Tag Archives: Capitalism

Myth busting Omicron – or no, we didn’t have to live with the virus.

A lot of conservative governments justify their policies during this pandemic with the mantra that we all have to ‘live with Covid’.

Why? Apparently because we’re all going to get it eventually.

Even a relatively trusted source like Dr John Campbell maintains that ‘everyone will get Omicron’ – supposedly because it’s so contagious. Yet the actual numbers don’t add up, even in the UK.

This is a screenshot I took this morning which shows the total number of people infected with Covid-19 in the UK…since the pandemic began:

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases?areaType=overview&areaName=United%20Kingdom

The comments in red and green are mine. I wanted to see how many people in the UK had not had any of the Covid-19 variants. The number ended up being 50 million.

Now I know that the official figures don’t include those who were infected but had only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so I’m going to double the official figure from 18 million to 36 million.

Revised estimate of people infected with Covid-19 variants = 36 million

When you subtract 36M from 68M you get 32M who have never been infected with any of the Covid-19 variants, and that’s after two years and multiple variants, including Omicron B1. Curiously, data from the UK seems to show that 68% of those infected with Omicron have been re-infected. In other words, previous exposure did not give them immunity against the variant.

Why am I banging on about stats and who has or hasn’t been infected in the UK? The answer is simple:

  • I hate grand sweeping generalisations that are not based on actual data and,
  • much of what we do here in Australia seems to reflect the trends happening in the UK… and the conservative government there wants to open up completely, based on the narrative that everyone will get the virus anyway, so they may as well make the best of it.

The truth is a little more nuanced. According to everything I understand about herd immunity, you need to have at least 70% of the total population immune to a virus for the herd immunity effect to kick in. Not just recovered from the infection but actually immune to it.

Why 70%? because that’s roughly the number of immune people you need to stop the virus from being able to replicate – i.e. spread through the community:

Herd immunity ‘ring fences’ the virus

Essentially, people who have already had the infection – and are immune to it – crowd out the new infections, so even if someone is sick and shedding the virus all over the place, that virus is falling on people who are already immune so it can’t replicate. It’s been ring-fenced.

So let’s have a look at the UK. Are they at 70% yet?

No, they’re not. More importantly, immunity gained from earlier variants of the virus doesn’t seem to provide immunity against the current variants.

In other words, having had the virus once does not guarantee you won’t get the virus again, and that means there can be no herd immunity.

The lack of herd immunity means that those who have never had the virus are not protected. Therefore, learning to ‘live with the virus’ has nothing to do with protecting the vulnerable. It is ALL about protecting the economy.

Let me be more specific. The policy of living with the virus is essentially throwing all the vulnerable members of the population under the bus. Some will live, some won’t.

So who are these vulnerable people?

They include all the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers for sure, but they also include those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons – i.e. because the vaccine would have a negative reaction with their particular medication or treatment – or those with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccines are much less effective. But the list also includes those who have been fully vaccinated.

The current crop of vaccines were developed for the earlier variants and are much less effective against Omicron, so in a way, we’re right back at the start of the pandemic when we didn’t have any vaccines at all. Until a vaccine specifically designed to target Omicron and its siblings comes along, even being fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection.

Yes, Omicron et al., may be milder than Delta, but it’s not mild. Calling it ‘mild’ instead of ‘milder’ was a neat bit of spin to justify opening up completely. Only now are we seeing how deadly this ‘mild’ virus actually is.

So why are our governments getting away with this? The answer is rather brutal: right from the start, they told people that “…only the elderly, the disabled or those with ‘co-morbidities’ will die so…don’t panic”.

The nett effect of this messaging has been to make the age groups most likely to spread the virus resent those most likely to die from it.

Why should young, healthy people have to suffer lockdowns and restrictions to save a bunch of people who are probably ‘going to die anyway’?

I believe that question, and the resentment that goes with it, is why conspiracy theories have gained such traction. People don’t want to admit how they feel so they latch onto mad stories about legitimate targets – i.e. governments and large corporations.

To be honest, my trust in governments and large corporations is pretty damn low, but the bottom line is that the people in these age groups want to live with Covid…because they don’t think it will affect them. They believe they are immortal so they don’t consider the possibility that they might have a ‘co-morbidity’ without knowing it. They don’t think about long Covid, and what it could do to the rest of their lives. They just resent having those lives interrupted for the sake of a bunch of people they don’t care about anyway.

Which brings me to a rather painful question: if a majority of people in a democracy want to let people die, is a government justified in giving them what they want?

I believe the answer is no. Once elected, the representatives of any democratic government are bound to protect everyone in that democracy, even those who voted against them or those who may have become a ‘liability’.

Protecting all members of society is the cornerstone of the social contract our parents accepted on our behalf when we were born: we give a select group of people a certain amount of power over us in exchange for the protection of the group. Why else obey laws or pay taxes?

Once that core promise of society is broken, trust dies and society falls apart.

We don’t talk about trust much, but everything in society depends on it. Trust allows us to use bits of paper as ‘money’. Trust allows us to walk around without being in fear of our lives. At its most basic, trust allows us to trust others.

Trust in government and ‘the capitalist system’ has been falling for decades now. I truly fear for the future of Western democracies.

Meeks


Politics – do we really care?

I’ve always had a problem with ‘-isms’ – communism, socialism, facism, capitalism, republicanism, you name it – because they all seem to miss the point about people. Homo Sapiens doesn’t give a flying fruit bat about politics until things go wrong.

I was a kid in the late Menzies era of Australia [1949-1966], and I remember hearing some adults moan about elections while others moaned about the general apathy of the Australian voter. You see, in Australia, we have compulsory voting…and the times were good.

In fact, by the early 60’s, the populations of the Western world were better off, generally, than they had ever been before. Not quite the age of surplus envisioned by Marx, but close, and some of us really were able to live ‘…from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ That’s what the Age of Aquarius, Flower Power and Free Love were really all about.

Yet, on an individual level, despite the lack of scarcity, we still suffered from greed and envy and other ‘first world’ problems as we see-sawed between co-operation and competition. Because that is how the human animal is made – neither saint nor sinner but a combination of both.

And in a roundabout way, our dual nature is exactly why compulsory voting should be mandatory in all representational democracies. Voters are human and apathetic…and the silent majority doesn’t give a shit. That is why we have to be forced into protecting democracy, because democracy only works if the apathetic majority moderates the extremes on both the Right and the Left.

If I had my way, I would do away with all career politicians entirely. Instead, I would replace them with ordinary people, plucked off the street as for jury duty. These reluctant amateurs would bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the table, but their very reluctance might result in some genuine ‘…government of the people, for the people, by the people’.

Human beings won’t change, ever. That’s why we have to devise better systems to make it possible for this disparate tribe to live together in mutual protection and safety.

Only by understanding and working around our own weaknesses can we avoid going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo.

May 2018 be a better year than 2017.

Meeks


The problem with capitalism…in a ball

Unless you’re a golfer, you probably don’t think about golf balls. But a new US lawsuit about these little dimpled spheres has an economics lesson for all shoppers, showing why consumers have cause for concern when companies use court for sport. Costco, the wholesale membership club, rocked the golf world in 2016 when it started…

via A lawsuit over Costco golf balls shows why we can’t have nice things cheap — Quartz

The practice of Capitalism is more people-friendly than say, Totalitarianism, because it requires people to be consumers, and that is something people are happy to be. But to work properly, Capitalism requires the checks and balances of a healthy, competitive marketplace.

Using the law as a way to get rid of the competition may be ‘legal’ and ‘clever’, but it’s also a bully’s scam. The law is meant to be an equalizer, not a weapon. Frivolous legal action should have punitive consequences. While it does not, the law becomes complicit in the scam.

Perhaps I’m naive. Okay, I know I’m naive, but I did not expect the companies being bullied to accepted the inequity of their situation without protest. Excuse me? You’ve just lost your company for no good reason, and you grudgingly admire the tactic that made you lose?

Is this really the way we want our world to run?

In Australia, we have something called the ‘pub test’. If the common man in the pub thinks something stinks, then the authorities need to take action, even if it isn’t strictly illegal, because there’s the letter of the law, and then there’s the spirit of the law, and we all know the difference.

Meeks


Capitalism vs Competition

In theory,  the thing that makes capitalism work is competition. When competition is alive and well, it balances the normal drive of capitalist companies to maximize profit. In short, you get a healthy economic system, one that works well with human nature.

But what happens when those companies can avoid competition? Or become so powerful they can stifle competition altogether?

The answer can be found in the link below:

http://venturebeat.com/2014/09/01/how-big-telcos-are-smothering-city-run-broadband-services/

In the US, small to medium sized cities that are NOT serviced by the big communications companies [because they are too small to show a profit] can offer their residents a non-commercial broadband network. This network is often faster than that offered by the big telcos.

In the Venturebeat article, we see what happens when the big telcos get worried by competition from these non-commercial networks. Not pretty.

Things are different here in Australia, but only because we are behind the times. I truly wish our municipal councils offered high speed broad to the homes in their areas. That would be a fantastic innovation. We can but hope.

cheers

Meeks

 


Diversity and supermarket shelves

big supermarket 2

courtesy of wikimedia.org

Has anyone else noticed how little true diversity there is in our supermarkets?

We have a staggering amount of food for sale, but most of it comes from the same, few manufacturers. And the bigger the supermarket chain, the fewer the actual brands they carry.

Now I understand that supermarkets are businesses, and to succeed they have to give customers the products they want, but why do we have to have half a mile of breakfast cereal all starting with a ‘K’? Or soups all starting with… nevermind.

Now contrast that first photo with this one :

Courtesy of teachandtravelblogspot.com

Courtesy of teachandtravelblogspot.com

This is a supermarket in Iringa, Africa. The thing that struck me was the lack of blinding patterns on the shelves. Yes, it is a very, very small supermarket, and you or I would probably not find what we wanted on those shelves, but you must admit the produce has variety!

I personally do most of my shopping at the smaller supermarkets, like IGA, [Independent Grocers Association] because :

a. The fresh produce, including meat, is fresher, and so I waste less food [and money],

b. The smaller supermarkets actually have far more choice in terms of grocery products. For example I can buy Jalna sour cream at IGA. I can’t buy it ‘S…way’.

c. If I ask my local IGA to bring in a product for me, 9/10 they will.

The times when I do go to the Big Two supermarkets it’s usually to stock up on cheap items like toilet paper, or a particular brand of cat food.

So what’s going on? Are the Big Two supermarkets doing what bookstores do, and selling premium shelf space to the highest bidder? [You did know bookstores did that, right? That’s why bestsellers are shown with the cover out, or on tables, or in the front window. Or maybe that’s how they become bestsellers – by being so visible].

Anyway, my point is that those miles and miles of one brand items do more than just restrict the choices available to consumers, they restrict competition as well. And competition is the cornerstone of Capitalism.  The instant you allow a few players to monopolize supply and demand, you are undermining the whole capitalist system.

We can see the effects all over the world as capitalism mutates into corporatism. However, nowhere is it more in your face than with food. Food, like air, is a basic commodity that no one can do without, yet if you look at the supply chain you will see that a few ginormous multinational companies control most of the seeds used in agriculture. That translates into food production.

That raw food is then taken, and manufactured by a few more multinationals, who then sell it to other corporations who control food distribution – i.e. supermarkets. And the end result is lots of ‘stuff’ that is all basically the same.

If you walk down the aisles of your local supermarket you will see a Who’s Who of the biggest companies on earth. And we put them there.

We could change this status quo by not buying certain brands, but how realistic is that when we have so little real choice about what to buy?

In many ways, this lack of choice is the direct result of killing off the small deli’s, the small greengrocers, and the small butcher shops of yesteryear. Those small businesses epitomized what Capitalism was meant to be. But of course, whenever you have competition there is the expectation that someone will ‘win’, and the corporates have won.

R.I.P. consumer choice. 😦

Meeks


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