to bear the brunt of the pain. Retail and construction will follow.

However, life would continue ~ we have our health, we have our wonderful country, we won't starve.

Times like this we need to remember Maslows hierarchy of needs and start at the bottom.

Correct. Life will be harder... and simpler, and a lot more expensive after this. But NZ can produce food.

NZ may come out of this far better then elsewhere.

Yep, maybe the solution is to bring some humanity into "the economy".

The calls to save the economy, the recovery, yet it appears no one knows what the economy really is. "The market" knows best but what is the market and how can it when it is being constantly manipulated?

The buffers of rational economic reality? That's assuming economics as we know it was ever rational to begin with.

Tens of thousands of people could lose their jobs. Some of them for a long time. Many will then lose their houses, their children will grow up in poverty. That is economics as we know it.

But our borders aren't closed as far as I understand it....don't we still have aircraft coming and going into the country? Don't we still have container/merchant ships coming in and out of the country with crews onboard? It only takes a spark to start a fire and one interaction with a carrier to restart the chain when we come out of our internal lock down.

In theory we'd need to come out of lock down and have zero people coming in and out of the country - to include aircraft, ships, fishing vessels. It ain't going to happen - unless we decide to have zero trade? (economic outcome would be horrific I would imagine).

We may come out of lock down, find another cluster of cases and go into lock down again. That would prevent internal travel, to stop any further do we then tell all of our truckies to stop moving goods around the country, for postal services to halt? How do we then move food to our supermarkets?

I don't think we can stop this - its possible that it may destroy the economy/lifestyle as we know it for the next 6-12 months until either we have a vaccine or until nearly all of us have had the virus and we can then get on with the recovery. If we all catch the virus this year quite a few people will die based on what we see overseas.

There is sadly no way we can eliminate the virus from NZ completely ; too many cases are asymptomatic and the incubation period can be long. The pool of essential workers will provide a reservoir for the virus. We can hope to slow it down considerably but we will not be virus free regardless of lock-down duration.

Yes that is the reality check indeed. A vaccine would help or an effective treatment. Don’t know did Tamiflu actually work against Sars or was it dying back on its own by that time?


Is it really all that likely that this country could lose nearly three times that number of its citizens in a matter of weeks without spiralling into terminal social and economic collapse?

We already cope with the deaths of about 38,000 people a year without spiraling out of control. The vast majority of deaths (95%) would be elderly patients. Old people dying is something that most people can cope with especially young people I have noticed. It's entirely different to the deaths of parents of dependents or the deaths of children and young people. There would be considerable overlap with those that die from the virus and those that are going to die anyway over the next two or three years.

We certainly accept a large number of transportation deaths for what comes down to simple convenience. Humans are a whole lot tougher than Trotter claims. There would be no social collapse. Indeed a lot of families would suffer less in the long run as a huge amount of the elderly will suffer from dementia if they live beyond 80. Something like 50% which is a grim epidemic in itself.

No one is really suggesting a 'let it rip' strategy anyway. This can be controlled and older people can take more precautions while younger people can get their lives back. We will have to accept some casualties as a matter of course.

Wow, I hope the over 70's amongst us don't ever have to choose you as their power of attorney. "Let em go - he's a had a good run to get to 72." Now I need to go and get my knee replaced at the hospital...oh wait there are no beds as the hospital is unndated with COVID patients. Now my sick child needs chemotheraphy....oh wait there are no doctors available as their workforce has been decimated by COVID infection. Now my daughter needs an organ transplant.... oh wait there are no nurses available to look after her post op, she'll have to die. If you think I'm being sensationalist or dramatic I suggest you flick on over to the news in Italy.

Bang on Zachary.
It is harsh but it is the only way to look at it.
We are burdening our children with huge amount of debt in order to delay the inevitable. Lockdown is not a solution.
The health system can never be fully redundant. From time to time it will be overwhelmed. Like in an earthquake.
It will be hard for the medical workers but we would support them a lot better working to pay for their system rather than sitting at home doing nothing and waiting for the next great depression to begin.

The thing is that this was avoidable. It had been warned about for years, and we should have learnt from SARS, MERS, Ebola etc. One problem is that WHO classified it as a pandemic far too late. They should have seen in their modelling that t was a pandemic back in January IMO, and based on what was going on in China. Only after it was classed a pandemic, did real action start to really take place, when t was already too late for many countries due to the lag in developing symptoms. I can see this case study being studied for decades. .


All of the above covered by the great thinker and author Gareth Morgan, written in his book Health Cheque in 2009...and part of the reason he formed the TOP party.

If there was ever a man who was unfairly ridiculed he is it.


Another guy who generally didn't genuflect to the emotionalism that gets you places in NZ politics.

Yep, read it, rastus - and enjoyed it from a theoretical/thought-provoking perspective. If I recall correctly, it discussed QALY as the method used by Pharmac to make initial shortlisting decisions about which medicines to fund (and of course there is a lot of controversy around that as it is)... and what he was saying was that we needed to apply a similar QALY framework with respect to the purchase of capital equipment in hospitals and hence, the services/treatments provided by the health system.

Taken to a practical example, we would refuse dialysis to quite a large chunk of those currently accessing that service, given that a reasonably large percentage needing that treatment have a chronic, debilitating and incurable condition.

If I recall correctly though, I don't think he covered the practical understanding about what goes on everyday. People themselves make the decision to abandon their own fight a lot more frequently than one might imagine. And medical practitioners apply QALY-type thinking - albeit not in economic terms - but in individual patient/doctor humanitarian terms. That's the basis of palliative care.

I watched a doctor in Italy discussing the overloading of their ICU capacity and the difficult decisions they were having to make. What he pointed out was that such decisions are made on a routine basis, the only difference with the epidemic being that they had to make these decisions at higher speed and more frequent intervals in a triage-type situation. But the point being that they did not have to compromise their oath or ethics in doing so - those decisions were part and parcel of their training and experience.

I agree Gareth does get unfairly criticised - I've learned something reading most of his books.


Suprising comments from Don, given he is fair and square in the cross hairs given his age and that of his partner too. Both incredibly vulnerable. However as anyone who has spent more than a passing minute around Don will fully know, he views the world from a mildly disturbing binary standpoint which at times seems utterly devoid of compassion. Certainly being the reserve bank governor that pursued the misguided yet hugely destructive anti inflation policy settings through the 1990s, you can see why he is able to ask such heartless questions...because he doesn't care, about people, feelings, families, society, nothing. Except money. He loves that. I say go ahead and spend as much as it takes, because I care about the well being of people. I'll close by saying his inflation busting policies caused so much intergenerational societal damage in this country that if there is a true nexus to the current gang crime problem in this country then Don would certainly be the key enabler, accompanied of course by the successive ministers of finance through the 1990s.

Did not then some of this policy of economy and business before anything else, surface during the Canterbury EQ sequences. Various accounts indicate The Treasury bore down on EQC to suppress outgoings to claimants. For example hundreds of claims were kept under the cap to both delay and limit this. There was resultantly immense financial and emotional hardship inflicted on far far too many vulnerable families in Canterbury You see the government of the day politically needed a surplus but you might think if Dr Brash had been PM it may have gone even further. “ Let them eat cake” comes to mind.

Compared to how other 'developed' nations cope with disaster our governmental response to chch quakes and all that flowed from them was a fiasco. EQC misscarriages of duty are but one aspect that was enabled by the government which as feared has deliberately held back the much faster regeneration of the city by employing the tin pot approach that has backfired in so many aspects. It is literally shameful at a national level that the city of chch has been mishandled so poorly. Case in point, allowing the Fletchers consortium 'jacking and packing' of homes that should have been demolished and replaced. Those homes have been onsold and subsequently found to be hugely damaged landing the current owners in dire straits. All for saving a few billion dollars that could have been obtained at low rates using government issued bonds.

And the irony is, if that government had fronted fair and square with their statutory obligations, in the grand scale of events, those outgoings would be dwarfed by what this government is having to undertake at present, and yes you could add into that, having to cover the huge own goal of botched EQC repairs that also let the insurers off the hook for any on sold properties.

The old saying - do it once do it right was never given s thought! The repair of homes was doomed, EQC was a cess pool of nepotism and career troughers. Fletchers all care no liability 15% guaranteed contract, coupled with a cowboy workforce of dubious contractors / labour gave the chances of a quality outcome close to zero!

How are those RONS repair bills looking so far.....enormous!

Been quite influential on the world stage though hasn't he? Didn't most of the world follow NZ into 2% inflation targeting following his rushed decision?

Yes, he was very highly regarded. He would have been far better off sticking to banking and away from general politics where he exposed himself as being a rather unpleasant person.

Well Muldoon would have agreed with that indeed. If I remember rightly Muldoon scuttled his bid as a National candidate for a seat in a by election, East Coast Bays, he upped the tolls on the harbour bridge, and that ushered in Gary Knapp instead. How about that. Deliberately harpooning your own candidate. Unheard of really must have been quite some rancour at play for some reason?

That's a little before my time, but Muldoon was pretty unpleasant as well I believe. I've got a few good stories from relatives that dealt with him.

Aye unpleasant he could be particularly towards the end of his reign. Strangely first Norman Kirk and then David Lange could handle him quite easily, but nobody else from Labour in between times could withstand him. In fact it took the rather charismatic entrance of the champion of commonsense Bob Jones, into the 1984 election to finally tip the scales against him.

They were such good times, politics was so very interesting then as opposed to now. Maybe I'm being nostalgic....
I'm not really a Labourite but I have fond memories of Lange and Douglas, they were both ground-breaking.

Even Bob Jones has revealed a less appealing side to him though in more recent times.

Agree TK. Came across Hansard, a debate by Muldoon against Kirk’s government, dumping of dairy product in the UK. He was devastating. All the facts, all the figures all prepared and accurate. Nobody of that sort of ability anywhere in parliament nowadays despite all the staff numbers and the electronic high speed access to records and communications. For instance the lowest order list member now has twice as many staff than Holyoke did when he was PM.

Modern politics is far more about spin and style than substance. I despair at the rubbish we are served up today where it's far more about identity politics and following the groupthink such as Climate Change than ability. Lange was peerless in my opinion, such an amazing orator. He was morbidly obese when elected as well, but no one cared as he was clearly a genius.

Those that have followed the 2% inflation rule have certainly not followed the over aggressive policy approaches used on us and have done much better in the long run. We were the unfortunate test subject...

Excellent article. It's a well known secret that health services are rationed. Always have been. We make decisions about what is provided now.

“ Asking inconvenient questions has never been the swiftest route to the public’s affections, which largely explains Brash’s enduring unpopularity among those who prefer their leaders to be cheeky and cheerful and generally averse to either asking or answering inconvenient questions.”
Pretty much sums up NZ politics, I would change “those” to “the majority” though.

Black Swan event. Well it's a major certainly. But there are quite a few black swans and one was always about to turn up.
The government is spending and borrowing millions gazillions to keep us in some form of economic activity. That's ok. After this one is over we will have to deal with that dangerous debt position. I suggest the best preparation for the next event is absolute focus on debt reduction, and indeed building a positive cash balance.
Before this event those commentators here who have been advocated vast borrowing (it's cheap you know) have been leading us into a dead end.

In the aftermath, would we not then have the requisite and explainable justification for raising taxation across the board? Just asking!

Not raise taxes. Cut government expenditure and move resource to the productive sector. We are going to be poorer anyway. We can't afford the luxury anymore.
When times are tough it's an illusion that the government can afford things because the people can't. And we can't afford debt either.

sorry but we'll need to raise taxes and/or introduce new taxes, unless you want to start cutting all sorts of essential services.
Sure, the number of bureaucrats in Wellington could be slashed, big wastage there.
But that's still just scratching the surface.

We need:
- A land tax
- a CGT
- higher income taxes on higher incomes
- possibly lift GST to 17.5%

What will be the economic position and power of a country of 5 million people that took measures not as early as they should? But early enough to have the possibility of stopping the virus from transmitting in the population. If we can be cv19 free by sacrificing our tourism industry and continuing with a tightly controlled passenger border. Our production can be restored to full speed while other countries production capacity is being diminished. There could be a silver lining to this cloud.

Do we export our goods in that instance? Do we allow foreign crews (ships and aircraft) into our country who could be carrying the virus? Or do we stop exporting completely and see what that might do to our GDP?

NZ has always had strict biosecurity controls compared to other parts of the world. If we can get Covid under control, we slowly brings things back online and then we are forced to be internally focussed for a while, we could turn it in to a positive. We are a a smart and resourceful nation when we need to be.

Our bio-security border controls let in PSA and m. bovis.

What are you talking about buddy? This ain't a quant little four week holiday that we will all roll out of, flick the switch and everything will be like before.
Thousands of businesses will not re-open. Yeah the tourism industry has probably been wiped out which is bad enough given it is one of our largest industries.
But what about hospo and retail? Thousands of those businesses won't open again. Wages aren't the only expense in a business and do you really think a government can even vaguely replace a complete loss of demand?
We are already in recession and maybe in depression.
The silver lining is the environment that's pretty much it.

Of course, things won't bounce back to the way they were before. Tourism is gone for the foreseeable future. 190000 temporary work visa holders are no longer required. After six months of severely crimped incomes, everything will be repriced. Including the cost of labour. People will be willing to crawl over broken glass to do jobs they would not have looked twice at just a few weeks ago. After the mortgage holidays have finished the banks will need to be prepared to drop rates below 2% 5 years fixed and allow interest only for the next five years for all borrowers to prevent a complete house price collapse. Which would mean 270 bln of mortgage debt with no equity to back it up. But we are resourceful. We can come back. For now, the government needs to pull it's weight. No point having armies of non-essential public servants "working" from home on full whack. While everyone in the private sector takes a massive hair cut. Chop all non-essentials salary paid by government and councils back by 20% now. Otherwise it is perverse.

Many of the statistics on deaths were originally derived from best case scenarios. China rapidly built emergency hospitals and were able to source all the materials to provide beds, each with a respirator.

Of course, that was before the global supply chain collapsed and all began scrabbling for the same resources. Many of which, China had to begin with anyway.

If you start looking at the individual country data, rather than just extrapolating out from China....especially in regards to the speed at which they meet resource capacity, you will see much, much worse mortality statistics and it is not just the over 70s dying. The more the healthcare system is overwhelmed the more of every demographic die. A recent report found that men are at much higher risk from the virus – seven in ten of all ICU patients were male, while 30% of men in critical care were under 60, compared to just 15% of women. Excess weight also appears to be a significant risk factor; over 70% of patients were overweight, obese or clinically obese on the body mass index scale.

This is a completely new virus, each country will tackle it slightly differently, have a different degree of healthcare facility and skill, different climates, humidity, culture. Everyone wants to claim suddenly that they are a maths expert and an armchair epidemiologist. But the truth is, we won't intimately understand this virus for years.

What we do know, is that in the countries that have experienced a rapidly escalating infection rate, their healthcare systems are overwhelmed. They are unable to to treat all those with a virus IN ADDITION TO all the statistically normal healthcare needs of cancer, accidents, infections etc. Why is the actual mortality rate of a "best case scenario" important when no one else is going to be able to replicate China's first wave response to the infection? The only thing we need to looking at is how many people are actually dying, right now, in the worst case scenarios... and how much the overwhelmed healthcare services are effecting death rates in all other groups... women giving birth, children falling our of trees, car accidents, cancer treatments... when a health care system is overwhelmed, all these services also become compromised, the resources get used up, the phone lines are jammed, the waiting lists blow up. This is NOT about the deaths of a few extra elderly who probably would have died anyway. This is a systemic health crisis that will have far reaching ramifications in all demographics. Imagine going into labour in Italy right now... do you imagine that they will be having nice relaxing labours? So you think they will have access to the same numbers of staff and resources? Shall we think about how many more complicated labours and related deaths will occur in the overwhelmed hospitals? And then apply that to every health discipline. How about all the diabetic patients who can't get that foot injury seen to? Who can't even get through to their GP on the phone?

This is not just about the numbers of virus v's other conditions it is the effect of the virus on top of the other conditions.

This problem of hospital overload is not new. About 50 years ago walking with my grandmother she pointed to an empty field and said that is where the diptheria hospital used to be. [Poor memory it might have been TB or something else.] We could covert our empty hotels into Covid-19 hospitals and run two health services.


Pandemics are not new either. We have experienced them many times before.

Where are all the staff for the two health services coming from? Where are all the materials and resources during a world wide demand/supply crisis for resources coming from?

The staff will have to be split and volunteers used if numbers boom as anticipated. The extra materials and resources to go to the new covid-19 hospitals but leave what is working now alone. If/when there is overload similar to Spain / Italy then it will be Covid-19 cases who suffer not mothers in childbirth.

Oh really Lapun? You have experience in hospital and clinical management, tell me more? I was the clinical ward manager of an adolescent ward when the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 occurred. They weren't an at risk group at all, but I can assure you, my patients and my staff were greatly impacted. And Swine Flu was NOTHING compared to SARS-CoV-2. Last time you were managing a ward during a pandemic, how were your staffing levels and sickness stats? How long did it take for your meds and stock orders to be fulfilled? No *please*, tell me how that went.

And volunteers running entire hospitals you say? Have you ever managed volunteers in a hospital setting (I have) but again, let me know how that worked out. I'm all ears. Volunteers in hospitals are the equivalent of PTA's to schools. Air NZ staff, offering domestic services is not going to representative of normal volunteering recruits, AirNZ staff are used to high stress environments, managing timelines, following strict routines and schedules but even then, they will be changing beds and serving food not providing medical care. I have mentored and trained numerous students, but by far the most time exhaustive of my time were volunteers. But do let me know who will train the volunteers to run the additional hospitals in time to treat the influx of cases, while the already trained staff are working 16 hour shifts? It's on thing to reinstate the professional registration of retired or lapsed medical healthcare professionals in an emergency, it's quite another to claim that you can just snap your fingers, find an army of untrained recruits who have never even heard of medical ethics, let alone legally allowed to prescribe or administer medication but will somehow be staffing your mythical hospitals.


I don't think these things should be left to the medical staff to work out. Your comments which seem a bit hysterical reinforce this. If things get out of control we will not be able to treat people in the same way as we normally would. We need to accept that as a fact and take action accordingly. It's not reasonable nor desirable to work the medical staff to exhaustion. We have to treat it like a military operation. Decisions about who gets treatment and who doesn't may need to be made by a special authority to ease the burden on doctors and nurses.

I've no knowledge of medicine nor managing anything. This virus could kill me, I have many of the risk factors; childbirth will never kill me. However if the system is going to overload and crash I'd rather all the covid-19 cases (potentially myself) going to the wall, being taken to the morgue by untrained staff from temporary hospital (either tents or converted hotels) and keep the current health service reasonably intact. The fact that my daughter gave birth in Feb and had a minor complication influences me. Actually they seem to be doing roughly what I suggest - they are releasing resources by cutting elective surgery and all over the world temporary hospitals are being built for the sheer volume of Covid-19 cases and the army supplying workers.
Tough decisions will be made by medical experts but they will be guided and financed by the govt. It is worthwhile letting the govt know our priorities. Mine is getting out the other end with a working health service for whoever survives.

Hear hear Lapun. I'm sure nearly all oldies would agree with you. I think it is being overstated how fearful we are. Most of us surely want to leave behind an intact society. We have lived a most privileged and cushy life really and wouldn't want to sacrifice the wealth, freedom and well-being of our younger citizens just so we can go living for a few years. It mortifies me to think of the queues of jobless and impoverished people that may result from all of this.

Ginger, regarding China having the supplies to handle the virus you are aware of this aren't you?

Most likely happened here as well considering tha availability of PPE here 3 weeks ago

Very good point. China was battling the corona virus without any "competition" to get hold of medical supplies (or international supply chains being massively disrupted).

Letting the virus "rip"at the same time its ravaging the rest of the world is a recipe for disaster. We are not even close to getting this under control globally, and its going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

'If you start looking at the individual country data, rather than just extrapolating out from China....especially in regards to the speed at which they meet resource capacity, you will see much, much worse mortality statistics'

Sorry that's a big statement and it's simply not right.

Look at Germany - comprehensvie testing, much better than most so a better capture on the number of people infected. A mortality rate of less than 1%. And even then they are likely to have undercounted those infected.

What do you suggest? Walking into a Lombardy Hospital and saying "don't worry, the mortality rate is less than 1% if you look at Germany"? and expect that to change the number of patients they have to triage on the ward that day?

It doesn't matter if it turns out that 20% of the population had the virus and were asymptomatic and therefore reduce the overall mortality rate if a country does not have capacity to treat those infected who need hospital treatment RIGHT NOW (or whenever their peak occurs). When you prepare for a pandemic, you do NOT plan for the best case scenario. You take a long hard look at your own capacity and do what you can to prepare for that and try to prevent your hospitals being overwhelmed. I can't think of a single time, or a single pandemic where an accurate mortality rate has been achieved during the pandemic.

I am referring to a clinical crisis which then impacts the mortality rate. Comparing China's clinical capacity in Jan/Feb to Italy's capacity in March is what I am referring to. If Germany manages to avoid their hospitals being overwhelmed, and their mortality rates rocketing, that will be a valuable lesson. And after this is all over, the world will spend a decade looking at who did what and trying to build policies to be better prepared next time. Unfortunately, it's too late for most countries, unless they can flatten their peaks, they will struggle to meet need and regardless of how many asymptomatic citizens there are, the mortality rate of critical cases will be higher than it might have been.

You sound like you are coming from a very privileged position.
Life and the world is imperfect and messy. Embrace it, don't fight it.
Have you ever deeply thought about what the consequences for the poorest 50% will be from the economic carnage?
Think about them for a change. Shift out of your protected upper middle class bubble for a few moments.
And also stay objective. NZ currently way lower than 1% mortality rate, Germany lower than 1%. Italy, only high because they do not have accurate data on the levels of infection.

The mortality data is not all worse than China for instance South Africa has far better mortality data. the mortality rate in the US is currently about 1.6%. Thats higher than flu for sure. However what about under reporting?

The Italians estimate cases are at least 10 times what has been reported. This is not surprising given the lack of testing kits everywhere.

More than that for your average person covid will have symptoms like a cold or flu or next to no symptoms at all. They may not report or get tested because the media makes out like this is ebola crossed with flu and a virtual death sentence which is it not. So when they just have a mild cold they stay at home. It's just a cold right? So no report no test.

Or maybe they can't get through to anyone. Doctors are swamped right? So they stay home and get better and it is not reported. Under reporting will be massive, the difference between covid symptoms and cold or flu symptoms are just too subtle to differentiate for your average person.

You are absolutely right that there is a risk that our health system will be swamped. Whatever we get is cumulative not instead of.

However health systems get swamped. That is the nature of all of our systems. We do not have the money to make any system fully redundant. Earthquakes swamp health systems as well. Did we build empty hospitals in Christchurch after the quakes populated with doctors and nurses who do nothing but wait for the next earthquake? No we do not that is ridiculous. We cannot be ready for every disaster. At times health systems will be swamped and people will die because of that. That is the system we have.

Lockdown will not stop them getting swamped. It will probably delay it. But only as long as we stay in lockdown. The only way we can leave lockdown and not have the outbreak (according to the Imperial College modelling that everyone seems to have put their faith in) is if there is a vaccine. We have no reason to believe there will be a vaccine anytime in the next 6 months. We have no reason to believe there will ever be one. You yourself say this virus is so new we don't know much about it. So how do we know there will be a vaccine.

Health professionals and epidemiologists are not the only people who should be giving advise when we are talking about shutting down most of society. We should be talking to anthropologists and behavioural economists and psychologists. They will have a better idea of the cost of lockdown than health care professionals and epidemiologists.

This is a giant experiment. We have no way of knowing that we can maintain a lockdown as a society for 4 weeks let alone 3 months. We cannot maintain it economically. If we don't generate any wealth how to fund our health system? Credit will only work for a little while once the bond vigilantes get a sniff of our government printing money for people to do nothing indefinitely and not just for four weeks, do you think people will loan to us? I wouldn't. Especially with everything else going on.

Lockdown will have a massive social and economic cost to be sure. And it seems we will have the outbreak anyway given it is unlikely we can stay in lockdown until we get a vaccine.

So why don't we just have it now before we are completely bankrupt?

Great summary.

Life is more than economics. For an economist the good Samaritan ought to have crossed the road. For economists it makes sense to cull the over 70s - saving health and super expenditure and releasing the houses that our govts have not built. And Hitler must have been right with the elimination of the mentally subnormal and physically handicapped.
We need to value live but best to keep it rather fuzzy and emotional. As an example liver transplants are rationed by the availability of healthy spare livers. We shouldn't have some kind of competition to decide who is most worthy (youngest, brainiest, best looking, most family members who would miss them, etc) but on the other hand my relative who has damaged his liver by excessive consumption of alcohol for thirty years ought not to be at the top of the list.

How true - "no shit jobs, only shit wages".

I don't know who Robert Brockway is, but this twitter comment is brutal.
"So the new GOP talking point is 'the death toll might be as low as 1%. We should sacrifice the 1% for a working economy.' I agree. Let's talk about which 1%."


This is answer to your question.
it is not a choice.
If you adopt "policy" of not reacting fast enough and refusing to lockdown, result is a lot more deaths.
A VERY LOT more.

I think this is the correct link:
The link you shared will only work on your computer.


Thats not true no one has said that anywhere and the data do not point to that.
Lockdown delays the outbreak according to the modelling we are using to justify lockdown. It does not result in more or less death per se, it simply buys time.

But time for what? A vaccine that may never come?

Or time for us to prepare our health system better how? there is a massive global demand on all the same stuff to fight the disease. And trained doctors and nusrses aren't in big supply either?

We are basing out lockdown decision on hope. Nothing else. We might as well just start praying.

Economy is based on credit and thin margins.
Recession means (more like Depression) people will default.
Hence governments doing all they can (along with Fed) to stop defaults, just like have been doing since 2008.
Except this time it cannot be done, not even if Fed prints $20t dollars and US deficit goes to $30t 7 years ahead of schedule.
This is (for next 4-6 months) the biggest economic shock in economic history.
Let that sink in a bit.
Things are not going to go back to normal.
Unemployment in NZ will probably go to 15% for about 2 years.
China is not going to go back to normal. Neither is foreign travel.
This is a global reset and it will go on for years

Yes. And what we need, although there is little chance of this eventuating, is a move away from debt being the principle source of money and finance. Debt is, after all, a human creation and yet we have allowed our economies to be totally enslaved by it. Isn't it outrageous that we can't put the economy on hold for 1-2 months without being concerned about the coming Great Depression 2.0? A more rational system would not collapse like a house of cards. For that, we need two things: 1) Abolish fractional reserve, 2) Make equity investment the principle source of finance.

Possibly a little late for the comment stream of this article, but there are many educated and opinionated readers on this site whose opinion I am interested in.

What policies and policy goals would you like to see the Government enact post the COVID crisis?

Some sort of tax that affects owners of multiple properties more than anybody else. Land value tax preferred.
Bank deposit insurance would be nice too. And immigration slowdown...

Right , everything you always wanted , virus or no virus. Makes perfect sense ...

Discussion and target number for maximum NZ population.

Discussion to include per-head desired consumption, indeed this should drive #!.

Goal of zero physical growth, subsequent goal of rehabilitation (of that which has beed degraded).

Timeframes for all three.

Policy - apply a value to economic resilience. Things like having a reserve of critical items and people (eg ventilators, nurses).

All political parties have to work out the Coronavirus policy that will get the most votes. " The politician that puts Peter's life at risk to economically benefit Paul can always rely on the support of Paul".

Some countries such as Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore are keeping their economy going with their shops and businesses staying open by adopting policies if test and track. They are testing anyone with symptoms and then tracking all their contacts and testing them. Need to have capacity to test and track though:

The chair of the health select committee told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “If you look at what’s happening in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, they’ve actually managed to keep their offices, shops and restaurants open.

“But they do that by having a mass programme of testing, which means that anyone who has suspected Covid-19 symptoms is immediately tested, everyone they’ve met in the recent past is also tested, and that means you can stay on top of the virus and keep the economy functioning.

“So when we get through this phase and then we think about what is going to happen in the six months to a year that we have to wait for a vaccine to come, if we want to avoid these kind of lockdowns that we’re seeing all over Europe then mass testing is the way to do it.” See

As for CV, Lockdown etc. In any catastrophe, initially the human loses will loom large and will be the focus. As time goes by, the other losses will become clearer and the economic loses will assume more importance. As in War situations too. Wars will start to protect people, but will end with protecting assets.
We are still in the early stages in CV. Two more months or less, the shift in thinking may manifest more.

Don should propose a referendum on the total number of deaths NZ can live with, pun not intended.

What happened to flattening the curve? Good luck with trying to eliminate it. Places that are having the virus rip through will be open for business and looking for lots of young immigrants. Good luck keeping the next generation stuck on the pensioner isolation islands with 80% unemployment in their age group. The first party that steps forward with a better plan than waiting around for a vaccine will sweep to victory. I think I might apply for a green card. New York will probably need some more punters when the dust settles.

Don Brash was also the supporter of policies that would have seen land banking and speculator behaviour disappear that would have allowed affordable housing and then the saved money to be reinvested in building a warm, dry, healthy house.

The very precise type of house you need to provide a healthy environment to lessen your risk of catching nasties like COVI 19.

Oh the irony Chris.

He gets no support for policies in 'peace' time to save lives and money, and yet gets the blame for discussing the very same subject when he points out that there is an economic cost to being reactive.

And good skills how you managed to raise the subject and third party any dissent on it onto Don Brash.

Nex minute you will be telling us you have a 'friend' that has a certain rash.....

Do not know how many have the virus because NOT testing anyone with no symptoms.
People with no symptoms are NEVERTHELESS infectious.
So, not testing them means they remain uncounted as cases.
Need to test at random in each sub area to get an idea of REAL number infected and can then start quarantining them. No one is doing this but it is what S Korea and China did do.
NZ is doing a better job than other countries but DoH (appropriate ) not up to the job.
Testing only people with symptoms who have been abroad or in touch with someone who has been abroad recently, does not cut it.On same subject, police enforcement is far too mild at present. Young people perhaps most likely to be unsymptomatic but infectious and hence most dangerous to those most likely to be most vulnerable - ie people over 70. Why is the media and government not able to transmit this message effectively?

Brilliant analysis Chris, thanks!

You paint Brash as being something akin to the conscience of the nation; the only one who poses the tough questions. Well, I see him as a querulous old man who resents his irrelevancy. he had his moment in the sun at Orewa many years ago and would like it back. Most Kiwis just ignore him now.
It's easy to pose the question, but rather less so to answer it. However, Sweden may be in the process of doing just that. Unlike all its neighbouring countries, it is not in lockdown and life is currently continuing much as normal. Thus, we have a real life experiment playing out in front of us and will be able to judge the result soon. My bet? As soon as the deaths start ramping up, life there will change drastically.

nd that pretty well nails our, the worlds economic issues pre Covid.
Where would we be with out the guy picking up the rubbish, or the girl on the end of the production line popping Sistema plastic container handles onto the base..
It is these people that buy the goods that keep the economy going.. The more they buy the better the economy, yet dont get paid enough to grow the economy anymore
They are also the same ppl who put the gunpowder into shells in War time..
The same people whos taxes pay for the pharmacy drugs and operations of our aging population.. like me..
A generation who once would put their lives forward for the betterment (economically and socially) of of younger generations... and many still would, if where allowed to do so.
This is not so much a issue of the modern politician, but an issue of a population who for several generations has never seen or lived thru a major war or life threatening crisis.
The 1st generations in the history of mankind.
Generations of entitlement ....
And that is what the modern professional politicians now need to play to to maintain their salaries.
The question is
Will we pull out and start to recover like China if a vaccine is not found in the next few months, and how?
If a vaccine is not found how will we protect our population from covid 19 and re build at the same time?
A tuff call, calls made by politicians, we have seen in history pre our modern entitled generations.
Time , history will tell if our isolation as per villages in the great plague, will work.