australia covid lockdown protest
© Getty
Anti-lockdown protesters clash with police on Barkers Road in Hawthorn, Australia, September 18, 2021.
Third World v. First World: what's the difference? In a nutshell, the way they make public policy.

For the most part, policy in First World nations is not ideological, but process-oriented. It is required to pass two tests:
  • A test of liberty (the government must not interfere in our life without a strong justification).
  • A test of reason (the justification so provided must be evidence-based and transparent).
These tests are operationalised through the regime of a cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

Many people are suspicious about CBAs, which they think are created by 'money-minded' economists who put a 'value' on life - something people believe is an impossibility. And indeed, the life of our family members and our friends, cannot be valued on any known metric.

But when taxpayer money is involved, a calculation of trade-offs becomes inevitable.

We don't have an infinite bucket of money to spend on a single thing, such as Covid. That same money is also needed to treat cancer, to build hospitals and roads, and for police and defence. We need a way to equalise across all sectors the wellbeing we purchase from our tax dollars, lest we spend it disproportionately on a single thing to the detriment of everything else.

Economics is a branch of moral philosophy.

A number of early philosophers struggled to find a method to compare the value added to society (or reduced) by different government actions. Bentham's utilitarianism seemed best placed to do so, by ranking everyone's happiness and wellbeing the same. Today, large-scale 'Life Satisfaction' surveys assess how happy people are.

In 1968, the idea arose of splitting life into the number of years of happiness available. A quality-adjusted life year (QALY) combines the length of life and quality of life into a single number. It is the bedrock of almost all health sector CBAs.

The University of Melbourne's Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell observed in relation to Covid (on September 19, 2020) that, 'Decision-makers must consider the role of QALY. In simple terms, it assumes that a life near its end, whether because of disease or advanced age, is empirically different to a healthy life closer to its beginning.'

Since 2019, we have a new kid on the block: WELLBY (wellbeing year).

Proposed by Paul Frijters, a WELLBY captures the kinds of harms to human wellbeing (such as lost relationships, heightened anxiety, or lost motivation) that are difficult to capture in traditional ways. WELLBYs are capable of being converted into QALYs.

Thus, we have the tools today to evaluate the impact of lockdowns, border closures, and mandatory masks on the overall wellbeing of people, not just their impact on any Covid deaths reduced. Reduction in educational inputs (such as school closures or schools operating from home) has a long-term impact on the future earning capacity of students to purchase wellbeing. We can convert this loss of earning capacity into reduced ability to purchase wellbeing.

Prior to March 2020, there was bipartisan support from both major parties for such policy analysis. Australia has tens of consulting organisations with expertise in CBAs. We could have commissioned the best of them to provide a preliminary CBA. That would have taken 2-3 days of work. I have no doubt that such information would have confirmed that lockdowns - which are taken straight from communist China's playbook - are a harmful policy that must never be adopted in Australia.

Australia's Covid policy response has been driven entirely by primal fear and hysteria, with reason playing no role. Until today, no Australian state or federal governments have commissioned a CBA.

In mid-2020, Professor Gigi Foster of the University of New South Wales, had prepared on her own CBA for Victoria. Last year, she decided to update it and broaden it to cover the whole of Australia. I have assisted her over the past 8-9 months on this project. She has published a PDF of the Executive Summary of the CBA.

Its highlights are:
  1. The government has lied about the magnitude of the Covid pandemic, which is 50-500 times less lethal than the Spanish flu. Once we consider the fact that Covid kills mainly the elderly, its effective lethality is even less.
  2. Lockdowns have prevented a maximum of around 10,000 Covid deaths during 2020-21 in Australia, not the 40,000 lives Mr Morrison claims to have saved.
  3. There were at least 7,940 additional non-Covid deaths from lockdowns in the first two years of the pandemic (in fact, there were more: ABS data shows over 3,000 excess cancer deaths just in 2021 of people so terrorised by the lockdowns and hysteria in 2020 that they did not get their cancer identified and treated in time).
  4. Every policy-driven harm that reduces our lifespan or earning power, every harm to our children, and every harm through reduced capacity of the government to buy wellbeing is added up in the CBA. Gigi Foster estimates that the harms from lockdowns exceed any benefits by at least thirty-six times.
This CBA's estimate is not an outlier. It is consistent with innumerable CBAs that have by now been published across the world which show similar (or even greater) orders of magnitude of harm from lockdowns.

While the full CBA will perhaps be published later in a book form, its Executive Summary is sufficient to destroy the innumerable falsehoods we have been told over the past two years.
Sanjeev Sabhlok is contesting the seat of Menzies under the Australian Federation Party