Merit and Morals: WEF Davos Agenda Panel With Prof. Michael Sandel

Being on the other side of the Earth from the majority of partipants at the WEF Davos Agenda, I fell behind on the video feeds of their discussions.

I combed through the remainder of talks the following week and I found very interesting this discussion between moderator Ngaire Woods and panellist Michael Sandel “Renewing The Moral Foundations Of A Post-COVID World“.

Woods stated that in large part the discussion concentrated on the ideas that Sandel, a Professor at Harvard University, presented in his book “The Tyranny Of Merit”, published September 2020, and also in this TED talk.

(I have ordered the book which has not yet arrived, but I have a backlog of reading – I am currently reading “In Defence of Open Society” by George Soros and “COVID-19: The Great Reset” by Schwabb and Malleret, the latter to see how closely the ideas fit with my essay published several months before it “The Great Reset”)

The essence of Prof. Sandel’s views is that the people considered successful in our modern society do not comprehend the degree of luck that they experienced in their “success”, leading to a humility deficit from the “winners” and a pervasive view that underprivileged “losers” are responsible for their challenged life circumstance which even they believe.

I found a great deal of common ground with Prof. Sandel including in my writing about my own career, especially in comments from several years ago before launching MacroEdgo, and in other relevant musings in various places and in my essays including “Your Life: Something the elites have always been prepared to sacrifice for their ends“, “The Magic Sauce Of American Economic Dynamism Is Not Based On Personal Greed“, “People Before Money“, “What Really Scares The Global Elite“, “Why The Rush Messrs. Morrison And Frydenberg“, and “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic“. 

In actual fact my musings were very similar at times as evidenced, for example, in this writing from February 2018 which I reposted early at MacroEdgo in “Smarties To Exploit Monetarily (STEM): Australia does not value human capital“:

I made [this point] to my son’s teachers when I accompanied their class to the Queensland primary school leadership forum two years ago [in 2016]. (Now being a stay at home dad, I am fortunate to have these wonderful opportunities to help out teachers, the children and my sons.)

An amazing assemblage of “winners” was put together to inspire the children – including the young scientist that was in the running to go to Mars – and they were all keen to share the secrets of their “success”, many even having the humility to admit that fortune was indeed a factor. But it was clear that none truly understood just how big a factor it was (perhaps it is only natural to focus on what we actually contributed to our “success”).

I suggested to the teachers that we only heard from the “winners”, and while their messages were very worthwhile, the children would also do well from hearing from some of the many equally talented and equally resilient people that for any number of reasons did not quite “make it”. The teachers gave polite affirmation to the comment, but it’s probably something that one can not fully appreciate unless you can truly understand it from personal experience or from observing it at close hand.

And in my Coronavirus Update published 18 March 2020, just one week after the WHO “made the assessment that COVID-19 could be characterised as a pandemic“, I stated:

Finally, I might make mention of sports stars. I understand the arguments being made about them being concerned about their families as well as their own health if they are going about their usual lives routinely and playing professional sport. But there are two points here. That is no different to those people working in vital services who are at far higher risk. What is more, generally they get paid much, much less than professional sports people in high profile sports. The simple reality is that sports people are able to earn such high incomes because they provide distraction from the modern reality for people. And there has never been a greater time for the need of distraction as we are about to experience most of the developed world in lockdown. In the sport that I follow most closely, rugby league, in big matches they talk about “going to war”. I really think these people need to give very careful consideration to why it is that they have such a privileged position within our society. And I will say this, if in this hour of need they do not find the courage to play the role for which they are so handsomely rewarded, then I think once this is all over we need to make some major changes. They should not be taking home income that is many, many multiples of the income of people who make real differences in the lives of people while putting their own in jeopardy. Undoubtedly the revenue is there in the sports, but there needs to be some sort of equalization taxation so that that income flows through to real heroes of society.

Prof. Sandel believes that the febrile politics of the moment has its origins in this winners versus losers mentality. I agree, but there is also an element of belief amongst the disadvantaged that the “game” never was fair for various reasons.

I largely agree with Prof. Sandel that this competition is unhealthy and in my writing I tend to refer to it as “toxic aspiration” rather than tyrranical merit.

Prof. Sandel made the point in his WEF panel, as he does in his TED talk, that at Harvard there are more students from just the top 1% of wealthy US households than from all of the bottom 50%, highlighting the benefits that accrue to the elites and entrench their inter-generational advantage. Obviously I agree strongly with this view.

In “Your Life: Something the elites have always been prepared to sacrifice for their ends” I made the point that the elites that I respected “are those who authentically understand the privilege that they have enjoyed, usually from birth by virtue of the luck of being born in a developed country or into middle class even if they consider themselves ‘self-made’, as well as respect and appreciate relationships with other human beings especially the people who loved and guided them.”  I elaborated a little further on what is admirable behaviour amongst elites in  “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic“.

Where I departed slightly from Prof. Sandel’s views was his discussion of “merit” and meritocracy where he seemed to suggest that the advantage that those in the top one percent of wealth received ended at their acceptance into university as if merit then took over as the main determinant of their “success” from that point on.

If this is an accurate perception of Prof. Sandel’s views then they are entirely analogous to this depiction of the situation of advantage and disadvantage in America, “The $100 race” – an exercise that I deeply appreciate and often talk about and/or mention in my commentary – where after the advantaged are given greater and greater advantage dependent on their own personal circumstances, being more of a head start in a sprint race, and then the race is run freely without further advantage applied through the race.

It is a brilliant demonstration of the challenges disadvantaged young Americans face in their lives, making the point that irrespective of those disadvantages these people still need to run their own race to the best of their abilities. It also demonstrates to the advantaged young Americans how much fortune has favoured them even before their race began, no matter how much they wish to claim their successes as being due entirely or mostly to their own unique combination of hard and smart work.

While it is a good representation, and can teach both the advantaged and disadvantaged important lessons, the truth is that is not a perfect model.

In both cases – the $100 race and Prof. Sandel’s example of meritocracy – it needs to be reflected that the relative advantage does not work to a certain point after which outcomes are determined on merit from innate characters and learned skills. Just as the system was not a genuine meritocracy through to that point, the same factors act to ensure that merit after that point is not the determining factor in outcomes.

If somebody has an enormous advantage on being accepted into a prestigious university based on family connections, those same connections will work to their advantage for their entire life.

Throughout societies we know prejudice and bias acts to affect outcomes on groups of people for entire lives.

I discussed this in “Quotas Are Necessary To Address Workplace Diversity“, with the following concept diagrams (of the level of positions within a profession with the very broad base being the lowest level positions and the peak being the very highest positions that can be attained), and I pick up again on the theme in the companion essay to this one “Racial Prejudice And Bias: A matter of degrees” which I will post imminently.

Advantaged Subgroup

Entire Group

Disadvantage Subgroup

For the $100 race to accurately reflect this lifelong advantage, after everybody was advanced (i.e. handicapped) according to the relative privilege they were born into and experienced in their youth, the disadvantaged would be hobbled or carry additional weight to varying degrees while the advantaged would run with various strength rocket boosters fitted to shoes which added to their favourable situation through the entire race.

As I reflected on this during drafting I realised what a good model the children’s board game “Snakes and Ladders” (“Chutes and Ladders” in some countries) was for the real life situation. This was confirmed as I researched the game. 

From Wikipedia:

The game is a simple race based on sheer luck, and it is popular with young children.[2] The historic version had its roots in morality lessons, on which a player’s progression up the board represented a life journey complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes)

The wiki does a great job of explaining the odds of the game:

Any version of snakes and ladders can be represented exactly as an absorbing Markov chain, since from any square the odds of moving to any other square are fixed and independent of any previous game history.[5] The Milton Bradley version of Chutes and Ladders has 100 squares, with 19 chutes and ladders. A player will need an average of 39.2 spins to move from the starting point, which is off the board, to square 100. A two-player game is expected to end in 47.76 moves with a 50.9% chance of winning for the first player.[20] These calculations are based on a variant where throwing a six does not lead to an additional roll; and where the player must roll the exact number to reach square 100 and if they overshoot it their counter does not move.

Again there is the same shortcoming, however, and it is highlighted in the description of probabilities here, “from any square the odds of moving to any other square are fixed and independent of any previous game history.” In real life this is not the case. For example, by changing only the name on a resume – indicative of different ethnicities – the likelihood of being selected to progress further in the selection process for a job can be very significantly altered.

Thus we must recognise that, for the standard “Snakes and Ladders” game as an analogy for lives lived, there are a multitude of different boards which we play on. The most advantaged in society have a board with a greater proportion of more positive life events – i.e. more and longer ladders. People born into disadvantage have a board which has proportionately more and larger snakes or chutes and fewer ladders to reflect the reduced odds of “success”.

What board we play on is determined before our birth.

That is not merit or even our own fortune, for those who like to believe statements like “we make our own fortune”.

As I reflected further on this I realised that this could be reflected in a modified “Snake and Ladders” board with the slight problem that there is no natural end to the game because there is no common goal – or square – that we all arrive on when the goal relates to “success” as measured by wealth. That is fitting, however, because all of our paths are different and we all reach different endpoints. Moreover it allows for infinite wealth because that becomes the reality for many fortunates or advantaged in that no matter how much “success ” at accumulating wealth is achieved they still are driven to achieve more.

On this board, the game starts at -10 months reflecting that chance exists at the moment life is conceived. There are an infinite number of squares because the vertical axis (“success towards wealth”) is infinite, but as we all know, the horizontal axis of time (“age”) is finite. Of course the game progresses from left to right – as yet we have found no wormholes to take us back in age! 

On conception the player immediately moves to a square, but unlike in the traditional game, the higher your position on the board – i.e. the more fortune you have experienced – the more likely you are to experience even more good fortune. The higher up the board your trajectory the higher the proportion and the longer the ladders are and the fewer, shorter snakes or chutes, increasing the probability of a rapid climb. And so on it goes upwards towards infinity.

We know that children conceived to parents in the poorest countries are far more likely to suffer adverse outcomes from the moment of conception and in some countries infant mortality is such that 10% of babies die before 5 years of age.

Below are a few stylised examples of lifepaths on this modified “Snakes and Ladders” board. First is a stylised indication of the average middle class American born around 1960 (note this has became an increasingly less common pathway as the middle class has been hollowed out with the trajectory of more moving lower rather than higher). Perhaps we can say at that line the snakes/chutes and ladders are as per the standard board, and as indicated on the figure, the further above or below this line the more the proportions shift in a favourable or unfavourable manner. Note that all healthy babies born in the developed world start out at or above the line on the x-axis because of the societal resources available, whereas only the healthy babies born to the most wealthy in the developing world are above that line.

Following are examples of life paths, including for:

I did not know anything about Bezos’ early life before reading this, and while his achievements are commendable given the challenges he faced very early in life, together with his mother, nothing there changed my views on the validity of these arguments. He may be an extremely intelligent and driven guy, but he is also the ultimate “winner” in the “success towards wealth” game – being the wealthiest person on Earth at present – and one only needs to wonder how an unborn baby, with all the same potential as he had, would progress if conceived to a poor rural Angolan family. 

Can you just begin to imagine how much human potential is lost globally because of inequality?

While these paths are presented as lines on a graph, the reader should consider that if they zoomed into those lines or elsewhere on the board – as if increasing the magnification of a microscope – then the intricate grid with snakes/chutes and ladders would be revealed (whereas on a microscope slide with greater magnification the view can change from a whole invertebrate animal, then to organ systems and finally to individual cells).

Of course there are very many facets to a human life, and in many ways that is what Prof. Sandel alludes to, as do I in placing “success” within inverted commas. One of those concepts is happiness and some nations are even attempting to account for this in their decision-making.

If a third dimension or axis were added – for “contentment with life” (in my view a deeper appreciation for life than simply “happiness”) – research suggests that the relationship between it and “success towards wealth” breaks down rapidly above a certain level of wealth which is further evidence that this competition and “toxic aspiration” is indeed unhealthy. But that is another conversation.

Finally, Prof. Sandel speaks to the need for renewing the dignity of work and placing it at the centre of our politics. The quote (above) from my Coronavirus Update on 18 March shows that I, too, am passionate on this point. I certainly agree that dignified work has been an important factor for humanity to this point in our development and it will remain so. I believe, however, that the changes that humanity has reached with the fourth industrial revolution is going to affect our relationship with work as artificial intelligence and automated equipment increasingly carries out necessary functions for societies. I discussed this in detail in “Theme 6: More Time For Personal Fulfillment” on my Investment Themes page.

This enormous change is and will continue to necessitate a major adjustment in society in how we contribute and what are our perceptions of those contributions. After reading Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia For Realists” I immediately became a supporter of the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) and I believe it must be central to affording a dignified life for all.

I am a little concerned, however, that the attachment of those on the left of politics with the dignity of work meme may cause them to misunderstand these profound changes . Humanity does not need more work for work’s sake out of anxiety that people will not cope with the change. Societies need to embrace the concept of participation including personal reflection and development, as well as other altruistic activities. My experience is that this inflexibility creates a bias against and rejection of UBI by many on the left which I find disappointing as it could be an integral aspect of inclusion in a dignified society.

In doing my ‘due diligence’ prior to publishing this post – my new practise since writing “The Great Reset: Momentum builds with the World Economic Forum agenda” – I learned that others have associated the boardgame “Snakes and Ladders” with Prof Sandel’s views. The theme was incorporated into this animation and it was the title of this book review but it was behind a paywall so I could not read what was written. These are the only two instances of association that I identified in my brief Google search.

I consider Prof. Sandel’s to be a significant contribution to understanding contemporary politics and socioeconomics. 

“The Fallacy of Merit” could very well have been chosen as the title for his book and related works, but to do so would miss the point that Prof. Sandal’s view is that a perfect meritocracy, if achieveable, should not be the end goal for society.

As an avid Bloomberg viewer the repetition of their advertisements can grow tiresome  and at present the interview between David Rubenstein and Oprah Winfrey has been overplayed. It grates with me for one reason in particular. I have a generally positive view of Winfrey and, without knowing very many specific details about her life, I have a vague perception that she overcame significant personal hurdles to achieve her success which allows me to relate to the general admiration western society has for her. Moreover, there is no doubting she has used her enormous profile to advance many important issues especially relating to women and civil rights.

Rubenstein encourages Winfrey to talk about her early career as a journalist, and Winfrey recounts how her best friend thought it was great that at 22 years of age she was earning $22,000 and excitedly suggests that she might be earning $25,000 when she is 25. Winfrey turns to the audience and sarcastically says “that would be great, I’d be earning around 60 by now – 62”. 

This suggests that Winfrey has lost some connection to the reality of life for the majority of Americans. In 2018 the median income of a 3 person American household was $74,600 meaning that more than half of all American families, many working more than 1 job per adult in the household, and raising a child, was earning less than $75,000.

For me this supports the views of Prof. Sandel but it goes even further to say that in a society where it is difficult to achieve financial security, and so success at building wealth is venerated, even those that overcame challenges to be very successful can lose connection with those struggling to have a dignified life and consequently lose (some of) their humility.

Of course, if I, myself, harbour insecurities over my own career – which I probably do – then this will serve to lower my threshold for annoyance at these comments by some degree – though my wife agrees with me, also 🙂  (and there’s a veiled reference to my upcoming post).

The ideas that Prof. Sandel shares are powerful and provide an excellent reference point, amongst others, to contribute towards the fairer and more sustainable, diverse and inclusive communities that humanity desperately needs to emerge from The Great Reset era on a surer footing.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of dignified work for all, along with fair pay and recognition for it, I also recognise that the changes that humanity is currently experiencing through the fourth industrial revolution will likely decrease the importance of work in our feelings of connection and contribution to society. Other sources of connection and participation will need to increase in significance within a supportive policy framework. 

Further to Prof. Sandel’s appeal for a “more generous public life”, the concept of “dignity” must apply to all our lives, in toto, overarched by political policy that promotes respect for the contributions that all current and previous human beings play in all our lives. 

To achieve that globally we must act locally. In doing so we will show that finally “we have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community”, the vision President Roosevelt was leading humanity towards as World War II was concluding. 

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


The Lie Of Reverse Racism

The lie of reverse racism is one of the chief tools of the racist to create division and draw people to their side.

I realised this early when I first began to reflect on the racism which I learned from my upbringing in conservative northern Queensland.

“Oh they receive so many hand-outs from the Government and free housing, and did you even know they get free taxis – it’s just not fair!” is an accurate paraphrasing of many conversations I heard non-indigenous Australians have when I was a child.

Of course there was no discussion of the realities of what it was like for indigenous Australians as their lands were occupied by Europeans, they were killed or moved to missions, and their children stripped from them to “assist” in assimilation into the European-based society enforced on them.

I strongly doubt whether any of the gossips had the slightest idea of what Government assistance indigenous Australian actually received, but it sure bonded the “us” and drove in the wedge further from “them”.

Hansonism has ensured that this narrow-minded division has also been applied to recent migrants with darkened skin, especially those from Asia and Africa.

When I wrote my explanation of Black Lives Matter, specifically when I explained the inferred 4th word, I was thinking of addressing what the racists suggest is that word – instead of at the end “Also” they suggest the movement is saying “more”, or even at the front “only”.

That is utterly preposterous given the history of racism in our and other nations, and the deeply ingrained inequity and systemic racism embedded in our systems.

The concept of reverse racism is wrapped up in white privilege, and it is patent in the objection to Black Lives Matter. “Why only say black lives matter, are you not being divisive (yourself)?” is the question of the racist or the ill-considered privileged. 

To divide assumes that first we must be whole.

When in Australian history, or American, have we ever been whole or all equal? That is precisely what Black Lives Matter is all about – making us whole – making us all equal.

But the only ones who do not realise that are the ones who have enjoyed a privileged position their entire life, even though many prefer to see themselves as victims because of other changes in society associated with, for instance, automation and globalisation.

The power in Black Lives Matter, and leaving the 4th word silent, is in assertion. It says that irrespective of what others who have enjoyed privilege in their lives say or think we assert that black lives Do matter. 

Now, in this assertive tone, even placing an emphatic “Do” is a disservice.

Black Lives Matter.

To many of us who have enjoyed that privilege our entire lives even the concept of equivalence shocks them so greatly that they immediately misread that for preference, and then scream “reverse racism”.

They confuse assertion for aggression, and their fight or flight stress response is activated – often leading to responding in kind with the aggression that they erroneously perceived – rather than placing themselves in others’ shoes and considering what it must be like to live in a society where for hundreds of years your life and the life of your family, ancestors, loved-ones and friends have not been valued as equal or as important. 

As the father of two black lives, and the husband of another, you better believe we, too, assert that their lives matter! Just as much as any human being that has ever walked this Earth!

Is that not all our birthright as human beings?

It is not lost on me, either, that some might perceive that I may be expressing my own white privilege insisting that my own blood and loved-ones would enjoy the same privilege that I have enjoyed. But that leads to a whole other discussion which I am currently working on for a post on the racist undertones to much of the reporting on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

I must admit one thing, however. I Do enjoy spending time with migrants and/or people who have spent a significant proportion of their life outside of Australia because many are humble, considerate, appreciative and sincere, the characters we valued and upheld before entitlement and anger grew so strong…

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


An Explanation of Black Lives Matter

To A Good Person Who Did Not Understand

I have just had a conversation on social media with somebody who I have known since childhood, and who I know to be a lovely, and true and honest spirit.

It was not just that conversation, however, that prompted me to publish my comments in full here. Last night I was informed about a discussion that took place with somebody in a position at such a high level that they should have understood well, and had been trained also, to not make the statement that they believed all lives matter after having discussed diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the murder of George Floyd. It almost beggars belief that a person in such a position would be so ill-equipped for that discussion. To say any more of it would be to betray trust so I cannot, but it does prove to me just how far we still need to go!

Finally, just to get an indication of exactly how difficult are these concepts to understand, on the drive home from school today I asked my 12 year old and 15 year old sons whether the statement “all lives matter” is a good thing to say in today’s context, and why. They both immediately said “no”, it was not a good thing to say, and they made all of the key points that I would and have made. The reader can infer from that what they will, but I will say that I infer that a reasonably intelligent and open-minded person should understand by now why it is inappropriate to make such a statement.

Below is the conversation I had with my friend after she very sincerely stated that she was confused and wanted me to explain it to her. Please feel free to share this or to use the text if you find yourself in a situation where you need to explain the significance and symbolism of Black Lives Matter.

I know you don’t have a mean bone in your body, so I would be happy to explain (and perhaps some others might follow and understand too).

Can you hang in with me while I explain?

That message [her post stating “Police Lives Matter (share if you are brave enough)”] is actually like walking around town smiling and waving with one hand, but looking at some and giving them the finger with the other hand.

I know you thought you were being inclusive by saying something like “hey, I care about police officers because I care about all people” – right?

But what many people are doing by sending this message around is attacking the sentiment and people protesting for Black Lives Matter.

So sending a message that causes hurt amongst some of course is being divisive, even if that was not your intention.

How can I infer all of that – well we all do it all of the time – infer things from all sorts of gestures (on the face, body, images/symbols or in slogans).

Can you imagine living in a place where people don’t understand what is “flipping the bird” – people would just laugh at you wondering why you are poking up a middle finger. Believe it or not, in some countries the rudest thing you can do is take off your shoe and wave it at them 🙂 We might laugh if someone did that to us, but somebody from that culture would be highly offended.

One harmless example of the power of symbols – when my first-born was still 3 on a Friday night he saw me watching the channel 9 crew talking about the upcoming game, and just from seeing the commentators and footage of the empty field he asked “who is playing footie tonight, the telephones and the beers?” He knew from the people and the field that a football game was likely to be played and he already associated the Telstra symbol with telephones and the VB symbol with beers 🙂

The point is that these symbols and gestures are deeply embedded in our minds, including from young ages…

I will pause for a second here and continue on in another message – but while I do I ask you to think about what was the most evil symbol of the 1900s and think what about that symbol depicts the atrocities committed under it (blood, guns, gas chambers?) – nothing – but most people, especially those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, feel fear and anger towards the symbol…

OK so I hope that you have followed and understand how symbols and gestures can send powerful messages.

So to understand why ….. Lives Matter, including All Lives Matter, is hurtful we need to recognise a few things.

Firstly it is important to understand that the symbolism behind Black Lives Matter existed first, so all of these other statements followed, and they are not stand alone statements.

They are, in reality, a response to Black Lives Matter.

Then we have to think about what is the symbolism behind Black Lives Matter. Well the first thing is that there is a fourth word inferred in the statement at the end – which is the whole point of it. Do you know what it is?


It is again inferred in the “response” that you posted, except because it is said by many in anger and disapproval at Black Lives Matter, for them it is underlined and/or bolded (not in reality, just inferred remember).

So why is it necessary in this day and age to make the point that Black Lives Matter?

Well because of the history of America and Australia and other countries where racism has been so embedded in the culture since Europeans arrived in the country.

For 450 years in America and almost 250 in Australia black people have been treated as if their lives don’t matter as much as others.

Black American slavery treated people as commodities (like loaves of bread, bought and sold) and today racism deeply affects their lives. In Australia many Aboriginals were killed by settlers, it was only in the 60s that they were accepted into law as citizens of Australia, and of course racism deeply affects their lives.

The history on that is undeniable, even though racists do deny it and aim to confuse the issue (many racists also deny that the holocaust occurred).

The murder of George Floyd bought all of this to a head last year. Do you know how he was killed? A policeman stuck his knee into his neck for 9 minutes as he lay pinned unable to move and as he tried to say “I can’t breath”. 

Can you even begin to imagine that? Perhaps you might want to set a timer and wait in silence to understand just what a long time that is, let alone if they were the last minutes of your life as your lungs are gradually deprived of air.

Can you even begin to imagine the hate in that person’s heart to do that to another?

In most developed countries we are so concerned about animal cruelty that we insist that food animals die quickly and painlessly.

I hope that explains exactly why there is such strong symbolism behind Black Lives Matter and why responses against it are so offensive.

But I know you and I know you are a good person who cares about people… just one final post to come

So finally, if you did not mean to be offensive why should you do anything about it?

Well if you did walk down the street flipping the bird at everybody but not meaning to be offensive, would you not feel bad once it was explained to you and then try to make up for it by apologising and ensuring you understood why it was offensive and make sure you didn’t do it again?

You already started that by asking me why it was offensive, right 🙂

People who say others should not be so sensitive about these issues are as much as saying to people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis they should just forget about it and move on. The problem is that we know that if we do not learn our lessons then we are sure to repeat them, and as I said above, racism has been with us for a very long time. What is more, if we do nothing about it things will never improve and likely they will get a whole lot worse again.

People who spread these posts fall into 3 categories – those who understand all of this and spread these responses deliberately to be offensive and counter the Black Lives Matter message, those that understand it is not entirely polite (they understand the double meaning to “share if you are brave enough” and take up the “dare” aspect) figuring it can’t really hurt anyhow, and then there are others that have a very honest spirit and just do not understand the offense, instead thinking that they should be “brave” to stand up and say that I care about all people including …. (whoever was the group of people before “Lives Matter”).

On the internet people do not know you and they cannot determine in any way what category you belong to and most people assume that it is a statement of support for racism (even if people will deny that they are racist – that is the strange thing about it – most racist people, besides those who are actively involved in far right movements and who feel righteous in their racism, actually consider themselves to not be racist). These messages are shared and shared – going viral – so that in the end, regardless of your intention, you end up contributing to increasing division.

So when you do want to express support for people you are better off doing it in your own way. And when you see posts that you think are likely to be racist or otherwise divisive, the role that you can play is by just ignoring it and not adding to the spreading of those divisive views.

Doing nothing with these messages – not sharing, not liking – is an important part of getting towards that inclusive world that you and I both want for ourselves and all of the people that we love and care about.

I sincerely hope that this helps you to understand what is definitely a complex situation, which is getting more and more confusing because the people who want to create division amongst us are getting more and more sophisticated in the way that they spread their messages.

If you want to talk it through more, don’t hesitate to message me or talk it through with other friends (perhaps including some Aboriginal friends).

Sincere thanks for asking me to explain this for you. I look forward to catching up next time.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


Nobody is Perfect: We men must keep trying

On the morning of Thursday 21 January 2021 in Australia I sat and watched transfixed on the television in awe as somebody spoke to and for all of humanity. That person described themself as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” who now knew it is possible that they might be President. As tears formed in my eyes all I could see was a brilliant and beautiful young woman who possessed the rare ability to change the world.

Amanda Gorman became my first hero of 2021!

In the days since the inauguration of President Biden, Ms. Gorman has never been far from my mind, her evocative words deeply enmeshed in my neural synapses already. I recall reading about how the aim of repetitive advertising is to link emotion with brands so that when we drink branded cola, for example, our brain fires up all of the neurons associated with emotions such as fun and excitement, not just taste.

When the stage is huge, and the timing momentous, just one brief moment is enough to embed and link those emotions forever. I will never forget the day I heard Amanda Gorman recite her “The Hill We Climb”, and it is for that reason that I will never forget President Biden’s inauguration.

That, I suspect, is exactly why she stole the show – she was meant to – and gee did she stand up with the courage she exalts from all of us to provide all of the youthful optimism tinged with mature (beyond her 22 years) realism that perfectly encapsulated the times.

The only problem for me as a writer is that her brilliance only proved to me my own inadequacy, for I have lamented this past year my inability to reach my contemporaries with my words. Then my own realism sets in and I know that Ms. Gorman is an exceptionally rare talent, and I find comfort in pondering on how we share such a similar view of the world and what our future must be. 

I also appreciated the use of the imagery of the bridge in this passage, “If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made”, immediately recognising the echo in my own writing in “The Great Reset: Building the bridge“.

I have also been reflecting upon my belief in my own writing, and something that I have understood intuitively since I was 16 years of age based on how my sister loved receiving my (admittedly rare) letters from home while she was at university. That I, as a male, have always had a rare ability to connect with my emotions and to express it in a clear – if typically “unconcise” – manner. For some reason I was a male who realised that he was emotionally “deep”, as my sister again recognised and described me as such to a friend when I was in my early 20s, and was proud of it.

When I was younger my innate shyness – that I can now observe with mature eyes as it is mirrored in my first-born – prevented me from sharing that depth of emotion and insight with others outside of my family, and even within my home I was often criticised for being “too sensitive”. Maturity and confidence, along with other opportunities to understand the world from studying for my PhD, strengthened my voice. 

As I explained in “How I Remade Myself After A Breakdown“, even though I was very muscular and fresh off the family farm as a lad, I was never a man’s man, or a blokey bloke, or however you might wish to express machismo. One of the sharpest reflections on that came at my brother’s buck’s (bachelor’s) night when everyone was crowded around the typical stripper’s performance cheering and, while not wishing to be singled out as being disinterested (out of fear of it being confused for being of ambiguous sexual orientation), I gathered with everybody looking upon the performance but all the while was wanting for it to be finished as soon as possible. Thankfully, an over-excited mate of my father rushed forward towards the performer bringing an end to the performance. When it was my turn for a buck’s night the one thing my mates knew for certain was off the table on the night was a stripper.

I dislike being within large groups of emotionally charged men. I feel uncomfortable with the unpredictability of over-excited testosterone. Perhaps it is one of the many consequences, together with post-traumatic disorder, of needing to bravely step up on the night of my parent’s anniversary when I was 15 years of age to take my father’s gun from his hand when he was overwhelmed with emotions – anger, hurt, confusion – at fear of loss of our family farm through foreclosure. The ambiguity of his intentions in that moment of rage has never left me, neither the image in my head of those 6 bullets sitting atop our fridge, as he left them that night, looking down upon our family table as we ate every meal for seemingly years.

None of that makes me less of a man than any other. It took me some time to realise it, but if the old stereotype that bravery is the reserve of real men, then confronting real emotions is the ultimate in masculine expression.

Of course the expression of courage is not just reserved for real men, but I use this to highlight just how cowardly are many men who fear emotion and so bottle it up, often to release, sadly, on those significantly less physically strong than them in women, children and youth.

The strength that I admire most is emotional strength, as embodied in Mandela’s definition of courage as being able to summon the strength to act even when scared, and that is in no way reserved for men. Off the top of my head some of the most courageous people to my mind are Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. And yes, Amanda Gorman, who stood on the brightest stage mere mortals have and courageously said that she knows the way forward if only humanity has the courage to be it.

Western society in general does now seem to be moving in the right direction with the challenging of gender stereotypes, and here, after being critical of the Australia education system over racism, I need to say that I have long been singing the praises for early educators for teaching a level of emotional vocabulary and intelligence that remains elusive to many adults. At least in the (public) schools that my children have attended, the level of conflict in the school grounds has been orders of magnitude less than I witnessed in my schooling several decades ago and much of that must rest not only with parents but with teachers.

The changing societal view of male gender identity, however, is something middle-aged men especially seem to be struggling with, and elected male politicians in Western nations have recognised there is significant advantage in appealing to the imagery around what it is to be a real (white) man.

That is especially true in my home country of Australia where the idolised image of masculinity is so tightly tied to “the bush” or “outback” in characters such as 19th century Bush Rangers and especially Ned Kelly, the fictional Crocodile Mick Dundee, or in many stories of the “larrikin” soldiers fighting in Gallipoli.

My role as a stay at home Dad has provided an opportunity for rare insights into Australian male identity. Early on I witnessed my father struggling to accept my new role which seemed so alien him – on occasions he introduced me to friends in an intentionally derogatory manner by describing me as a “house wife” – which drew us into argument where I told him that he needed to get over his own embarrassment about the role that I had chosen to play for my family. 

In wider society there were also challenges. I have found being a male home parent to be incredibly isolating as women in the primary caretaker role, and with free time to build connections within the school environment, were reluctant to develop closer relationships with males. 

Moreover, as a male frequently in the school environment, around young children, I felt extra pressure to always be exemplary and never place myself in a position where people might develop the slightest suspicion of improper behaviour on my part (in the early years, still very much recovering from a breakdown, that added extra anxiety). As one example both of my sons in Prep loved that I volunteered to assist in their swimming classes and liked me being on hand in the dressing room to help them. But I felt awkward going into the dressing room, recognising the risks to perceptions of me, and only did so briefly and for the first few weeks even though mothers frequently went into both male and female change rooms regardless of the gender of their own children. 

Still I accepted that this is the nature of current society, and it is preferable that people be alert to the risks of children being hurt rather than underplaying the risks and disbelieving hurt children as occurred in the past.

The truth is that the identity of the Australian male has been confused for decades with rural-urban migration conflicting with the popularised version of the fun and care-free knock-about Aussie man. Nothing exemplifies that more to me than the angry young men tearing around our cities in their rarely off-road 4×4 tradies utes, such as the one I discussed in “The Great Reset: Teaching what we left behind“.

Given that the rural-urban migration pattern is far from unique to Australia, such conflicting identity especially for less socially-adaptable men is likely an issue in many societies.

It is hardly any wonder, then, that many male politicians go to great lengths to contrive a “rugged” masculinity into their carefully crafted public image, which necessitates a rejection of vulnerability and sensitivity. That is how you arrive at a PM who infers that people, and especially men, anxious about the risks of contracting COVID-19 in the most severe global pandemic in a century, are “whimps” lacking the courage to “come out from under their doonas”. 

That is the definition of toxic masculinity, and the current Australian PM is especially prone to it as was another recent conservative Australian PM in Tony Abbott.

Even Mr. Morrison, though, came to understand that building such a persona comes with significant risks when interacting with authentic rural Australians, especially when emotionally fragile such as the people of Cobargo who suffered greatly in the fires last Summer.  

I have to admit that I consider having had a breakdown to be an advantage in developing a strong sense of self and emotional awareness. Whilst never a high testosterone man’s man my self awareness was poor. Much of that was a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure I lived under as a boy and lad, and through my recovery I realised it is characteristic of my family, but that flaw in my life skills stayed with me well into adulthood.

Having a breakdown stripped me bare emotionally and was frightening and confronting. But it did provide me with the opportunity, through absolute necessity, to rebuild myself with a far stronger foundation based on much introspection of myself and of the formative events and relationships in my life. Necessity, that is, if I was to achieve a good quality of life again and be the father and husband I aimed to be.

Still I would not recommend a breakdown to anybody and there is nobody happier than me that this period of my life is behind me.

Few have the ability to make major changes in the way they interact in and with society without first suffering a major shock or unless their incentives/reward system is seriously altered.

That is precisely why men need good role models in society, including our elected male politicians, who are able to authentically show their true self rather than attempting to cobble together a public image encompassing the improbable trinity of an urban man with the knock-about likeability of Mick Dundee who in diplomatic circles is smooth, sure-footed and worldly enough to chart a safe course for the nation in an increasingly fractious geopolity.

I would note, also, that in “The Great Reset: A letter to my Father and ‘Sliding Doors’ self” I stated that “an open mind is not dependent on the possession of a passport but on an open heart”. That is precisely why the much-loved Australian fictional character Mick Dundee was so relatable – his nature appealed to our better selves – but the ironies abound, not least of which is the lack of genuine openness in Australia, particularly in rural Australia, especially around race.

I am proud that I have come a long way in my life, but I know that I am not perfect – far from it. I am not any longer so ignorant to suggest that in the hypothetical survey that I put forward in “Racism and Political Correctness” I could honestly select the best level for diversity and inclusion attitudes no matter how much I may want to believe I could. I am aware that the faulty thinking that I learned from the overt racism I witnessed and participated in as a child right through to my early adulthood, and then the systemic racism to which we are passively exposed still daily, has impacted my thinking so that I undoubtedly am affected by unconscious bias towards all sorts of groupings within humanity.

In truth, in our global humanity at the commencement of the 21st century, I honestly doubt that very many people would be truly free from these unconscious biases. That is why I firmly believe that artificial intelligence technology must be employed within workplaces, for instance, along with quotas and other active measures, to address diversity and inclusion in an anti-prejudice program.

For me, Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, completely missing the point at the 2020 AGM that a truly diverse company had not been achieved just because they had a gay man as the CEO and several female board members demonstrates this point amply.

My experience, however, does suggest to me that belonging to, or becoming a part of, a minority is an advantage to understanding and becoming sensitive to issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

The irony of racist attitudes, as I alluded to above, is that many of the most strongly racist and prejudicial people are likely to overstate, through ignorance, their acceptance of diversity and inclusion, while those less extreme on the spectrum are likely to be capable of a far more realistic self assessment.

A breakdown gave me an understanding of what it is to acutely and confrontingly address my identity. An unconfident young man, with a weak voice at expressing my views and my own identity, my confidence grew as I excelled as a research scientist and increasingly become identified as Australia’s expert in my field (as I was introduced at the World Aquaculture Society Symposium in Sydney in 2000) and as an emerging world leader (as was frequently being stated to me in person). With the clicking of the “send” button on the email announcing my retirement, all that was gone. A very key aspect of my identity was removed as if it were erased because it would have zero relevance to my life from that point onward.

Few people understand better what identity means to us as human beings as those who have had a breakdown due to an abrupt end to their career. Since my breakdown I have heard sports people, venerated within society especially when still competing, increasingly speak about their struggles with the challenges of retiring especially when done prematurely.

I have always remembered a line in an interview with Brett Kenny, who probably would have been considered one of Australia’s best ever rugby league five-eighths if not for a guy by the name of Wally Lewis, when someone in a bar asked him “didn’t you use to be Brett Kenny?” For me that sums it up so perfectly!

Male identity, wrapped up in testosterone and its byproducts of aggression and power, is vulnerable. Yet that is the one thing that is seen as emasculating to admit.

Male leaders who continue with this ridiculous cultivation of an urban or rural Mick Dundee identity for Australian men do a disservice to themselves and to Australian boys. 

But nobody can say all of this better than Amanda Gorman:

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy 

and change, our children’s birthright.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


Passion Over Climate Change At The WEF Agenda Summit

I have a Media Pass to “attend” the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda Summit taking place virtually at the present. I have viewed a great many of the panel discussions, but I have not witnessed as much emotion and passion as was on display on Wednesday (27/1/21) in the “Mobilizing Action on Climate Change (Option 2)” panel and I recommend all to watch the discussion as a matter of urgency.

The panel discussion gives a glimpse at the path forward for humanity and has especially concerning elements for Australia, or at least the current Federal Government. For one, Australia was one of only 3 nations that were mentioned specifically (by name) – the other two, obviously, being US and China. While Australia was not singled out in terms of our (lack of) efforts on Climate Change, unlike the other 2, we were discussed because of our fires last summer. Be in no doubt, those fires are now emblematic of climate change and its consequences. Australia’s brand is damaged and the longer we are led politically by climate change sceptics the greater will be that damage. Secondly, coal is very much a dirty word world-wide, and the one moment of tension (in what was an evocative but entirely polite conversation) was when John Kerry (US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, National Security Council) disagreed with the importance of gas as a bridge to sustainable energy production (towards Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell). Of course, Australia is focusing much of its post-COVID response on gas, and is protective of thermal coal exports, and is clearly a global outlier in that regard. Morrison’s Government is isolating Australia on this to an incredible degree, and like climate change, the damage might not be apparent at first but the consequences will be deep and long-lasting if not addressed promptly.

This panel will undoubtedly be considered one of the highlights of the Summit. Speakers along with John Kerry were Jesper Brodin (of IKEA), Feike Sybesma (of Royal DSM), Ben van Beurden (of Royal Duch Shell), Amina Mahammed (Deputy Secretary of United Nations), Alok Sharma (of COP 26), and moderators were Borge Brende (of the WEF) and Rabecca Blumenstain (of New York Times).

I have summarised the key statements of each participant down to the following:

John Kerry was very strong, apologising for the void left by the US in recent years, and emphatically stating that “the whole attitude [towards climate change] needs to shift”. Concerningly John stated that “Right now we’re on track to reach 4.1 to 4.5 degrees (Celsius above pre-industrial levels)… we’re already seeing what happens at 1.2 degrees let alone getting to 1.5, and most scientists will tell you that they fear we are going to blow right through 1.5”. In summing up he dramatically stated that “Glasgow is the last best chance to summon up the response… the world has high expectations and we need to meet them”.

Jesper Brodin (IKEA) stressed the need for consistency by politicians.

Feike Sybesma (Royal DSM) stressed that businesses needed to begin to live up to their rhetoric, and highlighted that American businesses are most at fault here due to the short-termism centred around shareholder interests and the profit imperative.

Ben van Beurden (Shell) stressed that his company is an integrated energy business. He highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the size of the task in that the level of emissions reductions this year, because of stringent measures to address the pandemic, must be repeated year after year. Ben said that his focus will be on encouraging a sectoral approach so that each sector and business can work on decarbonising [Edit 8 Feb 2021, replaced “reducing its demand for hydrocarbons” with “decarbonising”], and stated that the market alone can not achieve this so “serious mandates” will be required (i.e. political will to enforce change).

Amina Mohammed (UN) is “not encouraged by short-term commitments at all”. She also highlighted that “finance matters” and so stressed the importance of recovering from the COVID-19 is critical to provide the financial platform to make investments, highlighting the need for private-public partnership. Amena was strong in saying that leaders need to have the courage and the will to act even though measures will be painful. Finally she stressed that it is not fair to enforce strict measures on developing countries when developed countries have polluted along their road to economic success (which I have highlighted in my writing on climate change).

Alok Sharma (COP 26) also highlighted the need for private-public partnerships and spoke about the enormous potential for private enterprise. He stated that not just billions of dollars of capital were required but trillions!

Regardless of the reader’s views on climate change or on particular politicians, viewing this should be uncomfortable for all Australians as we are heading in a different direction to the remainder of the world. While the second half of the panel discussion is where things really start to open up, the whole video is important. Personally, I took heart from it because people so practiced in public communication and diplomacy showing this much passion and emotion shows that the pressure really is now on to act.

Finally, I cannot conclude without saying that Ben van Beurden deserves a pat on the back for having the character and courage of his convictions to present his views as a leader in a sector which is often maligned in some quarters in discussions about climate change. For a few (mostly personal*) reasons I have been following Mr. van Beurden for a few years now, especially on the key issues covered by the Davos Agenda, and he has impressed me as a leader of genuine integrity and authenticity.

Also, I wish to draw attention to an article that I wrote early in the history of MacroEdgo entitled “Coming Soon: Product miles like food miles“, and the related post “Investment Theme: Product and food miles“, where I mentioned IKEA and suggested that their model would be increasingly challenged as the world moved towards adequately pricing in environmental sustainability. At the very least they need to recognise that there is much low hanging fruit in the furniture industry in quality control during production and shipping.

* For one his wife comes from an even smaller neighbouring town to my home town, and anybody who has the sensibility and spirit to marry a North Queenslander has to be alright in my book 😉

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


Racism and Political Correctness

It is time that I explicitly state my views on racism. The issue which I consider goes right to the heart of dealing with racism in Australia is political correctness, which is ironic because political correctness is perhaps the most often stated justification by racists for the need to express their beliefs. 

The racists’ argument infers that it is entirely natural for humans to be suspicious of others who are different, and that turns to anger and resentment when a “higher society” – of intellectual “elites” – enforces a moral political correctness upon all people to behave in a polite manner contrary to this nature. The racists blame this political correctness for causing a bottling up of emotion so that when it comes out in anger, whether from a bald-headed aggressive youth or in the quivering voice of an Ipswich fish and chips shop owner, it is all the fault of those in this “higher society” who impinged on their freedom of speech not through law but through societal pressure.

There is even an element of honour in openly expressing their dislike of minorities, from the racists’ perspective, in that it is morally preferable to behave consistently with their real values rather than to pretend to have the other “politically correct” values. They consider themselves more “authentic“.

Everybody who lived through the emergence of Pauline Hanson knows that her supporters frequently stated that she was just saying what everybody thought. Then living in conservative northern Queensland, I heard it often and I will never forget who were the members of my large extended family who proudly and defiantly told me, with my Asian-Australian wife at my side, how they were Pauline Hanson supporters.

The irony around political correctness and racism is that, while it most certainly is a major factor, the racists are actually benefitting or being aided from it. 

Racists are given a great deal of leeway in their comments and actions because others are timid and reluctant to call them out for what they are for fear of being offensive themselves.

This makes virtually everybody in society afraid of discussing racism and what constitutes racist beliefs and actions. It is impolite to even discuss it in company.

This is perhaps the most serious impediment to defeating the scourge as it is obvious that no problem can ever be truly addressed if there are only ever vague and obtuse references to the issues.

I have a particularly personal but pertinent anecdote to highlight this point.

Last year I received a call from my youngest son’s School Principal informing me that my son had stood up to another student by calmly responding to racist comments that the student made. When I discussed the incident with my son he confirmed it was the student who I knew, from previous incidents, was frequently in disciplinary trouble. The comments made were about Asians and coronavirus, but were not specifically directed at my son. I allowed my son to slowly discuss all of the events and how he felt. Eventually it became clear that this student had made racist comments before, and my son had relayed that as a part of his recount to the senior teacher who had addressed the problem first before informing the Principal.

The real issue became apparent when I asked my son how that senior teacher dealt with it, and how that made him feel. My son felt that the teacher down-played the actions and comments of the student, and that made him feel foolish for objecting to what was said so much so that he felt it was pointless, if not distressing, to stand up to this behaviour.

The next day I rang the Principal and informed him of how this senior teacher had reacted. My son was a School Captain so was highly regarded by the school and worked frequently with the Principal. The Principal defended his staff member, which on the one hand is understandable, but what he said was poignant: he said that it is a fine line for teachers to tread with beliefs taught at home, and so they usually try to steer clear of the issue. 

I informed him that the upshot of the interaction was that my son felt foolish for what was in fact very honourable actions, and that my son needed and deserved positive reinforcement from the school at least privately if not publicly. The other student and their class cohorts also received those weak messages about respecting diversity publicly. The Principal undertook to speak with my son to clarify that message, but never did. My son did, however, receive the leadership award for his cohort which was perhaps a veiled hat-tip to his honourable actions then and through the year. However, avoidance or obtuse acknowledgement is less than satisfactory.

Now in writing this I know that racists will suggest that it is not up to anybody to say who acted honourably in this specific situation.

Therein lies the problem with political correctness over racism – it is clear-cut in Australian society – racism is wrong and standing up against racism most definitely is honourable and should be praised by all.

That is not up for debate and anybody who suggests it is debatable is not being respectful of broad contemporary Australian society.

That political leaders are weak on this message is what breeds timidity – or “political correctness” – on spelling out what is racism in the broad context of Australian society.

This reluctance to explicitly call somebody racist in many ways emboldens racists because they revel in timidity, like all bullies. 

Take, for instance, Trump and his allies. I cannot recall any high-profile journalist or commentator calling Trump a racist, and it was not until late in the Presidential campaign when Biden did. There is also a timidity in calling others around Trump racists.

Trump often even goaded others to go ahead and call him a racist, which nobody did, also a frequent tactic of bullies.

It would seem that the strongest language those acting in a professional capacity use is to suggest that somebody has made comments with xenophobic undertones or that they are in some way associated with xenophobic elements. This is displaying timid political correctness at two levels – it dissociates the acts from that person and who they are or what they stand for, and the term “xenophobe” is a more timid term than “racist”.

The threshold for calling somebody racist is incredibly high.

Just imagine yourself saying the words, “you are racist”. Immediately you will recognise these as very strong words.

Most people have an aversion to hurting or insulting others, and will usually err on the side of caution rather than risking being overly harsh or judgmental.

What has become apparent to me over the years is that the unscrupulous most often commit wrong against others by using the goodness and trust at the core of human beings, whether it be a criminal who waits for an unsuspecting victim to open a door to them or stops their vehicle to help them, or cons who scam victims into providing personal details over the phone, through the internet or directly.

In the same way aggressive racists capitalise on and exploit our timidity in avoiding calling out exactly what and who they are.

This timidity in addressing racism must be counteracted from the earliest moments that children enter broader society and certainly within the education system. Racism is misguided thinking that must be corrected like any other misguided or anti-social behaviour that is addressed within schools by childhood education professionals. Unfortunately, the observations of my children again suggest this is not the case in Australia. 

Now I do not want to be, nor do I wish to appear to be – there’s that political correctness again – overcritical of my sons’ primary school, but this anecdote really does bear repeating.

Both of my sons were taught by an elderly, cantankerous supply teacher who actually used the racist version of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe, which obviously incorporates the “N” word, in her classes. 

Here, I would not be authentic, myself, if I did not make a serious confession. This racist version was actually the only version that I knew from my childhood, and one day when I heard my children saying “Tigger” my initial impulse was to correct them, which of course brought on a conversation with my wife. I had never said this rhyme again since my early childhood, and so I had never thought about what the words actually meant. My initial reaction was to think that that is so shocking that we children would be taught this, and say it so openly in front of everybody – teachers, parents and other adults – that there had to be another meaning for the “N” word. As I sat there and thought about it with my wife, the realisation washed over me – especially as I thought of the context in which the words are said – that in deed it was an extremely racist rhyme. There is no other meaning for the “N” word and it is undeniably racist. It is incredible to think now that we children of the 70s in northern Queensland would recite that rhyme, made even more despicable since we grew up with many indigenous children who were our friends and team mates.

So I have to admit that I can understand a certain level of ignorance can exist. But once an adult says the words, even in their own mind, within a very brief period it should be entirely clear how utterly inappropriate it is. That any teacher in Australia would recite that rhyme to children in the 21st century is almost beyond belief. 

It shows that in Australia the education system must not take anything for granted when it comes to racism, and that rigorous diversity and inclusion programs for all of their staff as well as in the curricula which is taught to children must be implemented as a matter of urgency.

This is absolutely critical as there is a growing awareness of the importance of educating role models on diversity and inclusion as an intervention to racism culminating in radicalisation .

Research conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that 1 in 3 Australian Australian school students were the victim of discrimination.

East Asian students reported the highest rate of insults or name calling on the basis of their background at 44%, while 30% of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island students surveyed reported having students spit, push or hit them on the basis of their race.

Among Anglo-Celtic students 15% said they had been insulted on the basis of their background, while 6% reported being subject to violence.

The report was compiled as part of the Speak Out Against Racism program, which is developing a program to encourage students and staff to address racism in schools.

“We need high-quality, whole-of-school programs – built on evidence and which are tested – that act to directly prevent and appropriately respond to racial discrimination and racism when it happens,” Priest said.

To be entirely honest, I believe this timidity goes even further in that it seems that very many Australians are reluctant to express open support for diversity and multiculturalism in their day to day activities such as on social media. For instance my experience is that few will show open support for underprivileged minorities, or for the poor in developing countries, or for refugees experiencing difficult circumstances.

Perhaps this is a part of the politicisation of refugees and migration by populists or populist-leaning Governments, especially by the Howard Government in the 2001 Australian Federal election, and then the reluctance by mainstream politicians to speak out against the racism inherent in such positions for fear of disenfranchising racist voters.

Thus a reluctance to show support for other struggling human beings, sometimes in desperate situations, is confused by some as being political.

Is it truly being political identifying these people as being worthy of empathy and help?

Or is it just a lack of courage to show explicit support for these people out of fear of being seen as having views outside the range of popular opinion?

Australia has long had a problem with admitting to our racist past along with our contemporary racism. There is a reluctance in admitting the injustices committed upon indigenous Australians and in the long enforcement of the White Australia Policy. Minorities in contemporary Australia face discrimination and bias in many forms, including in the workplace where research has shown that people with obvious minority names are significantly less likely to be contacted for interviews from submitting job applications. 

To get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications.

Within Australian society, I doubt that there has ever been a poll asking people about how racist they consider themselves – whether overtly racist; or racist within social circles (i.e. making “insider” jokes and snide comments but never expressing those views to others directly or indirectly such as online); or somewhat aware that unconscious biases affect their attitudes, behaviours and decisions; or not at all racist or biased against anybody from another ethnicity.

Now that the reader has likely responded in their own mind on how they might have answered in this hypothetical survey, I am going to challenge that response with personal anecdotes.

My wife and I had two close friends, in different social circles, who were unattached and we thought it might be nice to arrange for them to meet casually. I approached my friend to discretely learn whether there was any interest, only informing them that the person is a great person and is Asian-Australian. Quickly my friend responded that they were not attracted to that “type” of person, and given the only other information they knew was they are friends with us also, it was clear it was because they were of Asian ancestry. 

I am guessing that some readers will immediately consider that there likely was some other reason.

It has certainly been my experience that when I do raise the issue of racism and about racist actions displayed, including by somebody other than whom I am speaking with, the initial reaction very often is to deny that the actions were racist or biased.

So let me introduce a “sub-anecdote” where it was more explicit – not all that long ago a friend/acquaintance of my wife actually said to her “I’m not into Asians” when talking about meeting up with women from Apps.

So here is the simple question – can you imagine yourself developing feelings for and/or being attracted to somebody from any ethnic background?

If you cannot answer yes to yourself truthfully, then I suggest that you need to seriously and honestly look at why that is and consider that in the context of how you answered the initial question.

The other anecdote is something that was said to my wife several times as a young adult by friends in Australia. When the issue of her own differences have arisen in discussion, the friends, no doubt trying to express their affection for and connection with her, have said that they do not consider her black or Asian.

Now this statement is a real double-edged sword to somebody from a minority struggling to fit in. On the one hand it says that they are accepted. On the other it says that they have been accepted in the context in which the friend chooses to see them and not as they truly are. 

Most people from minorities in Australia will recognise this type of sentiment and that it comes with significant pressure to assimilate or conform to societal views on what it is to be “Australian”.

Now it is true that some may have clumsily attempted to express that all that matters is that my wife is a good person, and that her appearance which confirms her ethnicity is no more significant than her hair colour or height (or lack of it!)

Equally, it is worth pondering how the friend might have responded to, “that’s great because I don’t consider you white or Australian”, and whether that might have offended them or given them pause to consider whether that statement was racist or biased.

There are two things that I know with certainty: we as a nation and as individuals can not hold ourselves to account for our racist beliefs and actions if we are not honest with ourselves, and we can not eliminate racism if we do not lose our political correctness around calling out racism when we see or experience it. 

Finally, if the reader is wondering whether I consider my own extended family members who support Pauline Hanson to be racist, you better believe I do, along with others who were “politically correct” enough to not confrontingly tell me of their support for her and for what she stood. I do have to admit, though, that until now I was too politically correct to say so…

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


The Great Reset: Building the bridge

What would you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

Lyrics of John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I have a confession to make. I may be a professionally trained scientist, but when I have an x-ray performed I do not analyse the film myself as I struggle to make head nor tail of it. I guess I have had perhaps 20 x-rays taken in my life of 50+ years and I am just not practiced enough at it to understand what I am looking at. I am certain that if I took the time to study all of the relevant detail I could begin to understand what is involved, but without looking at hundreds of films of various parts of the body, and refreshing those skills regularly, I do not think that I would trust myself to give an accurate diagnosis of any issues I might have when I really needed to.

I have another confession. When I enter the lift of a high-rise building I do not first check the maintenance log to ensure that it has been maintained in good working order. To be totally honest, I am not even really sure how lifts work. I know the earliest ones were based on a counter-balance system, but I suspect these modern ones that move so fast do so with an entirely different mechanism.

Don’t get me started on cars let alone planes. Truthfully, I am just not a very mechanical person. It never interested me. Perhaps in that regard I was spoiled by having a father that could fix anything so when working on our family farm as a lad, if I broke or bogged it, Dad came to the rescue! It was just most practical to him to solve the issue quickly so he and I could get back to work asap. I am sure that if I did stay on the farm I would have developed these skills, as even now I am constantly amazed at what I picked up from observing as a lad how my father worked, but my life took me in a different direction so I have less need of these skills in my day to day life.

I know that it would probably be advantageous for me to understand all of these things, since they are obviously really critical to my health and well-being, but I just do not have the time, nor the inclination to be totally frank. I guess I have just been raised to trust the people who do these jobs for me. And when I think about it, my life is full of, and is entirely dependent on, placing a whole heap of trust on these people who perform these critical roles for me.

I think we all do, and have done since we left caves when life was simpler, but tougher, even though I do not in any way minimise the skill it must have taken to sharpen weapons to hunt successfully for food and ward off danger.

I was once an expert. I was one of the best human beings in the world that you could contact if you had a problem with disease while farming crustaceans, or if you noticed crustaceans dying in a stream or pond. Or even in your aquarium. 

On one occasion, when I lived in France, I met some people whose job it was to manage the natural environment around a small village in a remote mountainous area and they were concerned about the precious and endangered crayfish dying in their streams. I visited their village, just in behind where the famous wine Crozes Hermitage is made, and I collected the dead and dying crayfish for examination. I was able to show, using a light microscope and electron microscope together with the skills that I had honed over the previous 10 years of my life, that all of these sick and dying crayfish were infected by a virus. It was the first time a virus had been identified in this crayfish species, and only the second virus found in European crayfish (I also found the first a few years earlier in crayfish in Finland). 

Very few people in the world had the capacity and skills to do it – some, who even had reasonable training in veterinary science, had tried but were not quite getting things right to be able to find viruses in European crayfish. But I had a passion for it and I was particularly skilled. I guess it is a bit esoteric and very specific or specialised, probably why it was such a struggle trying to maintain a career doing that work, but that is another story. Then again, with a global population of over 7 billion there is a great need for knowledge on a whole heap of apparently obscure fields.

It used to be difficult to find people with these rare knowledge and skills, but the internet has changed that. I had a “Crayfish Diseases” website in 1996!

The truth is that what I do know pales in comparison to what I do not even though all of this accumulated knowledge and skill is imperative to the modern life I live. Essentially my confessions on things that I do not know, or benefit from without really understanding them, could run on ad infinitum

But I actually have a really big confession to make which some who have read my essays, with tightening muscles around the neck and hair bristling on the back with contempt at what I said, might even jump up and down about. I may be a professionally trained scientist, but I did not specialise in an area that is especially relevant to studying and analysing climate change trends. I am keenly interested in the subject, and have read reviews so that over the years I have developed an overwhelming impression that the very great majority of scientists who have specialised in the most relevant fields have increasingly become concerned by the trends that they have observed. 

That concern certainly seems to be backed up by what we are seeing and experiencing in real life, even if it is not particularly scientific to rely on anecdotal observations. I recall that when I spent 3 months in Finland in 1995 during their summer they had a record heat wave so that temperatures went above 30C. My Finnish friends tell me that they have hardly had a Summer since when temperatures did not breach 30C. A few days ago I read about the scientific research showing the shrinking Arctic sea ice and the article mentioned how a town in Siberia recorded 38C this year!

Finland 1995

By now we are all familiar with the forecasts of more extreme weather, sea level rise, effects on animal and plant life, and ultimately on us human beings.

I, personally, place a great deal of trust in the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who argue that humanity confronts a climate crisis. 

This comes from the same place where I gain my trust to do all of the things that I want or need to do in my life. I have a strong belief and optimism in the goodness at the core of human beings, and I understand that human beings specialising in specific roles in societies has been the greatest factor in human progress towards our very successful form of social organisation, free market capitalism. (Though that does not mean that we do not always need to stay alert and engaged to ensure that the system continues to serve us all).

Now, of course, not all of the human beings who have specialised in researching and understanding the natural world and climate trends agree. That would really worry me if there was no place for disagreement. No, free and open debate is absolutely vital in all facets of human endeavour. That there are some who disagree with the majority on climate change is a healthy sign that the system works and that is to be treasured.

Nonetheless, it really is clearcut that the majority of scientists who know the most about the relevant fields agree that humanity faces a climate crisis of our own making.

It really is time to stop acting like this needs to be a unanimous decision, or like any Tom, Dick or Karen who has picked up climatology in their spare time should be listened to even if they have a FaceBook page, or blog, or plain old-fashioned website.

Those still arguing over the need to act on climate change are already well behind. The majority of key decision-makers in Governments, business and across broader societies are moving on with or without them because, frankly, we cannot afford to wait any longer before taking meaningful action.

Any politician, and nation they “lead”, in denial over any of this is becoming increasingly isolated, and that will surely continue for as long as they continue their denial.

We now find ourselves in 2021 heading towards more critical global meetings on climate change. One of the first is being hosted by the World Economic Forum as a part of the initiative “The Great Reset” that I discussed in “The Great Reset: Momentum builds with the World Economic Forum agenda” and which encompasses a broad aspiration of engaging all people in the development of a fair, diverse and equitable, and sustainable future for humanity.

This initiative is essentially identical to what I have called for in my writing at MacroEdgo including in my essay entitled “The Great Reset” which I published two months ahead of the WEF initiative launch.

The WEF initiative has been singled out for suspicion and conspiracy theories by elements aligned with Trumpism. These theories centre around a view that the powerful elites are exploiting the vulnerability experienced by humanity in the COVID-19 pandemic to tilt the playing field – or the Monopoly board – even further to their advantage.

For me it has always been an amazing irony that the most elitist of all, Trump himself, had amassed such a strong following amongst those who have become dissaffected as the already privileged – many of them Trump’s friends – took a greater share of the bounty from their shared society.

The apparatus around Trump and those in his orbit have created a narrative that the aim of the WEF is to impose their agenda in an enormous abuse of power, derived from their wealth, in a dictatorial manner.

In this increasingly polarised world, those who oppose Trump feared that this was actually his playbook, and Trump’s reluctance to accept the election result confirmed as much for many.

That 74+ million American voters wanted another 4 years, at least, of Trump “leadership” speaks loudly of that polarisation and of the resources that this apparatus commands in asserting their divisive agenda.

The obvious response is that, like my own writing continually calling on everyone to engage with discussions on the best direction for humanity to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the WEF is imploring all to engage with the discussion and to express a viewpoint.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that Trump is, and has done since first running for the Presidency, also calling for a reset. He calls it “Making America Great Again”, yet he does not define what made it great in a former period.

My own writing also talks about taking America and humanity back to a former greatness, the vision laid out by one of the greatest US presidents – FDR.

In other words, Trump and his associates could actually be calling for the same thing that I am. 

But we know from Trump’s messaging, and those he courts, that his reset is for a divisive and unsustainable future – the polar opposite of mine and the WEF’s published views on the direction humanity must take.

For an organisation that is painted in these conspiracy theories as secretive and dictatorial, the WEF has not done a good job of keeping a low-profile over the years with their highly televised annual gathering normally held in Davos, Switzerland.

Moreover, that the WEF has devoted so many resources to promote an open discussion on “The Great Reset” initiative, with their significant materials on their website and in a Time Magazine expose, suggestions that they are trying to secretly and dictatorially impose their agenda on humanity are clearly not grounded in reality!

Those who promote these conspiracy theories infer that there is something unusual or wrong about a group or subset  of people gathering to discuss important issues and making important decisions on behalf of all in our societies. But of course that is how human beings have preferred to organise for a long time including in cultures from thousands of years earlier. 

What is more, though we all have an opportunity to be involved with decision-making for many organisations important to us, whether school communities, sporting clubs or other groupings, not everybody has a desire to join committees and other structures that directly make decisions. People tend to prefer to perform certain roles, and obviously not all can be in leadership or decision-making roles.

However, and it is an important however, all within any grouping of human beings need to feel that their desires and views are taken on board by those who lead and make decisions. 

Of course that is the basis of representative Government, and it is the situation in functional democracies and even many autocracies that otherwise would be at risk of overthrow by a disenfranchised populace.

One aspect of the conspiracy theories seems to be that unelected people, from business and non-Governmental organisations, are involved in these discussions – in fact it is businesspeople initiating the discussions – which has been perceived as them having undue influence on decisions.

Again, this is a natural response to politicians withdrawing from their role as leaders, and to them not listening to scientists and to the will of the majority in society who trust the scientists.

What is more, just because the leaders of these organisations (of human beings) have not been elected does not mean that they do not have diverse and broad stakeholders that are able to assert significant pressure when dissatisfied with the direction the organisation is heading. In fact, stakeholder activism is increasingly common, and businesspeople are well aware of it, not least because investment managers have recognised this and some are specialising in such areas. 

Generally the business elites least likely to respond positively to this imposition of broad societal will are those in the Trump orbit, because it challenges their (sociopathic?) need for unchallenged control and power.

The story is deeper, however, because even those on the extreme left – many of whom believe that recent events prove that capitalism is a failed system that cannot be repaired – do not trust the WEF for many of the same reasons and because they find the combined wealth of the business elite offensive in this deeply inequitable world. While I am superficially sympathetic to those feelings in relation to that inequity, I explained in “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic” why this too is flawed logic.

This situation reminds me of a lesson I learned whilst a Humboldt Fellow in Germany in 2002. Over a weekend gathering in Berlin, culminating with a function hosted by the President of Germany, my wife and I befriended two Czeck republic scientists. I recall talking about their opening up after the fall of the iron curtin just over a decade earlier. It was a difficult reality for them to accept that many of the people who were in positions of power under communist rule had managed to keep those or similar influential positions.

The inescapable pragmatism of the situation was that the necessary resetting of their system was highly dependent on utilising those with appropriately developed skills to ensure the continuity of societal functions even if emotionally they might be seen as representing vestiges of a deeply inequitable and often cruel regime. Mao’s cultural revolution in China, sending doctors to villages to be farmers, and other ill-conceived ideas, which led to famine and starvation on an enormous scale, was a lesson for all of humanity.

I see few business elites in as dim a light. Those I do view dimly I perceive mostly as being afflicted with personal greed and toxic aspiration which leads to them acting in their own interest above what is best for broader society.

In “The Great Reset: Momentum builds with the World Economic Forum agenda” I admitted that I consider myself incapable of being a “player” (or a significant “actor”) because I lack political aptitude, that being the skills necessary to influence and lead large groups of people. I do honestly consider them to be rare skills, and not always possessed by those in leadership roles.

Even those with extreme views on wealth must recognise the pragmatism in harnessing the skills of the business elites to enact the necessary deep reforms to place humanity on the surer, equitable and sustainable footing that we desire and require urgently.

Again, what we need is trust and optimism in the goodness at the core of humanity. And a recognition that there really are authentic leaders across all of society.

Specialisation is one of if not the key achievement of humanity. Instead of us all working hard to be okay at all of the skills we need to survive – from securing the necessities of life in water, food and shelter – we have developed societies so that we trust others to do the majority of our vital tasks. That has freed up our minds and time for us to innovate and create both in our roles that we play in our societies and for enjoyment.

The great majority of human beings in most global societies accept and trust the views of the great majority of climate scientists, who have devoted their lives to their work, and who agree that humanity must urgently respond to a climate crisis of our making. 

These scientists even agree on what must be done to address the crisis. 

Now humanity needs the people who are specialised in politics, leadership and communication, together with the people who manage businesses globally and regionally, to lay the background and institute the changes in an urgent manner. And we need the people who really understand people and culture to ensure that diversity, inclusion and fairness is at the centre of all decisions.

Just as we all do not need to understand the engineering and construction of a physical bridge, we all need to show the same trust in those capable of building a strong bridge which we can cross to a better future for humanity.

This year that begins with the WEF “The Great Reset” initiative at its first meeting (of a unique twin summit format) held in January promising an “an open house policy to integrate all interested citizens into this dialogue”.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021


The Great Reset: Momentum builds with the World Economic Forum agenda

I spent most of February and the first half of March 2020 banging away on my keyboard trying to wake up my fellow Australian residents to the risks of the coming COVID-19 pandemic so that through political self-interest elected politicians would enact policies necessary to protect those within the Australian borders and to help as best we can with international efforts. Events over Christmas 2020, with slow and incomplete responses by New South Wales to a potentially dangerous cluster and by the Commonwealth Government to potentially dangerous variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa, show that work will never be truly complete in this pandemic.

Early in the pandemic the Australian Prime Minister was following his natural ideologues in the US and UK in downplaying the risks. Even in mid-March Mr. Morrison was more interested in ensuring that we attend sporting events than prepare the country for what lay ahead.

This from my “Coronavirus Update” of 3 March fills the canvass:

In Australia our Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer, counter to Dr Tedros’ recommendations for people in high risk categories to begin reducing social interaction, are encouraging all Australians to maintain their normal practices, with both eyes on the economic data!

The similarities in the COVID-19-related thoughts and actions of Donald Trump in the US, Borris Johnson in the UK, and Scott Morrison in Australia are both striking and concerning.

Oh and Australia is still going ahead with the opening of the Formula 1 season on 15 March. Boy will some be sweating in their shorts about that all working out without (apparent) incident.

Of course the Formula 1 was cancelled on the first day of practice due to COVID-19 infections amongst some teams, with spectators crowded around the entrances.

Eventually the international border of our island continent closed as of 19 March, but the PM still was reluctant to take the necessary measures to take full advantage of our isolation and go for elimination. In “Australian ‘Followship’” published 23 March I was exasperated:

OK, I have just about exhausted myself in prosecuting this case. I do not know whether I will manage it, but my aim is to cease pointing out the defincies in the Australian response because I fear it is all pointless at this stage. Our advantage in battling the pandemic was not taken. And some times it is just too difficult to fight against the reality that “The First Victim of War is the Truth“.

I aim to add some more positive pieces to assist my nation and broader humanity endure this our toughest immediate challenge.

Seven days later on 30 March, almost 9 months ago, I published at MacroEdgo an essay entitled “The Great Reset” which detailed my views on the likely consequences of the pandemic on global societies and I proposed an approach – or a mindset – for emerging from the crisis in a better position by placing humanity on a path to a sustainable future. I also posted the essay at Medium.com on the same day.

The foreword reads:

This is a post of hope. Of promise. Of potential within our grasp if we have the courage to reach for it. The commencement discusses markets because they give a verifiable account of the slow reaction to the threat that COVID-19 posed to humanity. The latter discussion opens up to encompass implications and aspirations for humanity.

In a key passage I explained those aspirations:

I believe that if the current most urgent battle against COVID-19, followed by the equally necessary and increasingly urgent fight against the climate crisis, is handled with adept leadership, we have every chance of having a very rare psychological reset which could set up the global community for the next half century. It will be a much more humane and equitable one if we follow the edict of FDR as brilliantly articulated in his 4th Inauguration speech, and if the lessons of needing to stand up to hard-hearted right wingers and imperialists is heeded from the record of FDRs loyal and loving son Elliot Roosevelt in “As He Saw It” which recounted events immediately after FDR’s all too early passing as WW2 drew to an end and in the immediate post-war period.

I put everything I had into the conclusion:

Be in no doubt that there will be hard-hearted factions that want things to go back as closely as possible to the inequitable and unfair world that existed before this war [against the COVID-19 pandemic] because that is the game that they know how to win. That is exactly what was occurring in the post-GFC period. There will even be others who want to tilt things further to their advantage. These are the people that like to say that “a good crisis should never be wasted” and you just need to read Elliot Roosevelt’s “How He Saw It” to understand how that occurs.

Ask yourself this: Do we really want to get through all of this hurt, of the realisation that we are all humans, fearing and hurt by the same things, and come out the other side of this battle against COVID-19 to enter into the same petty argument of the reality of the climate change crisis with hard-hearted right wingers behaving petulantly not accepting that they are in the wrong?

If this battle against COVID-19 proves nothings else it shows that all our fates on this beautiful planet are inextricably linked. The only sustainable way forward for humanity is united and time and effort spent moving in the other direction is an utter waste and dangerous to us all.

Let this be the Great Reset that puts humanity back on the track that perhaps the greatest US President ever wanted for us all!

I would include the Australian Governments’ actions to further limit employee’s rights – in the name of workplace flexibility – as a prime example of using the COVID-19 crisis to tilt the situation even further to the advantage of the elites.

My “The Great Reset” essay was a further evolution and expansion of my views that I had been developing in earlier essays including “Xenophobia Must Be Challenged For An Effective Climate Change Response Inclusive Of Population Growth“, “Let’s Wage War On Climate Change“, “Social Cohesion: The best vaccine against crises“, “The Conundrum Humanity Faces But Nobody Admits“, and “The Magic Sauce Of American Economic Dynamism Is Not Personal Greed“.

In the second essay in “The Great Reset” series, “The Great Reset: Teaching what we left behind“, published 20 June 2020, I continued to impress that now is a moment for reflection and engagement:

Not everything was better in the past, not by a long shot. But for all of the heartache that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, for all of the harsh impacts on humanity, we all owe it to the victims of the pandemic and to each other to take a long hard look at where things were heading before the pandemic and to be courageous enough to dream of how we want to emerge. 

Regardless of whether we want certain trends reversed, redirected or accelerated, we will need to be prepared to ensure that we have our views heard and acted upon.

I concluded “How Society Will Change If A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Elusive“, published 17 July, with a reference back to “The Great Reset” era and a restatement of what is at stake:

To this point [in the pandemic] decisions have been made mainly by elected officials. Increasingly going forward those decisions will be made by individuals. Collectively those decisions will have significant impacts on society, and the longer and greater the COVID-19 affects are felt, the greater the change in the way society behaves.

That, in a nutshell, is “The Great Reset“. It has already begun and it is irreversible.

High quality, effective leadership will nurture it so that the best outcomes are realised to the benefit of humanity. Scoundrels will try to harness it to bend society to a more warped and less inclusive version. We all must show leadership and engage with the process to achieve the best outcome for ourselves and those we love, and those who succeed us. And we should all prepare to be flexible and supple in thought to make the best decisions that we can with the information that we have as we emerge from the shock of our altered existence and as our future comes into clearer focus.

Through 2020 I have managed to lay down some views on longer term issues for humanity, but my focus has necessarily been mostly trained on the here and now.

In Australia I have tried to constructively influence authorities’ policies around international border closures, developing an elimination strategy (social isolation, lockdowns and school closures), biosecurity around potentially contaminated processed meat, biosecurity with regards to other animals susceptible to infection, and most recently guarding against complacency and focusing on minimising spread through Summer so that Australia enters the critical Autumn/Winter period in a favourable position. At the same time I have tried to be a supportive friend to somebody who deserves so much more credit than she has received – in Dr Shi Zhengli – as well as support my family through this challenging period.

Nonetheless after publishing “The Great Reset” I remained alert to mentions of a “reset” or “great reset” when reading media and I did notice some echoes of “reset” in the Australian press and in this webinar series in May/June. In October I began noticing mentions of “The Great Reset” in the press and business media. While writing a piece drawing on information from a McKinsey report I learnt that they had adopted it as the title of a series of reports on COVID-19.

It was not until I read an article in The Guardian about the conspiracy theories surrounding the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) initiative “The Great Reset” that I learned that the name for the era that I used in my essay, and now a series of essays, had been adopted in such an important context. I was prompted to investigate the WEF’s initiative in comparison to my ideas, as well as to look into the broader use of the term.

At the time that I wrote “The Great Reset” I was unaware that a book of the same title was written 10 years earlier by Richard Florida. Nor was I aware that John Mauldin had used the term in his writing. I must confess, however, to being a subscriber to John Mauldin’s daily internet newsletter (and a search of my email account revealed I initiated my subscription in January 2018 and my research for this post shows that he wrote articles about “The Great Reset” during 2017). I must also confess, however, that over the years I have subscribed to many economics blogs and newsletters even though I am not a big reader of them these days (my email search shows that I ceased opening those emails in February 2018!) In recent years I have also been a good buyer of books which mostly sit unread on my dresser – this year I have been too busy for reading books!

I admit to being leery of groupthink and I like to keep my thoughts fairly “pure” so that I can be reasonably confident my views are my own, well as much as any observant citizen can be in this media-saturated world.  And to be totally honest, I conducted the great majority of research and reading on others’ views on “The Great Reset”, including the WEF initiative, after I completed writing my previous essay in the series, “The Great Reset: A letter to my father and my ‘sliding doors’ self” published 12 December for that reason. While I receive many daily, weekly and infrequent economics reports from Howard Marks to Jonathon Rochford to Moody’s Alerts, the truth is that I read none of them consistently. (The one exception was Jeremy Grantham whose quarterly reports I consistently read for many years.) Typically I read the first one or two posts after I subscribe and then they annoy me with the rest of them (around 60 daily, not all on socioeconomics/investing) landing in my inbox and I continually think to myself I need to unsubscribe, but never do. I suspect I am not alone.

I also note that, interestingly, in the week to 10 days before I released my essay “The Great Reset“, a number of other bloggers used the term, most often in relation to business, investing or technology implications from the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

While I do not preclude the possibility that I had read the term somewhere before I wrote the essay, I did not recall doing so, and it should be clear from my writing that I do try to be original and ahead of the curve. In fact, priding myself on being a contrarian, I have a natural aversion to being unoriginal. I recall thinking at the time that I needed to promptly release my essay to “claim” the title for the era because I felt it was so fitting and I felt the era, so certain to be marked in human history, would soon be named by some writer. What follows shows that I was correct in that view.

“The Great Reset” by Richard Florida, a Canadian urban economist interested in “the fall, rise and physical and economic reconfiguration of North American cities“, was published in 2010. It’s subtitle “How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity ” gives the clue that while Florida discusses the resetting of societal views and values as a consequence of the turbulence from the global financial crisis (GFC), with many themes in common with my essay, much of his focus is on how that translates into how cities will look and function as a result. 

Since at least 2017 John Mauldin has written about “The Great Reset” to define a period where the debt accumulation, and pension and other liabilities, held by the US and other Western Governments will face a reckoning. Mauldin also includes the restructuring of economies especially around employment made necessary “because of the massive technological transformation that is taking place”. In Mauldin’s writing he considers mainly the investment implications of what he defines as “The Great Reset”, largely ignoring the socioeconomic implications, and does not touch on the key areas of climate change or diversity and inclusion. His perspective appears to be mainly one associated with creating interest in his investment ideas on dealing with these issues. That is perhaps why Mauldin has written in recent weeks defending his version of “The Great Reset” suggesting that a “Reset of Capitalism”, embedded within the WEF initiative and in my writing, is neither necessary or imminent. No doubt that would appease high net wealth clients who, as I have written about extensively such as in “Your Life: Something the elites have always been prepared to sacrifice for their ends“, are typically threatened by the idea of significant change to socioeconomic systems.

I would humbly suggest that none of these earlier mentions of “The Great Reset” by fellow writers fully comprehended the breadth and intensity of the implications from the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the increased discussion in recent years of a paradigm shift, especially by Ray Dalio, reframing of geopolitical relationships and domestic politics revolving around the US in particular, and the increased awareness of growing inequality, had made many especially business, technology and investment-focused professionals highly aware of the growing momentum for change which had grown since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

With markets falling precipitously through early March – by 23 March we had experienced the fastest bear market, in fact the fastest 30% fall, in US stockmarket history – it was clear to all that the COVID-19 pandemic has severe implications for businesses, technology and investing. That many were looking for deeper explanation, meaning and significance is not surprising.

My writing demonstrates that I was well advanced on my thinking even in early February. And by mid-February I was frustrated with the lack of appreciation across society, including in the business and investment sectors, for the implications of the impending pandemic. Besides in posts on MacroEdgo and comments on The Conversation (Australian site), I mentioned these warnings on website blogs by Australian fund managers Montgomery Investment Managers and Forager Funds Management that investors needed to accept that “our world has changed”. I also allowed my frustration to boil over in “Politics V Society In The Coronavirus Outbreak” published 21 February when I (unwisely) wondered aloud whether I might already be living in an “Idiocracy”.

I would further suggest that the World Economic Forum’s “The Great Reset” agenda is the only other writing besides mine to detail the implications of COVID-19 to humanity and to grasp the breadth of reset that humanity confronts, and to recognise that it is imperative that people of good character be active to ensure that outcomes are fair and beneficial to broader humanity.

The World Economic Forum needs no introduction to anybody with an interest in economics, investing and/or business. As an avid viewer of business television I have always enjoyed the spectacle of a snowy Davos becoming the centre of global attention for a few days each year for the WEF gathering.

So let me say from the outset that I have a high regard for the WEF and for Prof. Schwab. Readers who find that surprising, due to my frequent apparent disdain for “elites”, should read “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To the COVID-19 Pandemic” for clarification – when I use the term with derision it refers to the subset who are affected by “toxic aspiration”. 

The first stage of the initiative was the launch on 3 June with a virtual meeting hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) and Prof. Schwab, and with statements by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. The launch detailed a special twin WEF summit in 2021 with the theme “The Great Reset”.

In early July 2020 the book “COVID-19: The Great Reset” by Thierry Malleret and Prof. Klaus Schwab was published in several languages.

The ideas in the background for the WEF initiative is strikingly similar to what I had discussed at MacroEdgo in my essay “The Great Reset” and other essays around humanity’s sustainability. The promotional video released for the launch, brilliantly powerful and moving, hit on all of the main themes of my writing that preceded it, with the key messages that “our world has changed” and that “everybody has a responsibility” to play a part to reset humanity on a more sustainable direction, sandwiching imagery of deeply ingrained global inequality and xenophobia and environmental degradation and catastrophe, echoing my own words intensely.

On 25 March Prof. Schwab wrote about the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses, contrasting businesses following his stakeholder-oriented model with those maintaining a short-term profit imperative, in the Financial Times but he did not take that opportunity to mention a “Great Reset”. Moreover, I would suggest that most readers comparing this article with my essay published just 4 days later would agree that my message was both more ambitious, with broader implications, and more urgent, perhaps hinting that Prof. Schwab’s thinking on the subject developed significantly after he wrote this article and before launching “The Great Reset” WEF initiative. 

I do recognise that the WEF has for a few years been discussing a reset of a capitalism towards a greener future, but there is no evidence that Prof. Schwab or the WEF recognised by April 2020 the full implications of the COVID-19 pandemic in the way that I had laid out in (admittedly) voluminous detail at MacroEdgo before that time.

I would also note that I had very regular readership of my website through February and early March from Switzerland that dropped off sharply once I mentioned it in my post “No, She Won’t Be Alright Mate“. I had assumed that the interest was from within the World Health Organisation head office, but perhaps it was from elsewhere (or both?), and I further assumed that they later used a VPN when accessing my site.

The earliest mention of a “reset” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that I can find on the WEF website was in a report dated May 2020 entitled “COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A preliminary mapping and its implications” in partnership with March & McLennan and Zurich Insurance group. The 66 page report mentions the word “reset” once:

To not lose the Generation Great Lockdown, but instead enable it to become the Generation Great Reset, with all its opportunities, the public and private sectors should include investing in youth as a driving element of the recovery efforts.

Attempting to influence Australia’s response to COVID-19, I invested no time or effort in attempting to track or determine how much my works were being adopted more broadly outside of Australia. For this piece on 20 December 2020 I performed a quick analysis of Google Trends for search intensity on “The Great Reset” from 12 months prior to the publication of my essay “The Great Reset” – so from March 2019 – through to present time.

New to Google Trends, my ability to mine data from this resource is certainly not as developed as others’. Nonetheless it is clear that search interest in “The Great Reset” was minimal between March 2019 and March 2020 in comparison to the peak of interest in November 2020 (based on media reporting, that coincided with the “conspiracy theory” peak after a mention of the initiative by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau).

When the focus shifts to the period from 28 January 2020 to 31 July 2020, so that the peak of search intensity is not as high thus allowing more subtle observation of interest levels, it is clear that there is some consistent activity around the time that I published my essay, including the week before, but search interest grew from late May 2020 (in the weeks prior to the launch of the WEF initiative with Prince Charles).

That is evidence that the WEF initiative has brought a high level of attention as would be expected. While my essay was written 2 months prior to the WEF initiative launch, it is reasonable to assume that views expressed in a blog post by a little-known author will require time to move through society in contrast to an initiative by an organisation with vast resources and with the support of the Prince of Wales!

The role that I have played in promulgating these ideas, through my writing, will probably never be known. But I would suggest that the fact that my home nation of Australia went from having a very, very low search interest in “The Great Reset” in the year prior to the release of my essay, based on the above graphs and other data that I examined, and rapidly developed a comparatively very high search intensity would suggest that my essay did have an influence on the spread of these ideas.

Moreover, it is undeniable from my writing about the pandemic from 3 February that I understood extremely early and far better than most the full consequences of this virus having jumped species. I draw particular attention to my first post on COVID-19, “Social Cohesion: The best vaccine against crises“, and my early Coronavirus Outbreak Updates, especially on 11 February; these undoubtedly had an influence on others (including some professionals in funds management and investing circles confirmed by direct feedback).

Finally, in case the old “broken clock is right twice a day” analogy is used, it is important to note that I never had near as serious concerns with the SARS or H1N1 swine flu episodes. For the SARS episode I recall being aware of it and having some concerns when my wife and I travelled back to Australia, after having lived in Europe for 2 years, in early March 2003. But we still went ahead with a several day stopover in Singapore. And for the swine flu episode, being a family with very young children, I thought it prudent to get in early and secure doses of Tamiflu for the family but that was the only measure I took besides keeping up to date with the news flow.

On those occasions I was aware and suitably cautious, but far from alarmed. But on this occasion I knew I had to stand up and tell people to “Repeat After Me, This Is Not SARS: COVID-19 is much worse“. And I do intend to one day write a post detailing everything that I did in February 2020 to secure my family’s safety.

To put a finer and final point on my views, “The Great Reset” was set off by the shock that humanity received due to the pandemic together with its timing coinciding with the build up in potential for a paradigm shift that others had been noting in their writing and which I discussed in detail in “How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic“. 

“The Great Reset”, in my writing, refers to the era just as “The Great Depression” refers to an era typically delineated as the period between the stock market collapse of 1929 through to the commencement of WWII (though historians may argue on those markers).

Future historians will no doubt argue on when it was that “The Great Reset” era commenced, whether it was after the global financial market dislocations of 2007-09, along the lines described by Richard Florida, or in 2020 as I described. Note that I discussed this timing in “The Great Reset” itself in analogy with “The Great Depression” saying that if we considered the 2007-09 financial crises as the commencement of the era then there is optimism that we might be closer to the end rather than the beginning.

If 2007-09 were marked as the commencement of the era, then 2020 would be marked as the moment of intensification so that many of the factors and transitions accelerated giving a perception of them coming to a climax.

On the other hand, one wonders whether the conditions for such a strong and marked reset would have been present if not for the shock of the first truly global pandemic in 100 years commencing in 2020 (or a few weeks before it). And it cannot be ignored that between 2009 and 2020 central bankers had managed to create a perception of relative stability, with only occasional tremors, even though some (including myself) remained concerned that underlying issues never were addressed so that pressure continued to build along fault-lines.

There is no doubt that this current era is being marked by a psychological reset. “The Great Depression” did not necessarily need to be “great”. It was made so by policy missteps so that a depression was made greater, in a negative sense.

If the GFC was responsible for the commencement of a reset in contemporary societies it was progressing slowly. During and as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic factors coalesced – and the death of George Floyd and the increased momentum for the Black Lives Movement is a major aspect of these factors – for a reset to become significant, or “greater” in intensity and breadth. There is the potential for this current era to be known as “The Great Reset” in a positive sense if humanity manages to place itself on a surer footing to a sustainable and inclusive future. That is precisely why it is an optimistic outlook or mindset.

That the WEF’s “The Great Reset” initiative has been greeted with scepticism by Trumpites with a predisposition for believing conspiracy theories is disappointing and concerning, but not surprising.

Since my earliest writing about “The Great Reset” era I have stated that powerful interests would marshal their supporters, via their now sophisticated and highly developed channels, to take advantage of the flux state that humanity was entering catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, the more extreme actors in this space are working at convincing their supporters that it is the others who are attempting to take advantage in humanity’s moment of vulnerability.

Conspiracy theorists on the right are suggesting that it is somehow unusual that the leaders within our societies are meeting to decide on global directions for humanity. Of course this is nothing unusual or new – that is how civil society functions and has done for centuries – even if communication is now aided by electronics and is “real time”. Anybody with even a passing interest in history understands this to be the case, and I would implore, again, all to read Elliot Roosevelt’s account of the events preceding and immediately after his father FDR’s death near the end of WWII. It is an excellent account of just what lengths were taken for key decision-makers to meet face to face at such a momentous moment in human history, thus underlying how vitally important it was to do so. It also is a salutary warning on how negotiations and events can go awry when actors, including political leaders, are ultimately inauthentic and fudge on agreements.

Even if not everyone can actually be at the table when decisions are made, we all can have our diverse points of view heard and I encourage all to be active in these discussions. That is the message that I have repeated constantly in my own writing, and it is also a significant aspect within the WEF’s messaging.

But please be determined to do most of the thinking for yourself, and when you do consult experts or disseminated information, please remember to exercise caution to all of it.

As a child a common truism spoken was to believe half of what you saw and none of what you heard. I do not often hear that said anymore. Unfortunately, now with “AI bots” activated by various actors with questionable motives working to disseminate altered information in all forms of communication (text, voice, images and video), it is prudent to very critically parse all that is seen and heard knowing that even experts may be challenged in detecting altered information.

There is no point in pretending this is not a confusing time for many. Discriminating between the sources of information is critical, and for people in society to do that we need to rebuild trust in leadership. That can only occur if leaders are prepared to stand up and lead with authenticity. It also requires honest acknowledgement of the issues and problems experience by many, as I highlighted in my essay “The Great Reset: A letter to my Father and ‘Sliding Doors’ self“.

The vacuum left by the withdrawal of political leadership, including in Australia, has meant that other leaders who have stepped forward are more conspicuous, including activists but also including business leaders. None of that should be threatening to those who continue to exercise discriminating logic. In fact, greater dispersion of leadership within society – which might be termed “diffuse leadership” or “community leadership” – is likely to be an advancement for contemporary humanity. It is vital, however, that it be exercised in parallel with strong, effective and fair leadership amongst those who have the power to institute change for it is only then that the best outcomes will be achieved.

In “How Might Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic” I stated my views on why it has been necessary that business elites step into the void left by the retreat of political leadership. While I am as guilty as anybody for bandying about the term “elites”, I would hope that my writing makes it clear that I do – and we all must – make our own opinion on all individuals in the world, including those fortunate human beings who collectively can be considered as belonging to the “elites”.

It can easily be said that there is a concern over unelected officials having a strong voice, but that makes little sense. For one, business leaders are beholden to many stakeholders, and activists are well aware that customers are equally powerful as shareholders (a major point that Prof. Schwab has been making for many years). Secondly, many who object to business elites publicly stating their opinions tend to be the same as those who oppose and reject a 16 year old Swedish school student for standing up and insisting on being heard. These objections show that those maintaining extreme positions will seek to discredit or shout down any other view than their own.

Especially in democracies we all can be heard if we choose to be. And, personally, I am far more concerned by what happens in the narrow corridors of power, in national parliamentary institutions around the globe, with lobbying by people we have never heard of who introduce enormous distortions into political processes by incentivising and/or punishing politicians who support positions supportive/contrary to their aims.

The WEF has been extremely open about their aims, and they clearly share my view that they need to lead and be seen to lead, to bring people along with them.

It is to be hoped that all political decision-makers can join in the momentum that they have created to place humanity on a surer, fairer and safer bearing. Unfortunately, the soon-to-be ex-President of the United States had a magnetic effect on some national leaders, including my own, which made it so their political and moral compass “would not travis well when near it [or him].”

Again that is nothing new as this quote from a brilliant Greek philosopher who lived 2,000 years ago shows:

Be careful whom you associate with. It is human to imitate the habits of those with whom we interact. We inadvertently adopt their interests, their opinions, their values, and their habit of interpreting events.


Trumpism is not going away soon. There are too many powerful actors who are pleased by the advances made on these agendas, and the 70,000,000 votes garnered by Trump shows that they marshal significant resources.

Exactly how humanity emerges from “The Great Reset” era is very much in the balance. Everything that I have read of “The Great Reset” WEF initiative suggests to me that those driving and integrally involved with the initiative really want the reset to take humanity back to the ideals espoused by possibly the greatest US president of all time, FDR, who near the conclusion of WWII and shortly before his death spoke for Americans and all of humanity:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community

The 4th Inaugural Speech of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I am extremely pleased that my ideas and those of many others have coalesced into a coherent program for social change offered for discussion by the WEF and Prof. Schwab. The resources and influence that the WEF can harness is unparalleled, as evidenced by the passionate involvement of Prince Charles and a cross-section of stakeholders from multinational business through to the most important supranational organisations and humanitarian groups. I am enormously impressed by the initiative and am hopeful that the twin summits can manage to counter the more divisive influences circling to ensure that “The Great Reset” era jumpstarts humanity on the long road towards those lofty but vital goals.

I do not suggest for a moment that my ideas or theirs are either new or unique – many people have argued for the urgent need to address sustainability for a very long time as well as inequality.

At the same time, however, it would seem so coincidental as to be highly unlikely that a detailed program bearing such similarity to what I have laid out in my posts at MacroEdgo – adopting the title of a seminal piece that I wrote at the outset of the most significant global pandemic in a century – had developed in parallel by an organisation with such immense resources without consulting or at least being aware of, and reading at least some of, my works.

I am a passionate activist writer. I have known since the latter years of my scientific career that I lack the political aptitude and mindset to be a “player”. Consequently I have doubts that I would be able to lead large groups of humans in the contemporary world. In my younger years I was an effective leader on the sporting field, but that is a role where simply leading by example is enough. 

If my writing speaks to people sufficiently that they become activated to broaden or even change their perceptions, then I have achieved what I set out to do. If they become inspired enough to be an activist and they seek to expand the views of others, then even better. And if my views are incorporated into organised programs for positive change for humanity and the planet, well that is a very personally satisfying situation.

Finally, even though I rushed in an attempt to plausibly lay claim to naming the era “The Great Reset”, my 10 month-later “due diligence” confirms it was so obvious and already embedded in the collective psche of engaged observers leading up to this period that probably nobody can really lay claim to it. (Florida’s book was so much earlier as to represent a dubious claim to it, others’ focus was too narrow.) Critically I understood that a pandemic was almost certain and I understood the economic implications earlier than most.

What I have written here is chiefly meant to act as a historical account of my recollections from the preceding 10 months together with my views on how I have attempted to play my part in this historical period.

I will say, however, that I am proud of myself for the personal stand that I have taken and for all of the words that I have written. If it were confirmed that my words have been read by even one of the people involved in the launch of the WEF “The Great Reset” initiative then I would feel honoured.

Moreover, when I read words such as these spoken by somebody for whom I regard so highly in a position of such influence, knowing that I said essentially the same before and around that time, I am deeply moved:

We have to use all the strength we have to turn a page and have history be about the Great Reset and not the Great Reversal… The best memorial we can build to those who have lost their lives is a greener, smarter, fairer world.

Dr. Kristilina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, from her address at the launch of “The Great Reset” as reported by The Guardian

Having said all of that, I must admit that along with a lack of political aptitude comes an almost pathological need to say what I believe regardless of the closeness of my relationship with that person or group. When contrasted with my inclination to strong and loyal attachment to individuals whom I respect, I am at times left with immense guilt for speaking my mind.

Essentially I have come to realise over the years that I am not a “team player”, but I have to admit that some of that is probably psychological scarring from suffering repercussions to my career for staying true and strong to my scientific and humanitarian views. And supposedly while amongst learned professionals. 

It should be clear that I will be closely observing what comes of the WEF “The Great Reset” initiative and I will not be backwards in my criticisms if I develop concerns that it is not heading in the right direction.

Dedicated to my sons, my most important legacy to humanity – you both make me prouder with each breath you draw. You are the inspiration for my writing of this piece for so very many reasons. The catalyst for writing this now was a conversation with you, my first-born. When I said to you recently that I was beginning to feel powerless to help prevent my nation from slipping into complacency and dangerously low levels of COVID awareness over Summer, you gave me a pep talk and told me “Greta Thunberg does not stop when she fears nobody is listening”. What is more you told me that I should be proud of what I have done – that in your view it is the best writing about COVID-19 that you have read – and that I needed to make sure that I claim credit for my work. I do so now in honour of you both.

Gained value from these words and ideas? Consider supporting my work at GoFundMe

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak Update (Final)

I would rather make a difference than be acknowledged as being right

In the daily update I included my up to date “optimism scale”. This is a scale that can move daily depending on latest developments. Extreme pessimism of 1 would entail confirmation that the virulence of the virus is such that infections result in a mortality rate of 1% or greater (10x the virulence of severe flu) even under optimal conditions, continued indications of very high transmissibility (a reasonable proportion of infected individuals infect several people), and a lack of effective treatment and/or prevention (vaccination). An increase in optimism would necessitate clear evidence that outbreaks outside of China were being contained, evidence supportive of a virulence attenuation resulting in a mortality rate of below 1%, or strong indications of successful therapeutic treatments that can be administered widely and rapidly.

My optimism/pessimism level – from 10 to 1 in decreasing optimism – was increased today to 2.

This is my equal highest level of optimism since I commenced writing updates on 9 February and I have raised the level to 2 because there have been (mixed but overall) positive developments around vaccines and already nationwide vaccine programs have commenced in the UK and USA. The reader should, however, consider the nuance around these developments below.

18 December

WHO  dashboard shows that as at 5:05 pm CET 17 December, there have been 72,851,747 confirmed cases globally with 1,643,339 deaths.

Source: John Hopkins University

It is with much sadness that I discuss the current situation. It is a bleak Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, to say the least, and the festive season is undoubtedly the most sombre in decades, probably since the depths of WWII. Sadly politics has impeded the pandemic response in many nations – usually based on a divide between conservatives placing higher importance on the economy (or at least perceptions of measures impacting on the economy) and parties left of that position placing a higher value on human life. When those differences are expressed across the layers of Government – e.g. Federal v regional – paralysis has been common. For example, the lack of leadership at the Federal level severely impeded the US response, and threatened to do likewise in Australia (but the vestiges of State autonomy ensured the Premiers could not be strong-armed by PM Morrison, thankfully), whereas Angela Merkel’s efforts in Germany to protect people from the ravages of the pandemic have been hampered by obstructionist regional politicians.

In my earliest reports I discussed potential seasonality to the pandemic as I was acutely aware that the Southern Hemisphere would be the first to face a full Winter with the global pandemic. Seasonality has very clearly been a major factor in the major temperate population centres in the Northern Hemisphere. The Summer lull in the pandemic, especially in Europe, was brought to a shuddering end as case numbers exploded in mid-Autumn catching virtually all nations off-guard. While the sharing of information on best practice for treating COVID-19 developed through the year has resulted in slightly better outcomes for severely ill patients, these gains are threatened by the sheer numbers of hospitalised patients such that hospital systems in most European nations and North American regions are on the brink of being totally overwhelmed. Exhaustion amongst the real heroes of this crisis – the health care workers – is a major concern everywhere.

National political leaders are attempting to balance the need to impose tougher and tougher restrictions to lessen the pressure on their health systems with pandemic fatigue, despondency or out and out anarchy amongst certain groups of citizens (in some cases which they, themselves, played a part in stoking – hey Borris?) While the overnight news that yet another national leader, French President Macron, has been infected is a reminder that nobody is immune, the knowledge that such elites within society will receive an entirely different standard of care to the majority only proves the necessity for change through this period, which I began to call in March “The Great Reset“.

Those who celebrate Christmas this December will be hoping that, while experiencing a grim festive season, they might find in their gift stocking not coal but a solar panel and the hope of a brighter future…

As foreshadowed in previous Coronavirus updates, this will be my final one.

Firstly I will point out that this is now the only update on this landing page. All previous updates are on the linked pages (in reverse chronology starting here) because I updated the material at the head of the page which had stayed constant since much earlier in the pandemic. 

In those first few weeks of the pandemic I initiated an “Optimism Scale,” which in my first update was at the penultimate level of pessimism until 24 February when I downgraded it to 1 indicating extreme pessimism, when the WHO Situation Report No. 34 listed 17 COVID-19 deaths outside of China. In doing so I stated 

this could be upgraded with some unexpected development, but the information emerging out of especially Korea, Italy and the middle-east is very concerning which confirms rapid and widespread transmission, including in well developed countries, with the clear suggestion of high mortality rate

Having left my optimism level at 1 for almost 10 months, I have now raised that rating to 2.

That is in no way indicative of the current situation with the pandemic raging globally, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, including in the developed nations within North America and Europe.

It is an indication of my optimism that, on a global basis, things may be set to improve once the Northern Hemisphere passes the critical Winter/early Spring period.

While my own optimism is genuine, I do need to note that it is not nearly as strong as sections of the Australian media and broader society have allowed themselves to indulge in. While a certain level of optimism is both “earned” and understandable, at times it has bordered on euphoric which is ill-advised.

What follows is my honest optimistic view for the way forward, but it is heavily qualified by significant nuance in both volume and salience.

In my 30 June Coronavirus Update I said that I knew the pandemic was a multi-year event from the outset, but leaving the year from the heading of my updates was intentional as “I simply had no intention of writing updates beyond the first year of the pandemic because I knew it would be too depressing”.

In my previous Coronavirus Update I said that for my final update I would recap all of my Coronavirus updates and other writing on the pandemic before going on to give my views on the year(s) ahead.

I have decided to drop the first part because I think to do so is inappropriate. Such a conspicuous lack of humility, in this difficult time for humanity, is not really authentic to my true self. In my writing, where I have quoted myself from earlier papers, it has mainly been to show that I have been prescient in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic to implore the reader to take on board my views.

Most importantly I prefer to devote my energies to looking forward to the future.

Before I do that, however, I do need to briefly mention an upcoming post. As a complete outsider it is difficult if not impossible to gauge the impact of my works and words. I noted in “Evidence of MacroEdgo Impacts” that an Australian researcher based in Singapore led a team which showed that the concerns that I raised earlier about the potential for meat processed in facilities where there are large numbers of infected workers is a risk for seeding clusters was justified.

Now I note that in June the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched an initiative they have titled “The Great Reset”. This initiative is essentially identical to the approach that I called for in my essay of the same title which I posted on 30 March.

I will discuss these developments in a post which I will release next week. But at this early stage let me just say that no, I have never had any contact with the WEF, or anybody else about the initiative or any other similar initiative; and yes, I am pleased to see that many global actors have increased their activities to argue openly about what shape we want to emerge from this major global humanitarian event.

Given the friable environment in which these discussions are occurring I feel I need to pre-empt some of what I will say in that upcoming post. To the conspiracy theorists on either and all sides, I need to tell you that you are barking up the wrong tree in believing others who tell you that all of this is part of an orchestrated strategy.

Rare and unpredictable shocks to individuals usually cause them to reflect on their lives, and when that shock occurs to societies collectively people will naturally question whether our societies are heading in the right direction.

That is nothing to be feared. It is to be embraced as a human being because much good can come from it when there is authentic open engagement. 

I will discuss this in much greater detail in my post, but it should be clear to all that joining a social media group that adopts extreme positions that are simple and clear-cut on these very complex issues, and where participants do not engage in open respectful dialogue with any and all others that show them respect and who raise valid points, is not a way to become genuinely informed and participation on that basis is unwise. 

The criteria for my optimism scale are mortality rate (i.e. infection fatality rate – IFR) and progress at developing cures (including vaccines).

The reason for upgrading my optimism level is based almost exclusively on vaccine developments.

The virulence (or lethality) of the novel coronavirus has been one of the most contentious issues from the earliest days of the pandemic, worsened by a disappointingly large number of political leaders downplaying this aspect. 

I chose a rather arbitrary (and round number) of 1% as the bar to fall below to raise my optimism level. Early estimates of the IFR varied significantly, but with a year passed I doubt that estimates will be any more accurate (though I expect that debate over these estimates will never be settled).

Of course, also, the IFR experienced in different regions will be impacted by an enormous range of factors from natural (e.g. weather/environmental) and socioeconomic (including dispersion/homogeneity of those factors  – i.e. societal inequality). Moreover, treatments (including “incomplete cures” or “cures under development”) and their interaction with these other factors will also affect the IFR over time. All of this has been discussed in early “Coronavirus updates” and my other reports.

I will point out, however, that even in developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere many countries are approaching full capacity in their intensive care wards from COVID-19 patients. I was shocked to learn that Sweden, a country known for having one of the highest standards of health care in the world, has recently sent patients to other Nordic countries. Of course, Sweden is well known for their adoption of very light social restrictions through the pandemic which they have persevered with until only recently. The point is that even in countries with excellent health systems the IFR can increase when their well provisioned and staffed hospitals are overwhelmed. And on that point, sadly Sweden now faces a crisis amongst their health workers who are resigning due to exhaustion.

I have consistently placed a high value on the research out of the Imperial College London, and this is from their latest report on the subject: 

we estimate the overall IFR in a typical low-income country, with a population structure skewed towards younger individuals, to be 0.23% (0.14-0.42 95% prediction interval range). In contrast, in a typical high income country, with a greater concentration of elderly individuals, we estimate the overall IFR to be 1.15% (0.78-1.79 95% prediction interval range).

I would not become less pessimistic based on these figures. Moreover, history would suggest that, and it will undoubtedly be repeated unless the world changes a great deal and rapidly, the IFR in low-income countries is unlikely to fall appreciably in the near future (though I am getting ahead of myself).

Now to the vaccines and I must start with an admission. A week earlier when I began thinking of drafting this final update I was toying with increasing my optimism level by 2 places to a level of 3. That was due to just how surprisingly positive was the run of data releases on the vaccines under development. There has been a run of setbacks since, which has brought us all back to Earth a little, and it was a lesson to me also on the need to keep optimistic emotions in check.

I will detail all of this below, but let me just say very clearly that even two months ago if you dumped all of these data on me to consider at the same time, I would have come away feeling cautiously optimistic and thinking that the vaccines show greater potential than I had dared to hope previously.

Perhaps it is unavoidable, but receiving updates in drips and drabs leaves us all prone to feeling like we are riding roller coasters. That is why I believe it is incumbent on political leaders and health officials to be calming voices of realism when positive developments occur, and to store the optimism mainly for use when we receive setbacks.

Unfortunately many modern politicians seem only capable of cheerleading and pulling blinkers over eyes in a vain attempt to create (consumer) confidence, whether it be justified or ill-advised. Here I do have to note that this refers mainly to male leaders and it reminds me of my desire to expand on the gender differences in leadership through the pandemic as an extension to my article “Toxic Masculinity and Political Footballs“.

The new class of vaccines based on mRNA (messenger RNA, a type of nucleic acid present in all cells of all living organisms in the world, like DNA) shows enormous promise with both the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine achieving an efficacy of over 90% at preventing COVID-19 disease (but not necessarily preventing infection) across age groups and ethnicities.

There are flies in the ointment, however: will vaccinated people still become infected and transmit infection to others (including potentially unvaccinated people); how long will protection from developing COVID-19 last; because this is new technology significant quantities of this type of vaccine have never been produced so what will be the production rate over the next year or two; given protection might wane, will production ever be able to meet the demand for people who want/need to be vaccinated (including with booster shots); being a new class of vaccine and requiring quite specific handling which requires significant logistics, just what proportion of humanity could realistically receive this type of vaccination; on the first day of rollout in the UK two people who had severe allergies had adverse reactions – how common might this be, and what other complicating factors will emerge as the vaccine is rolled out to millions of people.

Note that I have little concern over safety for these vaccines, but we should always expect that we are going to learn of complicating factors, which hopefully will be relatively minor and/or rare, when hundreds of millions of people receive new treatments.

It is difficult to escape the view, however, that while this class of vaccine will likely become the gold standard for preventing COVID-19, it may only be given to the highest risk (of developing severe disease or of exposure to the virus) members of society in high-income developed countries. Even that is dependent on further developments being broadly positive which is not guaranteed. 

I found this to be a brilliantly clear explainer on early COVID-19 vaccine efficacy data and especially how the final efficacy could be markedly different depending on how long the immune response lasts.

But again, this is a great start and we would have much less reason for optimism without it!

It follows that the majority of humanity will likely be highly reliant on success with the other vaccines. And there are very many of them – almost 200 in fact – being developed both in Western developed countries as well as in India, China and Russia. I will just concentrate on what is known from the final stage trials that have been released as well as the pertinent to Australia UQ/CSL vaccine.

The most promising – to this point – of the remaining vaccines is one by Oxford/AstraZenica. Unfortunately its data release was not well handled, which given the febrile environment, has led to a degree of scepticism in even informed sections of the general and scientific community. The issue is that around 20% of participants who received the vaccine received a half-strength initial dose – which now appears to have occurred because of an error in manufacturing – and those who received the lower initial dose displayed a higher level of efficacy. However, there are further issues in that most of these were younger. In short, these missteps, that were always going to become public knowledge due to the extreme level of interest in vaccine development, have made it clear that we really are in an accelerated development mode and that mistakes and vagaries, especially when dealing with a pathogen known to mankind for just one year, are highly likely to occur.

Nonetheless, it should not be lost that the statistical significance and the overall efficacy rate of around 70% is quite acceptable. In fact, this was about the best result that I dared hope for before the data on the mRNA vaccines was released. Moreover, this is a cheap vaccine which requires no unusual storage or supply conditions so this may be a vaccine “for the masses” including in the developing world.

Researchers have started another full trial to determine the efficacy when all participants who receive the vaccine received a half dose initially, so that might suggest that the work is incomplete. But in reality all of the vaccines will continue to be the subject of further research to continue to determine the finer details, such as how effective they are at reducing infections and transmission.

The Russian and Chinese vaccines have been rolled out in their respective countries. To be used in most western countries I imagine that they will be required to undergo trials in those countries. Whether that occurs will largely be determined by success with the other vaccines. These will likely have a higher uptake in low-income developing countries as and when confidence grows in them from use.

Finally we have some more disappointing results. The GlaxoSmithKlein/Sanofi vaccine suffered a serious setback last week as it failed to produce significant protection in the vulnerable 60+ year cohorts, and this has knocked their timeline to release back by at least 6 months.

Disappointing for Australia especially, the UQ/CSL vaccine has been abandoned because its use resulted in false positives for HIV. I understand that researchers will persevere with the technology, but the setback was so serious that it is unrealistic that it will play a part in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To finish this section on a positive note, it is great to see that within a year of the onset of this pandemic residents of the UK and USA are already receiving injections as a part of a national vaccination program. That is an enormous feat for humanity!

All of this was made possible by the excellent work of the scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by Dr Shi Zhengli, who first identified the virus and made the entire genetic sequence available to the world within weeks. To those who have not read that original article in Nature, I suggest you do so even if you have no virology or even a science background – the enormity of the studies that these scientists performed in the space of just a few weeks is readily apparent and is nothing short of remarkable.

To conclude I will expand on my views on how the pandemic is likely to progress next year and after.

In “How Society Will Change If A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Elusive” I dared to wonder about an Australia where we have a new normal that is closer to the life that we have lived in 2020 than the one we had before it. Until the preliminary final stage vaccine trial results for the mRNA vaccines were released, I feared that such a reality was an uncomfortably high probability. And when I undertook to put together these thoughts I believed they would be more sobering.

Right now it appears that the more concerning scenario is less likely because scientists, standing on the shoulders of those around and before them, have performed an incredible feat in developing excellent and safe vaccines in under a year from the commencement of the pandemic.

That is not the end of the story, unfortunately, as above I discussed some of the many questions that remain unanswered about how the vaccine works and interacts with the human immune system. While these are significant questions, which will not be fully answered by the end of next year, even more critical questions relate to the virus itself.

From my earliest updates and reports I have discussed the reality that the virus will mutate as it spreads and these mutations could have implications for how quickly it spreads or how ill people become. Those mutated strains could be advantageous for our management, or they could complicate it and thus worsen the pandemic.

Scientists are finding that for an RNA virus this coronavirus is not mutating as much as it might have, which is good news. It is now so widespread, however, that the potential for mutation is very significant. That is further complicated by an additional factor.

In “COVID-19 Risks With Animals” I discussed that the virus has a very broad potential host range, meaning that the virus has infected many different animal species and predictions are that it could potentially infect very many more animal species if conditions for exposure existed. The more the virus spreads in humans, the greater the chance of exposure to a broader range of animals. And the more other animals are exposed, the greater the chance of them acting as reservoirs for further infections in humans, and the greater the chance of more significant mutations occurring so that more different strains re-emerge in humans.

While the news media is reporting vaccine successes, we are also learning about new strains of the virus that have been detected which may be different enough from the initial strains that they have implications either for how many people may become seriously ill and die, or, perhaps even more important now, how effective will be the vaccines against these strains because the vaccines were made using much earlier strains of the virus.

This quote from a UK scientist explains the urgency around a recently detected strain:

We think there’s a mechanism for the virus to start escaping,” said Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Cambridge. “We need to crack down on it. We don’t know what it’s going to do long term but we can’t take a chance on it. It’s unlikely it’ll make people sicker, but it could make it harder to control.

These mutations are being monitored by the scientific community. Of course the vaccines can be reworked to be more effective against emergent strains, but that will still take time even in a streamlined process. In an all too plausible scenario, and given the reality that we do not yet know the production rate for mRNA vaccines, we may find ourselves continually behind if the vaccines must be continually reworked (as is required for flu vaccines).

This novel coronavirus is now highly unlikely to ever be eradicated because that would require a very cheap and easily delivered vaccine effective against the full range of strains, which prevents infection, being delivered to almost all humans and potentially exposed animal populations.

That is highly improbable.

I do wonder what will be the way forward in low-income developing countries, where the effects of the pandemic are already under-reported in the media compared with wealthy developed countries, especially once the shock to humanity begins to subside.

History has shown that wealthy countries tend to quickly lose interest in assisting developing nations, because when citizens’ focus moves their elected officials feel no incentive to assist, and the hard work of engaging wealthy countries in vaccination and other health programs is left to activists and their organisations.

There is one factor, however, that currently exists which has not been the situation for decades; that is the battle for hearts and minds, and ultimate geopolitical influence, between Western nations and China that I discussed in “Investment Theme: Developing Asia ex-China“. (Briefly re-reading this post reminds me of how necessary it is that I quickly complete the post that I am drafting restating my views on China in light of the pandemic and Trump’s exit.)

For humanity in aggregate, and especially the wealthy developed nations with older age-structured societies making them more vulnerable to COVID-19, the best management strategy for COVID-19 is to minimise its spread everywhere on Earth, thereby cutting down its opportunity to mutate sufficiently to perpetuate or reignite a pandemic. However, if the pandemic were even briefly arrested in the developed world it would be consistent with history for the developing world to be left to their own devices to battle COVID-19 impacts. I am more optimistic than I normally would be that high-income countries will remain engaged with battling COVID-19 in low-income developing countries. But there are even bigger question marks on how successful those efforts might be.

As detailed above the vaccines that have shown the highest efficacy at preventing COVID-19 thus far are expensive and require logistics and facilities that will preclude their use outside of developed countries. How beneficial to the developing world will vaccination be is dependent on the effectiveness of vaccines that can be easily rolled out in challenging circumstances. And the significantly lower mortality rate (IFR) from COVID-19 observed in low-income developing nations may mean that, unless the efficacy is very high, the benefits of a vaccination program to the individual and the low-income nation may be limited.

Ultimately how widely COVID-19 vaccines are administered in the developing world will depend on the balance of costs and benefits of the vaccine program, and the willingness of the developed nations and other geopolitically active nations to derive goodwill from such programs.

We head towards the closing of 2020 in a truly terrible situation, and I constantly find it disheartening that still there are human beings who suggest that their own desires and beliefs outweigh the pain of so many other human beings.

Through this year my subconscious has struggled to come up with a single, simple statement on this and I only achieved that in recent weeks:

Those who argue for minimal or no measures against COVID-19 are in reality saying “the extra risk to everybody’s health is worth it to me”.

Obviously there has been much said this year about the collective good versus individual rights, and this debate will surely go on in earnest for many more years. My views are clear in my writing and need no further explanation here.

I will simply make two points. Firstly that the innocuous yet invaluable hygiene device of a face mask has become the symbol of individuals’ rights will in retrospect be seen for what it is – plain stupid – and not unlike burning books!

Secondly, the plain numbers of confirmed cases and deaths on various dashboards, while shocking in their enormity, can in no way ever begin to reflect the true loss to humanity. That loss extends well beyond the people who these numbers represent to the years of life cut shorter than otherwise, and to what they might have done and achieved in that time.

The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar is known for developing a guide for the typical number of relationships that humans maintain through their lives. He found that on average each human being maintains relationships with an average of around 150 people at any one time. Of course there are different depths of relationships that we maintain, with our nearest and dearest amounting to 3 to 5 people, and then a further very close 15 friends with whom we maintain ongoing close relationships. Nonetheless connection with all the approximately 150 people in our circle provides us with the feeling of connectedness with the community.

Of course as in all things research, others have come up with different numbers, some less, many larger.

The point that I am making, however, is that if one multiplies the number of people who have died from COVID-19, the official figures for which are likely understated, by their number of contacts then we will begin to develop a truer picture of our human loss. Of course the extent is greater again because the contacts of all who have faced serious challenges against the disease have been anguished. And I think all people of good character have felt a great deal of anguish and pain for their fellow human beings who have experienced direct loss.

I know that some will talk about the anguish and pain associated with apparently lost or diminished ambitions as a consequence of measures in response to the pandemic. To that I would say that perspective needs to be given to the fact that those ambitions are not necessarily lost or diminished but delayed. 

The ambitions of those people who pass in the pandemic most certainly are lost. And the pain of loss for those left behind will persist for their entire lives.

I have attempted to be clear and thorough about the issues that will determine how humanity progresses with this pandemic in the years ahead. Vaccines have always presented our brightest of hopes, and while progress there has been truly remarkable, we need to remain duly mindful that, without an unlikely level of luck, vaccines will not take our lives back to the way they were in 2019.

Besides the fact that we are forever changed for this experience – and that is something that I implored my readers in February to accept as soon as possible, that “the world has changed” – our road back to living a life without a thought of the novel coronavirus creeping into our minds on a daily basis, like when we greet somebody whether they be friend or acquaintance, or when we shop, remains several years away.

However, and it is a big however, I do believe that once this northern hemisphere Winter has passed then we probably have passed the worst of the pandemic impacts on us, if for no other reason than our expectations have been reset.

My predictions on how and when we might be able, or perhaps might feel safe, to do things such as travel internationally are pointless because the answers to those are in part related to politics and otherwise are dependent on our own views on risks and rewards.

What is clear is that increasing proportions of citizens – not necessarily inhabitants or residents – of high-income developed countries will have the opportunity to be vaccinated with vaccines that are highly effective at preventing disease at least in the short-term. What proportions of citizens in each country are (or remain) protected from either disease or infection at the end of 2021 is impossible to know.

The one thing that I do know for certain is that next year, and likely for several more years, high-income nations where residents want to minimise human loss will need to guard against complacency and be prepared to continue to be adaptive and innovative in responding to the pandemic, along the lines that I outlined in my campaigns “Make This Summer Count!” and “We Mask Because We Care“. 

While I realise that a reader disinclined to agree (in general) with my views is unlikely to have read through to this point, if they have I would point them to an article co-authored by Prof. Ian Frazer AC which makes some of the points that I have made above and strongly recommends the very same approach that I have been advocating since launching these aforementioned campaigns.

Thank you to the scientists who have given their all this year. Thank you, also, to the authentic leaders in this world who may be elected decision-makers, appointed Government officials, members of the business community, and members of the broader community. (Yes, implied in my statement is a view that those who do not believe in the primacy of human life do not meet my definition of authentic.) And finally, thank you to my fellow residents of Australia, and of many other nations, who in their great majority did authentically show that they cherished human life and connectedness.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


The Great Reset: A letter to my Father and my ‘Sliding Doors’ self

Dear Dad

It seems that lately we struggle to spend time together without quarreling. Neither of us are good at small talk, and the divergent path that I took in my life means that we no longer share much in common.

Most importantly, we no longer see the world through similar frames of reference. 

I left the farm, as well as the safe world of our conservative home region, well safe for those who “fit” into the tight social structure, meaning you look and behave similarly to the majority, for university and ultimately a PhD in science.

My scientific achievements, though, are not nearly as well known in our home town as those of Peter Ridd, heralded locally for his brave stance as a sceptic of the science around climate change. I have never met Peter, but I do have a high regard for his courage even if I do not share all of his views – free and open debate has and always will be a vital ingredient for human progress. And I well remember how his (maths) school teacher father was so proud of his son’s achievements at James Cook University – I often wonder at how brilliantly served we were in our small town by high quality teachers such as John Ridd, and I attribute my own maths teacher (Santo Russo) and my science teachers for much of my own successes. 

Meeting my wife in the final year of my undergraduate degree was my sliding door moment. The four years that I had spent at university had shown me that a less stressful, more happy life was possible. I had resigned myself, however, to fulfilling your expectations – which I had certainly been responsible for creating at the beginning of my undergraduate by begging to be permitted to come home – of devoting my life to running the farm with you.

Instead I devoted my life to science and then to raising my family.

I will never regret that decision because I know that my wife is the greatest factor in me taking the potential you instilled in me – my resilience, intelligence and enquiry, work ethic, desire to optimise and excel, and most of all my empathy and compassion for others – to truly become the best version of myself.

I married a young woman from another culture who looks different to most in our town, and when she celebrates in traditional ways with her family, she behaves differently and she eats different food. You have tried to be understanding but in recent years – perhaps with the gradual creeping influences of Hansonism and then Trumpism – you have seemed conflicted like you somehow needed to make a choice.

I guess in your most recent visit you showed me that you had made that choice and it is difficult to put aside a belief that your previous behaviour was actually tolerance rather than you being open-minded. That hurt me, and my family, deeply.

Perhaps an even greater challenge for getting along, however, is our different views over climate change. A few years back you argued that climate change was not real. Now you suggest it is essentially a natural phenomenon and that human actions are not the prime cause. You like to present me with Letters to the Editor from home showing how ordinary citizens, intelligent conscientious objectors, up there are prepared to speak out, often raising past episodes of global heating and cooling, and so on.

This argument bears many similarities to the arguments we used to have around banana imports from the Philippines while I worked for Biosecurity Australia, the biosecurity policy setting function within the Federal Government responsible for conducting import risk analyses on animals and plants and their products. In our discussions you always started out stating your concerns for the risk of importing diseases, but when I said that nearly always there is something that can be done to manage those risks so that the trade can occur, the conversation very quickly swapped to the real issue – competition and extreme anxiety that the Australian industry would not be viable if bananas were imported from low-cost countries. 

Often you would even pose the question, “How can we compete when they pay 10 year old children 12 cents a day for labour?”

On one occasion I was as blunt as to say that I do not want to live in a world where those 10 year old children work in fields. Perhaps we could do things to prevent it… perhaps… but what about the family that is so poor that it chooses for their children to work rather than have them educated? They know that it is better for their children, and ultimately for them, if they attended school, but feeding the family is a more pressing problem for many. The only way for that cycle to be broken is for those families to share in more opportunities that the global community offers, and one way for that to occur is through international trade, so that perhaps the children of people who work in the field through their childhood have a better life… much like how my sister and I went to university even though you left school at 14 to become an apprentice carpenter.

When it comes down to it, I believe that all of these issues are a symptom of the anxiety that you feel because the world is changing in ways you do not completely understand and now you reject that change. 

Even though you will never admit it, you wish you could go back to the easier days of when Australia had solid contracts with “mother England” for the majority of our primary products, including sugar, the mainstay of our farm which has been in our family for over 100 years. This would allow you to just concentrate on producing the best crop you could, which you excel at. After the sugar price collapse of the early 1980s you held off switching over to bananas, but eventually you made the leap – with the enthusiasm and energy of my brother – hoping that the gamble would pay off. But chronic low prices and cyclones took their toll. Knowing all of this, I understood why even the mere mention of the possibility of banana imports made your anxiety go through the roof. 

All along there has been a creeping increase in awareness of the impact of agriculture on the environment, including to the precious Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a continual tightening of regulation and standards with which you had to deal. 

I know well your deep love of the natural world – undoubtedly a major factor in me studying biology at university – gained from a lifetime of diving on and fishing off the reef, and in the 60’s your pioneering saltwater aquarium was legendary. I also know that you love the natural rainforest that still exists down the back of our property, and the amazing moments we shared together there were special like when we came across wildlife such as a cassowary with chicks.

I have to say, however, that on my most recent trip home the close encounter that we had with a 3+ metre Johnson River crocodile, as it crossed our path between us and close to my eldest son less than 10 metres away from us, after it had lay in wait in the spot where you went into the creek to pick a water lily for mum the previous day, well that scared the pants off of me. It made me realise that it is not any longer the environment in which I roamed as a boy, when I was young making hidden cubby houses along the creek, and when older fishing from the bank for barramundi and mangrove jack.

I also remember how a part of your farm purchase, from your uncle, was a special lease block which had a 100 year lease which had some 26 years remaining on it. I know that it was bitterly disappointing for you that you had to relinquish it. That disappointment was worsened by the fact that when you first tried to purchase it in the 80s the Government declined your request because you had done nothing to “improve” it – i.e. you had not cleared the rainforest – and then when you again tried to purchase it, in the early 90s, you were declined because its conservation value had been recognised. You never received any compensation for having been custodian of that piece of land for 26 years, the option to develop it being a part of the initial purchase price of the farm, and then having paid rates on the land for all of those years (though perhaps you recognised the hypocrisy in such a view since you reject the concept of Aboriginal custodianship and you have feared indigenous land rights claims). And I always remember how you refused to reactively clear the land as conservation regulations closed in, even though others did including neighbours of yours.

I know that you have borne a great deal of the responsibility, already, to set humanity and the planet on a better footing. And there has not been any thanks for that, from Governments nor the community, and you received little assistance to help you to make these continual adjustments. You were just left with the knowledge that there will always be something else and soon.

I also know that, like all dry Aussie humour, the favourite joke up home nowadays – that goes that you used to leave the farm to your favourite son, now you leave it to your least favourite – is based on an underlying truth that you all have come to accept. That a life on the land, always challenged by nature but still rewarding, has become an unprofitable burden which you would wish upon nobody for whom you cared.

Even though it hurts me personally, I can see how people pushed like that can become bitter and look for others to blame, and human history shows that at such times people who look and act differently to the majority are singled out.

Worse still, I am not really sure that when globalisation leads to shifting of jobs to poor regions those jobs improve the prospects for those poor people. I think we all are waking to the fact that the way Western Governments have allowed Globalisation to occur has just led to the elites in the world becoming even more wealthy while even more people feel that they do not enjoy the standard of living that their forebears experienced.

In other nations people have become so desperate for the situation to improve that they have turned to populist politicians who just talk of “making [things] great again” but offer no real answers. It seems that just recognising the pain felt by many has been enough reason to support them.

My impression of your attitude to climate change is not so much that you think that you are smarter than everybody else, and that you see what few others do, but I think you are inclined to object purely because in a democracy you have the right to do so. And you feel like you have been pushed as far as you can and have gotten nothing for it other than more worries and more debt.

On that I agree with you, wholeheartedly. 

You continue to object even though people living in cities think of you as “backward”, which of course you are not. Hansonism has not helped, but equally the egotistical quips at Pauline did not help either – after all she was not the only person who had not heard of the term “xenophobia”, nor is she the first to not know the more politically correct terminology for her own behaviours. In many ways the subtext of this divide says that in a democracy all votes are equal, irrespective of the IQ or worldly experiences of those casting their ballot. 

Through my life I have learnt many times that an open mind is not dependent on the possession of a passport but on an open heart.

I notice that during every election these days there is a discussion about how to provide rural jobs; often a mythical “10,000 rural jobs”. When I hear this I feel like running a campaign to alert all to the fact that there are at least 10,000 rural jobs readily available right now… in scraping off the topsoil of Queensland and shipping it to the highest bidder. Of course any rural person would immediately recognise that as selling your future, but in reality it is no more unsustainable than many of the ventures that are supported to provide jobs in the near term. 

I do not suggest that I have all of the answers for the future, but I do honestly believe that I understand the context in which we must progress. Instead of allowing ourselves to be divided and embittered, let us join forces and fight the real fight. We will never progress if we continue to fight amongst ourselves. All we are doing is playing into the hands of those who seek to use the turbulence and our pain to advance their own personal political agendas.

America’s recent close call with Trumpist fascism must be a warning to us all.

We are tired of elites garnering an increasing share of wealth in the world. And we are tired of politicians and bureaucrats falling under regulatory capture from these elites.

We want real leadership, not salespeople who say to our faces what sounds good only to behave differently at a time and a place when they have the opportunity to make a real difference.

We can deal with the truth because we can work together to ensure that fairness is at the basis of our decisions. When decisions hurt people there must be adjustments made to allow them to adjust their lives in a way that affords them the dignity and rights that should come with being a human being in a contemporary society.

Nobody wants to feel embittered or isolated or left behind. 

All human beings understand inherently that change is inevitable – it is the very nature of our own being – but fairness is not.

If we are to achieve an inclusive and united global community then fairness must be at the heart of all that we do.

I know my generation talks a different language, Dad; as much from the heart as from the head. But I assure you we are not drongos.

What do you say? Do you think we can work together to make this world a better place for your grandchildren and their grandchildren?

Your loving son,

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


How Might Milton Friedman Respond To The COVID-19 Pandemic?

I have written extensively detailing my views on why conservatives are hell-bent on minimising introductions of stringent measures to retard the COVID-19 pandemic in their jurisdictions which would reduce preventable deaths.

It boils down to their political power base being the business class elite, and their greatest fear is that The Great Reset will lead to people in developed countries questioning their consumerist existence.

In my earliest writings, before a pandemic was declared, even before it was understood that the disease had escaped the biosecurity net around Wuhan, I was clear that I understood the global economic impacts would be severe (though admittedly I was a little cryptic initially – not wanting to be declared alarmist – in inferring that a depression may be the consequence).

When the rapid progression of events forced these conservative politicians to confront their cognitive dissonance, e.g. Morrison having to accept he would not be able to attend the opening week of the NRL, this fear of a depression was what gripped these conservative (mostly) men.

Such deep scarring to the psyche of people would lead to significant changes in society which leads to uncertainty for the business elites as to whether their powerful advantage would endure. At worst, for them, people might even turn away from materialistic consumerism, which had been the bedrock of their wealth and power, and people might instead place a higher importance on other aspects of their life which are not valuable or tradeable in market economies.

Moreover, if that paradigm shift were to occur it would spell the end of a political ideology espoused for decades by conservatives, and let’s face it, also espoused by many who declare themselves on the other side of the political divide, of ceaseless aspiration, which would leave a powerful and extensive global political aparatus rudderless and in search of a new narrative.

Thus this political apparatus continually pushes against introductions of stringent measures to minimise and slow their usage in an attempt to minimise that paradigm shift by people as they lose their previous habits and develop new ones, in many ways having had time and space, and in some cases sad shocks which caused them, to reflect on what it really is that enriches their lives.

For many years, and especially since the global financial crisis, this apparatus has focused on one factor perhaps above all others – confidence.

Confidence to spend. Confidence to invest. And most of all in recent decades, confidence to borrow.

As I said in “If After 30 years Of Unbroken Economic Growth Australia Can’t Afford To Protect The Most Vulnerable, Then Who Really Benefitted From That Economic Growth?“, fear of losing your own life trumps all other fears, logically. 

Thus it is impossible for people to be confident until they do not fear losing their lives. Note that this is also the finding of a report by McKinsey & Company, the premier consultancy to corporations, where they concluded that “only when the novel coronavirus is under control will economic growth resume”.

Now I realise that this political apparatus has spent a good amount of energy in misinforming and confusing people in order to pull the wool over their eyes since this pandemic began (I actually wrote that line before the WHO swung into damage control as they felt Dr. Nabarro’s comments about lockdowns were taken out of context which I will discuss in another post which I am now drafting).

However, the human reality of the pandemic continually asserts itself in a way that can not be ignored by the people no matter how much they might like to believe that they will be safe or that the risks to them are overstated by such reputable people as Dr. Fauci.

The shock that people are experiencing is real, and just as the shock from The Great Depression led to a deep scarring causing risk aversion that had repercussions even beyond that generation, these shocks are also likely to be long-lasting.

Strategists behind this political apparatus are very intelligent and sophisticated, and know that they are in a conundrum that cannot be solved.

Their political ideology and base of power will remain under threat until an effective vaccine is administered en masse, and to minimise the damage to them they will continually fight for minimal interventions (think of Tony Abbott’s views). When the sheer level of human pain forces increased measures, they will then immediately move to ruminate for rapid easing.

Everybody who genuinely believes in the primacy of protecting human life should be fighting against this apparatus, and should be prepared to continue arguing because it will not stop working to protect the privilege and power of the conservatives and elites.

In the second part of this essay I will pose the question on how might Dr. Milton Friedman, a hero to these conservative and elites, have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this age of tribalism, where everybody must be apportioned to a particular tribe with a specific agenda, I am well aware that I will already have been painted as a socialist and\or anti-capitalist. In fact in my earlier blogging for less manipulated and fairer Australian housing markets a decade ago I frequently received angry emails and posts describing me as such.

The truth is that I have a very high regard for many who might be considered business “elites”.

Very early in life I intuitively understood that a system built on little or even no reward for your own individual combination of hard and smart work is not sustainable, and I feel no amount of jealousy towards those who have earned a comfortable living. But note the definitive word is most definitely “earned”. Moreover, I make this statement with a heavy heart in knowing that we live in a massively inequitable world and there are very many who deserve so much more opportunity for a better life than they have and they would have it if the world were a perfect and genuinely equitable meritocracy.

Embedded in my use of the term “earned” is an expectation that a right to the benefits from society have been earned by paying through our taxation systems a fair and proportionate contribution to administering our society.

The elites that I respect, as I explained in “Your Life: Something The Elites Have Always Been Prepared To Sacrifice For Their Ends“:

are those who authentically understand the privilege that they have enjoyed, usually from birth by virtue of the luck of being born in a developed country or into middle class even if they consider themselves ‘self-made’, as well as respect and appreciate relationships with other human beings … 

I do not identify with those who list very wealthy individuals saying that it is obscene that they have accumulated such wealth. If they hurt people, either knowingly or by choosing to remain ignorant to it, in accumulating that wealth, then I would certainly consider them as deplorable. 

Of course I prefer that everybody on this Earth does what they can to assist other people, so obviously I would hope that people of greater means undertake genuinely significant philanthropic activities aimed at making a difference for others (rather than just promoting themselves in social circles, or only engaging in egotistical and vain projects with lesser returns to humanity, or to gain goodwill which will be cashed in later for personal advantage.) I must admit, however, that in my day to day life in the suburbs I regularly encounter people who say that they can not afford to donate to charities or give of their time or in some other capacity.

I believe that giving is relative to what you have, and I have learned many times over through my life and on my travels, especially in developing countries, that one has something to give as soon as one has something, and even before that we have ourselves to give.

While perhaps it is a greater pity that somebody with means to make a more significant difference, whether that is due to their wealth or their public profile or position, declines to do so, I do not care for any mean-spirited person irrespective of their means.

Foremost among the many undeniable elites who I admire would be Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill Gates, and George Soros. I also know, for certain, that there would be many, many more who I would like and respect if I were to know them personally or observe them often and closely enough to be able to develop an informed opinion.

As I look at that list it strikes me that they are all white American men. There are some Australian men I might include such as John Hewson (I mentioned my admiration before on these pages) and probably Mike Cannon Brookes (but I do not really know that much about him).

Interestingly much of the elite political leadership that I admire presently are women including Jacinda Ardern, Christine Lagarde, Ursula von der Leyen and Kristalina Georgieva – so mostly white European women.

I also have to say that I have been impressed by some more of these individuals, who belong to a very fortunate and privileged group within society, in how they have responded to the outpouring of emotion and drive for societal change through the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd. Here I would make special mention of the African-American businesswoman Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, who I knew little of before but who I found extremely impressive. But there were also other white men whose response was impressive and suggested that real, durable change is finally possible.

The truth is that I like people, and I want to believe the best in all people, so it fills me with pride when I see good people stand up to be counted and try to be the best version of themselves to the benefit of humanity. And I tend to be fiercely loyal to someone once they have shown themselves to be authentic.

My view is unequivocal that capitalism is the best system that mankind has developed to allocate resources for the betterment of humanity and I do find it difficult to believe that a better system is attainable.

I am in little doubt, however, that the form of capitalism that we practice in this early period of the 21st century has gone too far as I first began to articulate in my post “The Magic Sauce Of American Economic Dynamism Is Not Based On Personal Greed“. I see greed as a deleterious byproduct of wealth which leads to corruption of the capitalist system, and I do not see it as a basic core nature of human beings even though proponents of this extreme form of capitalism have co-opted biological theories, notably the Selfish Gene Theory, to justify its centrality to their preferred form of capitalism. The current form of extreme capitalism based on the centrality of personal greed is exemplified by the theory of Trickle Down Economics which is in reality no different from any other form of sequestering of wealth by the elites practiced down through the ages.

Taking superficially attractive ideas and extrapolating them to extremes is common in financial systems, in fact it is the basis for nearly all speculative bubbles. And I would suggest that the same can be said for the formative ideas of Dr. Milton Friedman who is a hero to the proponents of our current extreme form of capitalism. Reflecting on that recently, after reading his Doctrine  “The Social Responsibility Of Business Is To Increase Its Profits” for the first time, I was left with a ruminating question – How might Dr. Friedman respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. Milton Friedman is proclaimed as a key architect of the current American economic paradigm which has been variously described as based on supply-side economics, Reaganomics and trickle-down economics, amongst other descriptors. Dr. Friedman wrote extensively of his views on dealing with economic problems that prevailed in the 1950’s through the 1970’s in western countries, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976. Dr. Friedman was a key economic advisor to President Reagan and to Prime Minister Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and their joint success at reforming their economies out from prolonged periods of low economic growth with high inflation earned Dr. Friedman widespread acclaim.

In reading Dr. Friedman’s words in his famous “Doctrine” I was struck with the perception that I share some views which are central to his doctrine as he expressed it in 1970. I even wondered whether these are so central to his doctrine that it is possible that my own views are more consistent to his, at that time, than are the views of many contemporary elites. As I read I realised just how much the basic premise of the essay had been co-opted by contemporary elites to justify their political motivations to garner more power and influence. I would go as far as to suggest that the man who sat down to write that essay likely would not be supportive of the way capitalism is practiced today even though he is venerated by it’s proponents – those who have prospered so greatly from it – for establishing the roadmap towards it, what President George W Bush described as the “moral vision”, and for being intimately involved in the early stages of reform.

(Obviously this situation is not uncommon, where many can agree on what are important problems and it is the solutions chosen, often with a political agenda in mind, where the problems arise. As one example I would admit that when I have listened to Steve Bannon speak I have been impressed by the way he has set out the issues and grievances of many in contemporary Western society. I even find common ground with some of the causes he identifies. But it is his solutions and especially his politics where we sharply disagree. That is precisely why these are the situations which can prove to be dangerous inflection points for society because the details and nuances are critical.)

The best way to discuss Dr. Friedman’s doctrine is to “reverse engineer” the document, commencing with his conclusion:

the doctrine of “social responsibility” taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book “Capitalism and Freedom,” I have called it a “fundamentally subversive doctrine” in a free society, and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception fraud.”

Many contemporary readers will immediately seize on the key words here unlike they might have done 50 years ago. Of course these are the final twenty-three words of the document, “so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception fraud.”

Everything that is written in this doctrine is from the point of view – no, the assumption – that Government oversight of corporations will always remain robust, powerful, active and diligent.

civil servants… must be selected through a political process. If they are to impose taxes and make expenditures to foster “social” objectives, then political machinery must be set up to guide the assessment of taxes and to determine through a political process the objectives to be served.

It does not allow for the regulatory capture that is now so prevalent and pervasive in most of the western world.

Dr. Friedman wrote with a frame of reference of having been immersed in the heavily regulated and unionised 60’s and 70’s. He expressed a disdain for “pure and unadulterated socialism”. His views of the environment in which he had formulated his ideas are summed up in these key quotes:

In the present climate of opinion, with its widespread aversion to “capitalism,” “profits,” the “soulless corporation” and so on

The businessmen believe that they are defending free enterprise when they declaim that business is not concerned “merely” with profit but also with promoting desirable “social” ends… In fact they are – or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously – preaching pure and unadulterated socialism. Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades

speeches by business men on social responsibility… may gain them kudos in the short run. But it helps to strengthen the already too prevalent view that the pursuit of profits is wicked and immoral and must be curbed and controlled by external forces. Once this view is adopted, the external forces that curb the market will not be the social consciences, however highly developed, of the pontificating executives; it will be the iron fist of Government bureaucrats. Here, as with price and wage controls, business men seem to me to reveal a suicidal impulse.

Clearly Dr. Friedman considered that he was in an intellectual struggle against a foe, which perhaps he feared was in an entrenched ascendant epoch, but which, in no small part due to his own efforts, was on the cusp of terminal decline.

One has to wonder what that man would think if the minute he finished the final version of that doctrine he entered a wormhole and emerged from it any time over the twenty-tens, with the major developed economies having undergone continual deregulation – with only minor and temporary tracebacks – for half a century, and with the cold war having been won over two decades earlier, and with China having been welcomed to become so deeply enmeshed in the Global economy (even if that is currently undergoing adjustment – which I have previously stated was both necessary and overdue – but perhaps soon to be managed by more intelligent and adept hands.)

While the “iron fist of Government bureaucrats” and powerful labour unions have largely been relegated to historical accounts of nearly all western society, there are other ways in which economies have been managed which are antithetical to libertarian ideals.

Certainly fresh from exiting a worm hole a 1970 Dr. Friedman would question where are “free markets”, with Government institutions globally – the central banks – being the main purchasers of the main funding instruments of Governments (bonds), and increasingly of private business debt, and even stocks of publicly traded companies already in some countries and foreshadowed in others. Most developed countries have engaged in this in one form or another. In my own country, the distortions away from free markets are perhaps best exemplified by the continual “management” (i.e. manipulation) of our residential property markets given the extreme level of household debt based on this one asset class.

The reality is that markets have been increasingly manipulated in the first two decades of this millenium, and those manipulations have had the effect of benefitting the elites.

Dr. Friedman’s views on taxation are linked to the assumption of enduring robust Government oversight based on public values. But his views on taxation extend to improper or sub-optimal usage of funds for and by those who are not in a position to make such decisions.

In each of these cases, the corporate executive would be spending someone else’s money for a general social interest. Insofar as his actions in accord with his “social responsibility” reduce returns to stock holders, he is spending their money. Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money. Insofar as his actions lower the wages of some employes, he is spending their money….

But if he does this, he is in effect imposing taxes, on the one hand, and deciding how the tax proceeds shall be spent, on the other.

This process raises political questions on two levels: principle and consequences. On the level of political principle, the imposition of taxes and the expenditure of tax proceeds are governmental functions. We have established elaborate constitutional, parliamentary and judicial provisions to control these functions, to assure that taxes are imposed so far as possible in accordance with the preferences and desires of the public— after all, “taxation without representation” was one of the battle cries of the American Revolution. We have a system of checks and balances to separate the legislative function of imposing taxes and enacting expenditures from the executive function of collecting taxes and administering expenditure programs and from the judicial function of mediating disputes and interpreting the law.

The difficulty of exercising “social responsibility” illustrates, of course, the great virtue of private competitive enterprise — it forces people to be responsible for their own actions and makes it difficult for them to “exploit” other people for either selfish or unselfish purposes. They can do good—but only at their own expense.

On the first point of taxation by Government I shall leave it to a Republican who was “present at the creation” of the current American economic paradigm, working for both President Reagan and President George HW Bush, Bruce Bartlett writing in 2007 in The New York Times:

Today, supply-side economics has become associated with an obsession for cutting taxes under any and all circumstances… [it’s advocates in Congress] support even the most gimmicky, economically dubious tax cuts with the same intensity.

…today it is common to hear tax cutters claim, implausibly, that all tax cuts raise revenue

Critically, Mr. Bartlett goes on to explain the context into which the present economic paradigm was spawned, and he was strident in his disapproval of these reforms being continued almost without boundaries. Essentially his point was that the ideas had become so embedded as to almost be redundant, and that continuing reforms on those same lines – in that case, relating to taxation – had become deleterious. (Sound familiar?)

The second point flows from the first. To borrow Dr. Friedman’s words, when the businessperson uses their political power to reduce taxes on businesses and the wealthy, they are in fact taxing the remainder of society, and then the businessperson is deciding where those proceeds will be spent.

Even when the businessperson uses some of those funds charitably, Dr. Friedman has already spelt out that it is not their right to make those decisions as they are society-wide decisions, and often such endeavours performed by individuals are done with additional objectives in mind including vanity or creating good will which elicits potential for extraction of favour at a later point in time.

Thus the “good” that they do is not genuinely at their own expense.

(And yes, in an Australian context, you can bet I have in mind the watering down of the resources rent tax and at the same time deposing of a sitting Prime Minister as a particularly poignant example.)

Thus there should be little doubt that a 1970 Dr. Friedman, too, would not look favourably upon businesspeople seeking to, disproportionately to the remainder of society, reduce their Government taxation obligations either directly or indirectly.

One of our greatest shared views is our belief in the power of human specialisation which is central to his 1970 doctrine. My favourite quote is this:

WHETHER blameworthy or not, the use of the cloak of social responsibility, and the nonsense spoken in its name by influential and prestigious businessmen, does clearly harm the foundations of a free society. I have been impressed time and again by the schizophrenic character of many businessmen. They are capable of being extremely far‐sighted and clear‐headed in matters that are internal to their businesses. They are incredibly short sighted and muddle‐headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general.

Dr. Friedman’s main argument against anybody else other than Government and eleemosynary organisations involvement in decisions around social responsibility are that they are not equipped to do so.

That has patent relevancy to the COVID-19 pandemic where the collective voice of business people works to undermine measures to protect life. While business people have a clear view of what are the impacts of stringent social isolation measures on their businesses, they are not capable of understanding the broad complexity of issues of relevance to society and thus how that mix of issues will ultimately affect their businesses. That has already been proven in this pandemic where businesspeople have allowed their visceral fears – which we human beings have all felt at times this year – to advocate, with their disproportionately loud voices, for policies which have been more deleterious to their businesses than swift and stringent measures to protect human life.

None of that would surprise 1970 Dr. Friedman, clearly, and if he were consistent he would be exalting all to ignore the short-sighted muddle-headed rantings of the business elite on what Governments should be doing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, Dr. Friedman also clearly endorses that in some human endeavours the profit imperative must be usurped by other objectives.

A group of persons might establish a corporation for an eleemosynary purpose—for example, a hospital or school. The manager of such a corporation will not have money profit as his objective but the rendering of certain services.

Health is an area where the profit imperative has penetrated especially in the last half century, in this pandemic leaving Americans at the point of being intubated in the battle to save their life concerningly asking who will pay for their treatment.

Clearly for many Americans there is indeed a fate worse than death – living to pay for the medical costs incurred.

From the Wikipedia page on Dr. Friedman I followed a link to an interview with Friedman on the Phil Donahue show in 1979 where he was pressed on whether the military could ever be privatised given the vast sums spent annually. He said “Very likely, if you could turn that over to private enterprise [an aircraft carrier] would cost half [what it currently costs], but we have to have a strong military” (his emphasis).

Clearly his view then was that some things were just too important to turn over to the private sector, with it’s profit imperative before all else.

Thus there is a line to be drawn in the sand, but where one draws that line will necessarily be subjective and thus will ultimately be politicised.

I do not think that it is at all controversial to suggest the severe impacts that COVID-19 has had on Americans and their society have shown that, where this line was drawn on health, it did not provide sufficient protection to the American people. Many will argue that this has been apparent for a long time and I certainly expressed early in the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 4, that I feared “all of these deficiencies of the US health system… [would] be revealed in a truly terrible manner”.

What Dr. Friedman failed to realise as he wrote in 1970 – so focused on arguing for his ideas in the face of his socialist foes, “monopolistic unions” and “iron fisted Government bureaucrats” – was how the balance of political power would shift as his reforms took effect. A cycle between reducing political power and increasing inequality caused a hollowed-out and precarious middle class with less political influence. The increasing political influence garnered by the increasingly wealthy elites, unsurprisingly, has not been driven by altruism seeking a reversal of these multi-decade trends – collectively, ironically, the political influence that this weight of wealth has bought has sought to entrench their advantage for subsequent generations as has been the pattern of human society through the ages.

I truly wonder whether the man who argued passionately in that doctrine, but before he became quite so acclaimed for his work as to receive a Nobel Prize and be taken in by the political elite to usher in a prolonged period of economic reform and societal change, writing the words quoted above, would wish to stake claim to the view that the system that so comprehensively failed so many people was based on his doctrine and views which together formed his “moral vision… which has changed America and it is changing the world”.

Perhaps it is a consequence of our social structures and how ideas spread, but my observation from my half century on Earth is that societal ideas and values, and thus policies and political trends, seem to act like a pendulum with the bottom of the swing the point at which there is most momentum to continue to move in that direction away from what in reality is the equilibrium (stable\sustainable) state until all of that (kinetic) energy is transferred and builds up inexorably into potential energy to swing back in the opposite direction with ultimately equal force.

Because I have an overall optimism in humanity I do believe that in the third dimension – imagine turning your view of the swinging pendulum 90 degrees – you will observe more easily that the pivot point is on a gradually rising trajectory, but experiencing the amplitudes of the swinging pendulum is why it can really feel like sometimes we are going backwards.

The secret for humanity is really to learn how to dampen those oscillations so that our progress can be more smooth and feel less disengaging for large swathes of society when the pendulum is at its least favourable so that positioning is not extreme.

This pretty much spells out the situation for contemporary extreme capitalism and the political ideology based on its value of greed and never-ending aspiration for materialism.

Here I should note that I do not consider aspiration in itself a negative as I am certain that those who wish to apportion me or paint me as belonging to an anti-capitalist tribe have assumed. It all depends on what the aspiration is towards. I think it is fair to say that each and every parent aspires to keep their family safe and to work towards maximising their moments of happiness in an uncertain world. But I think it is a reasonable argument to make that never-ending aspiration for more material wealth, power and influence is instead a toxic form of aspiration, and I would argue that it is encouraged within this contemporary extreme capitalism.

That we have reached this moment in time, and no doubt a major factor has been the pandemic providing a rare moment in time when many people will reflect on their existence as it has been in recent years and how they would like it to be in the future, is understood intuitively by very many. Some of us have intuitively understood that this moment would come at some point.

Trickle down economics never was a sustainable model on which to run society and the potential energy created within society to swing back in the other direction now has a certain degree of inevitability to it (writing by others indicates that they feel similarly, for example Ray Dalio, the head of the largest contemporary hedge fund, who perhaps I should have included on my earlier list of elites whom I respect.)

But it does make you wonder just what Dr. Friedman would have recommended for societal leaders to do in the face of this pandemic. To answer that one needs to decide to which Dr. Friedman we are referring – the contemporary perception of what he stood for, the man who wrote his doctrine as the pendulum reached its most extreme position disfavourable to his own views, or the man who was assisting President Reagan and PM Thatcher to reform their economies. 

I am prepared to accept that the 90 year old man that stood in front of President George W Bush to be conferred a Hero of Freedom, and so warmly embraced by the elites that had already benefitted so greatly from this movement towards extreme capitalism, might work at explaining and justifying the situation as his ego and conscience might dictate. However, I cannot help but believe that the 58 year old man that stood from his desk, after hand-writing the final draft of his doctrine, would feel disappointed and perhaps saddened that his writing and thoughts were co-opted in a fashion to arrive at such an extreme form of capitalism that has made only a very few so very wealthy and has failed so very many Americans, and many others around the world, as so devastatingly exposed in the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I pause to reflect on this piece I concede that some might suggest that I have not met my brief as indicated in the title, that I have not provided a plan for responding to COVID-19 which Dr. Friedman might have recommended. To my knowledge he had no special understanding of virology or any field of medicine, so any answer must centre predominantly on what is the state of the system into which the pandemic was seeded.

Just as in the old Irish joke, Dr. Friedman might have said “If I was going to formulate a response to this pandemic I would not be starting from here”.

As Dr. Friedman was venerated as a Hero of Freedom Present George W Bush said:

He has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions. That vision has changed America and it is changing the world. All of us owe a tremendous debt to this man’s towering intellect and his devotion to liberty.

But the economic system that his writing and early advice is credited with creating a moral vision of society for has led to a middle class on a knife edge, just one act of misfortune away from homelessness and destitution, and a chronic underclass of working poor with inferior outcomes across the range of critical social services and especially for health.

That is only freedom to the elite and to people blinded by unquestioned devotion to an ideology.

Any objective observer surely would ask whether this is a better form of “freedom” than in any contemporary autocracy which has lifted living standards for broad society by adopting some open market reforms.

It might be easily said that the problems in America’s response to COVID-19 is due primarily to one man, President Donald Trump. While I am in no doubt that history will show that President Trump failed Americans miserably in the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be a mischaracterisation if he and his administration attracted all of the blame.

Undoubtedly the power was in President Trump’s hands to respond more aggressively to the threat as explained to him and his administration by February, and he clearly chose not to do all in his power to protect human life. However, Donald Trump is most definitely a product of the system, both in the way he has lived his life and how that was widely perceived from his regular appearances on television and wider media, and in the messages that he expressed to the electorate which led to him winning the 2016 election. And even moreso for the messages that he gives the powerful business elites in the bubble in which he and many of them have occupied for all or large portions of their lives.

The evidence has long been in that the system has failed the health of Americans. Even if in February 2020 a decision was made to do everything possible to protect human life, the chronic failings of the system was going to be challenged in ways that would show greater similarity with developing countries than other developed countries. The disparity of living conditions between the haves and have-nots, especially along racial lines, have been shown up globally in the COVID-19 pandemic in the tragedy of infection and mortality rates and nowhere is that more true than in America.

That President Trump so callously disregards the realities of the failings of the American health system, especially on demographic and racial lines, emphasises that, while the blame for America’s poor performance in protecting the public during the COVID-19 pandemic is not entirely his, the necessary reforms cannot begin while he remains President.

As I draw to a conclusion, I already recognise what many – if my writing were taken seriously enough – would proffer in counter-argument. “In earlier writing he said Trump was standing firm against businesses profiting from China’s emergence, now Trump is too close to business elites!” – well, yes, but to suggest that Trump has not lived a life in a bubble of elitism is patently absurd. He is obsessed by wealth – measuring his Presidential success by the level of asset prices, chiefly the stockmarket – and he is most comfortable surrounded by other wealthy businessmen (intentionally gender-specific) as long as one condition is met, that they do not disagree in the slightest with him or suggest in any way that they are more anything (successful, intelligent, …) than he.

Perhaps more than ever before we citizens of Western countries – and possibly elsewhere – have developed a habit of believing what we want of what has been said or written by others. President Trump’s success has largely been built on asserting to his base that he knows perfectly what are others’ motives and intentions, and this has further stripped nuance from public discourse resulting in greater intolerance, misunderstanding and outright misinformation. Such behaviour detracts from public debate as the value of expressed opinion is diminished because there is a loss of faith that others will take the time to consider those views faithfully prior to responding.

Thus debating views in open fora on the internet can seem fruitless, especially when opponents are shielded by a fog of anonymity and might well be a paid troll (who has little conviction for what they are argue other than to earn an income) or even an artificial intelligence “bot”.

The one issue I do want to address, though, is the re-emergence of what Dr. Friedman referred to as “social responsibility” in the business sector, including through activist, impact and\or ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) investing themes, as well as what I mentioned briefly above, corporate leaders responding to critical social issues of the time.

These activities would certainly fit that description and thus be the prime target of Dr. Friedman’s main objections stated within his doctrine.

Again, the contemporary reality has moved on from the time in which Dr. Friedman wrote his doctrine. A leadership void has opened in the developed world. This void was growing before President Trump adopted an “America first” foreign policy. It is a result of the dearth of genuine political leadership over recent decades throughout much of the Western world.

In my own country of Australia discontent with poor political leadership has been growing through this millennium, and to me this issue reached a real low point earlier this year when Australia’s Ambassador to the United States, and former Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey, appeared on 7.30 on the ABC:

LEIGH SALES:  Do you think that ministerial standards are at the same height that they were 20 years ago?

JOE HOCKEY:  I mean, it’s all changed, Leigh. Social media has changed everything. Social media has made the voice of the critic much, much louder than the voice of the advocate.

And the second thing that’s changed is disruption.

Everyone keeps calling for government to initiate reform, but really, what’s happening is the private sector is initiating reform, on a scale that we’ve never seen before.

LEIGH SALES:  Is there something fundamentally wrong with that though, if Government is not leading?

JOE HOCKEY:  No. Because it empowers individuals and we all believe that individuals should be their best.

When I heard Mr. Hockey’s intellectually feeble utterings I was immediately transported, to the words of a brilliant actor bringing to life a period that lingers long in humanity’s collective imaginations:

Gracchus: I think he [Commodus] knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Colosseum. He’ll bring them death…and they will love him for it.

From the motion picture “Gladiator” directed by Ridley Scott, a Dreamworks production.

I see social media platforms as modern day arenas; Facebook the Colosseum.

(I leave it to the reader to imagine who might be Commodus.)

The truth is that individuals can not fill that void and that is creating widespread insecurity and thus anxiety (no matter how much I and others, like Brene Brown, might attempt to inspire and\or cajole all to have the courage to lead). That is why behaviour on social media often resembles that of a mob.

In Steve Biddulph’s seminal book “Raising Boys” (Finch Publishing, Sydney, 2003) he describes how young males require structure.

Boys act tough to cover up their fear. If someone is clearly the boss, they relax. But the boss must not be erratic or punitive. If the person in charge is a bully, the boys’ stress levels rise, and it’s back to the law of the jungle. If the teacher, scoutmaster or parent is kind and fair (as well as being strict) then boys will drop their ‘macho’ act and get on with learning.

Biddulph further explains that without that structure males become insecure and fearful, and relationships within groups become turbulent as they attempt to establish hierarchies.

I find a lot of similarity between these descriptions and broader society where politicians have withdrawn from their leadership roles and thus from providing their vision on where our societies are heading.

Right now society in much of the developed world is behaving like the fearful teenage boys that Biddulph describes. The lack of direction provided by mainstream, conventional politicians has led to at first a flirtation with, and then an acceptance of, populist leaders because their willingness to express strong ideas made the anxious mob feel more secure. Many within the mob have become aggressively supportive because they do not want to go back to feeling insecure and directionless, and so are prepared to accept their leaders’ short-comings unless and until the consequences are very personal.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few female politicians who have stepped into that leadership void. But they remain the exception.

Into that leadership void business leaders have also stepped forward. Whereas 1970 Dr. Friedman painted a picture of business leaders feeling that they were pressured by Government bureaucracy, or agents of socialism, to act with social responsibility, it seems clear this time around that businesspeople recognised the vacuum from the political withdrawal and stepped forward in part out of necessity. In many nations, including my own, that is especially the case with diversity and inclusion, and environmental policy.

On diversity and inclusion, there has been a growing awareness that more than just a social issue, diverse and inclusive cultures are more productive and innovative. Consequently, filling the void left by politicians in relation to diversity and inclusion within society, and even at times countering their divisive impulses, comes with significant benefits to business which will positively impact their financial performance.

It is important to note that businesspeople now acting on climate change is not antithetical to Dr. Friedman’s views as some will no doubt suggest.

Critically, this issue has not “blown up” overnight or even recently. Global warming from greenhouse gases had been identified and was being taught when I studied for my undergraduate science degree in the late 80’s. Businesspeople have observed the ebbing of global political leadership, even in areas of critical concern for humanity, and have become concerned by the impacts of that on business functioning and certainty.

More to the point, however, businesspeople are recognising that the collective view of the human beings that decided to specialise as scientific researchers is that our climate is changing due to humanity’s actions and that the consequences to us humans and our planet are severe and will be devastating if corrective actions are not progressed urgently.

It is this faith in human specialisation, a key underpinning of capitalism, that provides the majority of businesspeople with the surety that they need to act definitively on climate change. It would be better if politicians would leave behind their partisan political self interest, often due to lobbying from disaffected industry sectors, so that a truly global response could be formulated to guide businesses. Absent this, businesspeople now realise that taking measures alone or with the support of localised groupings which may assist in the battle against climate change is far preferable to continuing business as usual which they know will contribute to more climate change.

This is the political and social environment into which the COVID-19 pandemic was seeded.

Martin Wolf, a highly regarded Financial Times journalist, recently suggested that the critical distinction between populist leaders in their varying responses to COVID-19, thus the impacts on their people, is whether the leaders are more interested in the theatre of leading rather than actually governing. Perhaps whether they seek to be a modern-day Commodus. Mr. Wolf is clear that even theatrical populists definitely do want to effect change on their societies.

I would suggest a more relevant factor, however, is how closely these leaders are linked with the business elite. In the extreme capitalism in Western societies that linkage has become very close, but it does exist elsewhere. On the other hand, in a few other countries, especially autocracies such as in China and Vietnam, the link is not as strong and this separation has allowed their governments to act assertively to stamp out clusters.

The Chinese Communist Party, for example, clearly decided early that their political fate would be decided by how well they protected their people and as such have proven themselves to be the gold standard in stamping out a serious outbreak and at working at preventing the seeding of new clusters.

Just one example of their relentless efforts to identify and manage risks is remaining open-minded on the potential for re-introduction with processed meat, a risk that I have discussed on these pages since end of April with an open letter to Prime Minister Morrison and a detailed post, but which has been ignored throughout much of the world including in my own country. In recent weeks Chinese scientists have published data linking two clusters in China to frozen food imports.

It is noteworthy that the International Monetary Fund forecasts that it is only China amongst the major global economies that will make a genuine V-shaped economic recovery on the back of their ability to get the pandemic under control to the point that in a country with over a billion people they have had few clusters of community transmission in recent months. What is more, the only thing that appears likely to dampen that recovery at this stage appears to be the economic impacts from the uncontrolled pandemic in the majority of the rest of the globe and especially in important consumer markets in America and Europe.

Together with a growing appreciation of the severe pitfalls to many in society from the current extreme capitalism in the Western world, the better performance of countries prepared to protect human life above protestations from business elites has coalesced to suggest that the economic paradigm that Dr. Friedman and others heralded and initiated has been taken to an unsustainable extreme.

As with any change of paradigm, what occurs from here will be determined as much by the incumbents as the proponents for change. History suggests that incumbents do not willingly relinquish any of their favoured position, and given the current state of society in extremis (especially in America, patent to the most objective of observers), the pain that humanity is collectively suffering in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pressure of a re-emergent geopolitical superpower, this transition to a new paradigm is shaping to be more disruptive than most in recent human history.

We should all hope that from the midst of the Western world comes a cohort of brilliant leaders, with intellectual rigor and iron fisted determination to sustain the effort to continue to carry humanity forward with the least possible disruption. Presently it is the European female leaders who are leading the way, though as great as they are, they cannot do it alone.

If assistance comes in the form of a re-awakened, progressive America, such that it retained the mantle of global leadership, then there would be nobody happier than I. What I have observed over recent decades, however, prevents me from being sanguine for America. I hope that that recency bias proves to be my error in the same way it was Dr. Friedman’s.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


How I Re-made Myself After A Breakdown

I have 23 cousins on my father’s side, but when I was a young boy, Ernie stood out above all others. Ernie was my brother’s age, 8 years older than me, and he was a real farm boy. He was always with my Uncle Charlie on his frequent visits to help Dad out in our early years on our own farm. One day Ernie was helping fit a “quick hitch” to the hydraulic lifting bars at the back of a tractor when the heavy steel implement jumped and cut him above the eye. I cried for ages because Ernie was hurt.

When I was 13 we received a phone call in the middle of the night. It was my uncle (or perhaps aunt) informing Dad and Mum that Ernie had taken his own life. My siblings and I had woken and come out of our rooms in time to understand what had happened, and to see Mum tell Dad that he needed to go and be with his brother.

My father’s response never left me: with eyes wide like a wild cat trapped in the corner of a pen he said “Why, what am I going to do, tell him I’m sorry his boy bumped himself off!”

I now understand that he was in shock and did not know how to cope with his own emotions. But as a boy the shock of seeing and hearing that compounded the confusion and shock that I was feeling.

A few years later when I was 15 that same inability to deal with strong emotions led to an even greater shock to my system in a near catastrophic way that bore many similarities. I discussed the event briefly on the “About Me” page and in my post “People Before Money“, and will not add further detail here.

Many years later, the consequent impacts on me were revealed when I reached a low point as I had to face up to grief at the loss of my career, of hopes of what I wanted to achieve for myself and my family (e.g. home ownership), and even of my original family connections, the strains of which had been growing since I decided not to go back to the farm after completing my undergraduate degree.

In the preceding years the strains on me had been growing inexorably. By the time I finished my PhD I already felt exhausted as for the final pivotal 2.5+ years of that program I had to manage a very difficult relationship with my supervisor. In fact, if it were not for the fact that in that second last year we were on separate continents for 9 full months, through the most critical and most productive period of my research, there is a good chance that I would have quit my PhD program.

I recall saying to my wife that I felt that I came really close to a breakdown then and I never really had a chance to recover. And the threat that was made to my career, which on the one hand drove me to excel in an attempt to create some buffer against this threat, was a continual source of extreme anxiety as I felt as if I was forever walking on eggshells. No it felt like I was continually dancing on burning coals.

After completing my PhD I had a series of professionally unfulfilling roles. All the while I was doing extra work in my own time to keep up a publication record in order to get my research career on track. Then a brilliant opportunity to work alongside JR Bonami in France proved that it is difficult to have everything – the price of taking up the opportunity was an enormous drop in family income (of 80%), severe isolation for me as nobody would talk to me in the lab while I was unable to speak French, and extreme isolation for my wife which left her in such awful shape that I almost declined the opportunity to take a prestigious fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for the following year.

If conditions were difficult in France they got downright surreal in Munich. The first 6 months were productive even though there was little interaction with colleagues as the person I was going to work with had been seconded to another city to work on a project. But about half way through the year I somehow offended a favourite student of the head of the institute and the next day all of my work disappeared from the lab. After a series of meetings the head of the institute suggested that the (histology) technician would continue looking for my work and would let me know if it was found. That night I returned to the institute and found that all of my samples were stored behind locked doors in a long series of store cupboards outside the histology lab. Even though I could reach them from the adjoining unlocked compartment by contorting myself in a way that I could not hope to repeat even a few years later, rescuing my work would have to wait until the final night of my fellowship as they were worthless to me without access to the equipment I needed to process the samples. I informed the Humboldt foundation of developments all the way along, and they were very apologetic, but there was nothing they could do. I spent the final months in Munich working in our apartment on papers and reviewing others’ papers while my wife had an excellent job working on an international project with Wrigley confectionary company.

I said that I “somehow” offended the student, but here is the full strange story if it is of interest.

We were stuck in limbo in Munich. For my career the best approach was to accept the opportunity to work in Don Lightner’s lab in Tucson, Arizona, whose partnership with Bonami led to them being the leaders in the field of crustacean virology. But my wife had personal reasons for wanting to move to Brisbane, many of which she did not even fully understand. To breach the impasse I acquiesced even though I knew that the chances of me being able to continue in my career were not good.

I spent 18 months in Brisbane unemployed, working from a desk at an institute at University of Queensland, furiously writing research proposals for a fellowship and/or research funding, along with trying to prove my worth to the institute as a potential staff member. Universities across Australia have long been full of such unemployed or massively underemployed people with PhDs and Masters degrees – it is an enormous waste of human capital.

Although I had been with the love of my life since 20, and we both desperately wanted to have a family, it never seemed the right time due to the pressure that we had been living under for my career and now I was 34. Just as we decided to try for a family, I was approached to take up a 3 month contract position in Bangkok. I accepted it, but it did more damage to my mental health in that I do not think that I slept well even for the fortnight that my wife joined me, as I heard every creak and groan in my colleague’s apartment – essentially I was a place-holder, and at a local wage about a half of an Australian wage (which was not going to help us to afford to buy a home in Brisbane).

A few months later we were blessed with the news of our expecting arrival, and for that next door to open it was clear that the door must be closed on my career. I knew that the pursuit of my career had done a lot of damage to my mental health, after dancing on those burning coals for 14 years so well as to be considered an emerging world leader in a field that had value to my country. My mind had become accustomed to running at 120% of capacity since I had returned from Europe as it continually whirled to come up with the right plan to continue my career.

The grief at my loss was overwhelming, and the hole that was left in my thoughts was so immense that I fell into a very dark and frightening place of despair. I was warned by friends that I needed to begin to fill that void even before I retired, but my pain felt so great that I felt unable to do that. I think I felt that I needed to experience all of the pain and self pity, to let it almost destroy me.

The weaknesses that had been built into my thoughts and resilience at home before moving to university then came into play. These strains pulled at every fibre of my security. Home prices in Brisbane had doubled in the few years since we first moved to Europe and it seemed like the pursuit of my career had cost us a chance at ever owning a home. Virtually all family relationships had been straining for years, in part because of the stringency of conditions under which were raised fearing the loss of our farm, and in part because both families struggled with dealing with a mixed culture marriage. Both my wife and I were struggling to find our feet in a new city with all of these pressures. 

After presenting at a hospital, panicked with anxiety at how I could possibly find the strength to go on, I was referred to a psychologist who helped me to confront these fears that I had been avoiding. It was not easy by any stretch, and it was not achieved in one session or even one period of sessions. After that initial breakdown I spoke with her for a period mainly about my professional career, decompressed for a while, and then as I got low again I went through another period of sessions this time to mostly sort out what had happened with my family. 

I have gone through cycles because there were a lot of issues to cover. The psychologist suggested that the shock that I experienced as a 15 year old was so great that it probably manifested a form of post traumatic stress disorder, and that such things often create blockage to development especially when it happens at such a critical age for maturation and personal development.

Twenty years of emotional stunting cannot be overcome quickly, and as the therapist once said to me, there is no need to put pressure on myself to solve everything – some work must be left for the next generation! 

Thankfully, each cycle has been less acute and frightening than the previous, and it is my sincerest hope that I have not passed on too many weaknesses for my sons to work through for themselves. But anxiety and panic is like an addictive disorder – one can never feel cured, and an important aspect of recovery is accepting that it is a lifelong affliction that will need to be managed carefully.

I was always a very shy lad. I don’t really know how much my school friends were aware of it. I was always well liked but I felt unconfident. I remember in high school riding the school bus home most afternoons sitting near the front facing out the window continuously out of fear that the other kids would see my watery eyes seeping as a symptom of social anxiety. I was big and well-built, captain of the rep football team and even captained my region, which is well known for birthing football stars, at the state carnival. My social awkwardness meant that I would rather sit at school with other young lads who were probably a little less mature, and less socially competent, and play sports (mostly football) at lunch time.

When I finished year 12 I asked my parents if I could stay on the farm, but they said that I needed some sort of qualification behind me in case they one day sold or lost the farm. School came very easily to me even though I barely studied, while I never felt competent or interested in any trade skills, so I decided to go to university.

My parents drove me the 275Kms to university in our early 70s Toyota Landcruiser single cab, me on the outside and mum in the middle. I was 17 and 1 month to the day. For the first 6 months I called home regularly, sometimes in tears, begging to be able to come home. My parents stayed strong, even though they surely would have been tempted to weaken, and then I began to flourish socially. When I shaved my head for a university ball towards the end of that first year, they must have realised that I was not coming home soon, and the possibility that I might never come home should have crossed their minds (although I almost certainly would have returned to the farm if I had not met the love of my life in the final year of my undergraduate degree).

Even though I was popular, big and strong, no doubt a “real country boy” for the “city slicker” students who were common in my marine biology course, I was still extremely shy and unconfident behind those shoulders that could bench press 130 kg by the time I was 18 years. In my second year at college a meeting was held with just the first year students to find out why they were not joining in the social activities, and I snuck in with a mate and sat on the billiard table at the back of the room. After some discussion a common theme emerged, and then a young female stood and said that she was afraid of me. Virtually everybody agreed, and the story went along the lines that when walking along the long corridors towards them they found my size intimidating, and that I only “grunted” at them. A senior female friend assured them that I was really a nice guy if they just looked past the muscles. The truth was that I was more afraid of them, especially the girls, and the prettier I considered them, the less able I was to get out any intelligible words.

The ultimate irony is that the young lady who stood first to say that she was afraid of me had a long-term boyfriend, but later that year, on the night that she broke up with him, her friends rushed to tell me what had happened and that she was on a mission to find me!

Admittedly, for the guys I was happy to let them believe of me what they wanted.  For boys the relationship historically did involve some level of intimidation, especially in O Week which culminated in the Fresher Vs Fossils football game, and the football field was my domain. Part of that is to see who has grit and character to earn the respect of the seniors. But people assuming who I was based on how I looked was also a bit of a defense mechanism. The truth is that I was not an aggressive guy. I did do very well at 2 of the 3 “F’s” which marked an archetypical country boy good night out – and the third which I was hopeless at should be plain from above – but I was far less angry than many other lads that I came up against. I never picked fights, but as a big young guy there are often lads with a chip on their shoulder who feel they need to continually prove themselves. I did not take a backward step to that behaviour, and most of the time they were very quick to realise their error, but on a few occasions I came up against other lads that clearly had so much anger and aggression that they would do anything to win and would not stop until either they or I were unable to continue.

I was a mixed-up lad, not an angry mixed-up lad, thankfully.

I carried my pain in a less explosive way. My bombs tended to blow up internally in me, creating continual and profound sadness, and lingering self doubt. I remember as a teenager I asked my family at the breakfast table once whether anybody else woke up every morning feeling sick in the pit of their stomach. 

These were all symptoms of the pain that I carried but I had never addressed or even acknowledged until that visit to the hospital. They had undermined me for over half of my life, and had robbed me of contentment and joy. I knew that I had to come to terms with the events of my life to become the father that I desperately wanted to be to my unborn child, and to continue to develop into the best husband I could be to my beautiful wife.

In those first few years after the breakdown it literally felt like I was thinking through mud. Actually, through molten copper as the wiring in my brain had overheated due to the over-revving, never managing to gain traction, causing everything to shut down as in a burnt out electric motor. 

I was extremely fortunate to have the love of an amazing woman who understood what I went through and prioritised me and our family’s wellbeing. 

In this world where we are encouraged to be forever competitive and aspirational, and always on a treadmill, wheels spinning endlessly but never appearing to go anywhere, I learned that the secret to me not feeling anxious was to stop placing expectations on myself. In my role as primary caregiver for my family there were just a few things that were absolutely vital, but even many of them could be flexible based on how I felt on the day. For instance, if I did not get around to making dinner, well there is always another solution – leftovers or something in the cupboard or a quick visit to the shop. 

When I worked professionally I used lists, physically or in my mind, to hold myself to account and make myself guilty when I failed to accomplish every task. In the early days after my breakdown the only time I used lists was when I felt a little confused and muddled, so it acted as security when I was feeling low to give me ideas on things I might want to do.

Being kind to myself mostly meant not making myself accountable to lists of things that “needed doing”. In many ways I now live like the archetypical Italian where the philosophy is the reverse of typical Anglo culture – put off until tomorrow what you possibly can and want to. And given our links into Italian culture nowadays, it was interesting to learn that just how Anglo’s can become stressed by Italians’ apparent unwillingness to commit themselves ahead of time, Italians become stressed by Anglo’s desire and pushing for them to commit themselves to plans ahead of time. It is not in their nature or culture, and for me it works, too.

If I reflect on it, I probably have three levels of priority of tasks (and nowadays I very rarely use lists of any type). There are a very few things that I must do according to a strict routine, like dropping the kids at school; there are things that I should do some time during the day or even week, but if that slips it’s not the end of the world; and things that I would like to do some day but only when I feel like it.

What I find is that I do a lot of those tasks that I would like to do some day – my home and  surrounds are full of those completed projects – but I don’t beat myself up and feel guilty when I let projects slide.

This attitude should not be confused with a careless attitude. Not at all. The nature that led to me being a world-class scientist remains and I still have a strong internal drive to always seek improvement, optimisation, efficiency, and always seek to excel at whatever it is that I do. I just learned to stop kicking myself, concentrating more on the process and effort, not so much the outcome while understanding it will take care of itself, and I have raised my sons in the same fashion.

My ever supportive wife, having seen me at my lowest, understands how I must now work, and even if it is not her style, she actually has been realising that there are very significant health benefits to this attitude towards tasks.

I have learned through my life that people’s perception of me usually has more to do with them than me, and no matter whether it is positive or negative, it often acts to fulfill a need they have for whatever reason. To some I have been a wonderful person of real character and substance who can be depended on, while to others at the same time I have been a terrible person, and in fact the source of all that was wrong with their lives. 

Sadly the latter has been the view of some who under different circumstances may have been very close to me, and I have learned to console myself in the fact that I have at least played some purpose in their lives by being their villain.

I never was the person many people thought I was as a lad. I may have been a big strong country boy, good and tough footballer, but I never was a “blokey bloke”. Perhaps it is my fault that I never set about putting them straight, but my social awkwardness meant that if they assumed that I was somebody not to be messed with then that gave me some buffer of protection. I had never been in a fight until I was 15 when a guy almost 2 years older than me thought he would call my bluff. He was right, it was a bluff, but that day in the school ground he and I both learned that I could back it up in dramatic fashion.

If how people perceive us has at least as much to do with them as it does us, and if authenticity is a rare commodity in adults, well lets just say that genuine authenticity in teenagers is feared by them as much as superman fears kryptonite.

When I returned to my home town while I was studying for my PhD, old football mates would ask whether I was still playing, and my response that I was concentrating on my PhD invariably drew the response “that’s a pity”. On one level it was humorous to me, on another it was an uncomfortable feeling of not meeting others’ expectations based on past perceptions of me.

Now that I have fully set the scene on what led me to have a breakdown, roughly what happened, and what was the immediate aftermath and effects, here are some final thoughts and specific tips on my recovery and my life dealing with the consequent challenges.

One thing that I have learned from dealing with depression, anxiety and panic is the absolute concrete truth in that no psychological state lasts. Those predisposed to melancholy know only too well that happiness is fleeting, as is excitement, and here I have to admit that the breakdown did rob me of the ability to feel excitement because excited energy always gives way to anxious energy in me, so I have had to suppress this emotion. But I have learned to tell myself that depression and anxiety will pass, too, and then the days will feel lighter and brighter again, and that will be even quicker if I can manage to turn things around before becoming anxious about being anxious. That is the insidious nature of dealing with depression and anxiety.

I was introduced to guided meditation as a lad by a body builder from my home town who gave me some tapes which I really enjoyed. Back then I could manage to relax very deeply. I have found guided meditation an excellent way to regain control when I feel quite anxious. Even if I have rarely managed to achieve the depth of relaxation I did as a lad, with practice I always manage to gain quite a good deal of relief and control over anxious thoughts with guided meditation.

The last time I got fairly low, which was quite a few years ago now, I did a course in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). I found it extremely helpful because I learned some useful physical techniques, such as stomach breathing to calm myself down quickly if I feel anxious, and I learned to monitor my stress and anxiety levels, and then techniques to deal with the thoughts that were creating anxiety. I recommend CBT highly.

The most important takeaway that I would give anybody about my experience – the one thing that I would say if I could somehow send a message to myself at a prior point in time – would be to do everything possible to find the courage to seek help before falling into that hole. Even if I could not bring myself to develop another focus before ending my career, if I ensured that I began talking with a therapist before and regularly during those weeks I may have been able to limit the damage.

For the first few years after my breakdown, it was not only the loss of my career and the personal challenges that I needed to deal with, I also lost a part of myself through the breakdown. I had to accept that I would never be the same person that I was before it. I had a youthful exuberance and excitement to my personality, yes about my work, but also about a lot of things. I lost the ability to feel excitement, and I had to learn to live with a far greater level of background anxiety, or at least a far greater appreciation of its presence.

I felt like the breakdown stripped me bare, so that I was just the core of who I am as a human being. It was frightening, and for many years I felt like I could almost feel that my nails were raw and bleeding, with dirt and muck stuck under them, from fighting my way out of that hole.

I feel that less so these days. Instead I feel mostly proud of myself for achieving what I have.

In many ways I have rebuilt myself, and because I genuinely love who I am, I feel that I built myself back better. It would have been a lot more difficult, and I doubt the result would have been nearly as complete, without the love of an amazing woman to whom I will forever be indebted.

One thing that I accepted early was the importance of learning to talk about myself, about all of the things that made me sad and angry, about how much hurt I harboured for what had happened, even how much I wished things could have been different.

I learnt in those early teen years that a man unable to let out what he is feeling is a danger to himself as well as others, and after my breakdown I learned what was real courage.

In truth I think it is unlikely that I could have avoided some form of breakdown in my life – I just carried too much emotional baggage into my early adulthood. A coalescing of events led me to be unable to continue to suppress all of the pain that I felt, but it was always there and always would have been if I did not deal with it.

Nelson Mandela told us that courage is not the absence of fear but the conquering of it. While I did not manage to find the courage to act before I fell, I found the courage to make myself my own project.

My life, my values, my behaviours, they might not be for everyone. That is the beauty of the diversity of the human condition. But when I see what I have remade of myself reflected in my sons, it is then that I know that I have achieved all that I need to on this Earth, and I have found a profound truth and contentment amongst all of the continual daily challenges.

And it is that which gives me the confidence to share my own solution to what I have termed The Human-Time Paradox, which I now feel ready to complete drafting, and which has never been more relevant in my lifetime given the challenges that humanity currently face and the consequent changing perceptions towards our life and our time that we are all now experiencing.

Oh, by the way, if you are wondering whether Joel Edgerton is one of my 23 cousins, or many more second cousins, or their children, hate to disappoint if you have read this far just to learn the answer to that one question. Is it relevant to your perception of me?…

Dedicated to my beautiful wife, Chandima. My parents may have provided me with my first “compass” and a good heart, but it is knowing and being loved by you that inspired me, and provided me with the opportunity, to work towards being the best possible version of myself. Thank you. I love you to infinity and beyond.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


If After 30 Years of Unbroken Economic Growth Australia Can’t Afford To Protect It’s Most Vulnerable, Who Really Benefitted From That Economic Growth?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone the most intense of spotlights on the weaknesses in our societies including: the lack of cohesion and increase in racism, inequality in opportunity leading to lower living standards which results in far greater impacts especially on exploited minorities and temporary workers, and inadequate care for the elderly in part due to greater dependence on institutional care as double fulltime income families struggle to meet their aspirations.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began to rewrite economic histories for countries, Australia was basking in the glow of a world record run of economic growth. Treasurer after treasurer for the last decade and half returned from overseas gatherings of international finance ministers continually telling us that we were the envy of the world.

At home, however, there was an increasing feeling, especially amongst young Australians, that the prosperity was not being shared equally. That the previous generations, of landlords and share investors, had had the better of things. Worse still, for a chance of attaining their level of prosperity the younger generations had to commit to a life of vulnerable debt servitude, or give up on the ideas of attaining the trappings of the Aussie middle class, such as home ownership, if their parents were not in the position to assist them. Of course the persistence of this aspiration allowed the previous generations to continue to experience their good fortune by keeping aloft asset prices. However, even that chance of parental assistance at reaching the middle class was under attack with some parents indulging in the tongue-in-cheek Baby Boomer SKI passion – spending the kids inheritance.

Such was the passion resulting from these intergenerational tensions that a plate of smashed avocado become emblematic for all that was wrong with an insufficiently aspirational and\or hardworking young generation, according to many senior Australians.

Middle-aged Australian families that had not purchased property before the new millennium were increasingly being squeezed by rampaging rents.

Of course the property bubble was kicked off in large part by huge incentives for Australians to speculate on house prices, not invest because housing supply was always tightly managed to keep the bubble from bursting. Finally after years of increasing distortions (e.g. First Home Owners Boost during the GFC to keep house prices high) in the most recent Federal election Australians had a real choice to take away these housing and share market distortions (i.e. franking credit reimbursement). Australians declined that opportunity, and in many ways I believe that is a reflection of many young Australians’ compassion for their parents and grandparents leading them to take “their side” while not fully understanding the intergeneration inequity that such measures would have addressed. 

While the young generations are castigated by many senior Australians for being selfish in seeking instant gratification, as exemplified by the smashed avo “debate”, research shows that younger generations are generous with their time through volunteering and definitely are community-minded.

It has been my view for some time that the situation is actually the inverse – it is Baby Boomer Australians who definitely have had the best of conditions – far more favourable than their parents who endured wartime and post-war frugality to provide for their growing families and who never achieved near the comparative wealth of their children – and still with such powerful electoral presence to repel attempts to lessen perks which they have enjoyed for most of their adult lives and which prevent a fair go for those younger Australians who at the same time subsidise all or some medical costs for seniors as well as fund other Government functions and pensions even for the modestly wealthy, while wealthy Australian retirees live from massively tax advantaged savings.

Now COVID-19 is exposing those inter-generational issues in an extreme manner that few have yet considered.

Young people have progressively been forced to accept that they will not have the same opportunities to acquire the same level of wealth as previous generations have done, through no fault of their own but due to the reality of politics where the greater number of votes (and of political donations) exist amongst the owning class, and this is exemplified by homeownership.

Those experiencing the greatest negative economic impacts in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic are the young working in the low-paid customer facing roles providing non-essential services. This will turn around somewhat because the longer the pandemic goes the greater the need for businesses to cut more deeply, and those older Australians made redundant will find it increasingly difficult to find another job. Up to this point in time, however, it is well understood that it is young Australians that have suffered the greatest economic hardship.

The Federal Government, especially, has wanted to pretend that it is possible to keep the national economy ticking away in some fashion by following a suppression strategy. Much of that is aimed at ensuring asset prices do not fall sharply, especially our housing markets which have long been Australia’s true economic vulnerability.

If house prices fell the older owning class would be worst affected economically, while young Australians have the most to gain by a fall in the price of assets because over their life time the opportunity to buy a home for perhaps half of the peak price would place them ahead of where they would be otherwise. That financial advantage would be so significant as to easily outweigh the negative financial impact of spending perhaps a year or two unemployed during a very serious recession or even depression.

For a long time I considered a buyer’s strike a reasonable choice for young Australians to address the intergenerational inequity that our political system has been unable to address.

Now it seems possible if not likely the pandemic will force it.

My main advice to young Australians would be that the best investment that you can make is your own health. From very early in the pandemic, well before such stories become common, I was warning through my posts that nobody should consider for a moment that all of the ways that the novel coronavirus can impact our health were understood. We are learning more about these impacts as time goes on, including an understanding that young people can fall seriously ill and die from COVID-19, and that even mild infections can cause changes within the brain. Long term impacts from infection can not be understood until that time has passed.

While many young people have come to think of themselves as invincible in this pandemic, there could be serious long term consequences to them developing even mild infection.

So I see our Governments’ response to the current crisis to be similar to previous crises: work expeditiously to get things back to “normal” as soon as possible, thus protecting asset prices which various Governments have worked hard at building and protecting over decades.

The people who are meant to save the economy from collapse are essentially the same: the young. In the GFC young Australians, those with the least life and investing experience, were bribed to enter the housing market and keep prices aloft by an increased cash grant which quickly was added to the price of the home in any case so that they got no net benefit but were left with a lifetime of vulnerable debt servitude.

In the COVID-19 pandemic young people, already economically vulnerable, are being convinced that they have the most to gain by the opening up of the economy and especially of the low-paid customer-facing service jobs. These are the jobs that can not be done remotely, and thus entail a significantly greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Note also that early discussions around herd immunity inferred that it was the young and healthy, the school children through to the pre-forties, who would have had the bulk “responsibility” for developing the infection to protect the vulnerable within the herd. (And it is here that you understand why our Federal Government fought so hard to ensure that schools remained open.)

As we have learned in Melbourne like elsewhere, older Australians are clearly more at risk of death from COVID-19, so senior Australians have the most to lose out of economic activity being prioritised over minimising loss of life. If economic impacts result in a fall in asset prices they will also lose, but common sense says that the majority would prefer the former option because wealth is of no use after death.

Yet it is the young who have the majority of their life to live with any long term consequences from COVID-19 infection. And it is young people who are most disadvantaged by our historically very high housing prices which are more likely to fall the longer and more deeply the economy is impacted.

So young people are being called on to got out and work to minimise impacts on the Australian economy, and risk their lives and their long term health, and the consequence of their bravery will be that the more successful they are in doing that the more out of reach will remain home ownership and long term financial security, especially if those long term health affects turn out to be debilitating and thus impact their lifetime earning potential.

I realise that this discussion leaves out an important group – the recent buyers, of which I would include myself. In a bubble, the most impacted are always the last buyers before the collapse. Anybody buying homes in Australia in the last 10 years in the financial expectation that the experience of the previous decades will be repeated was speculating as the fundamentals long ago ceased to stack up. At best an analysis of renting versus buying based on the current lower bound interest rates may suggest fair value in some areas of Australia, but that is not a basis for price increases going forward, and on a long term basis Australian house prices remain significantly overpriced. While I do not expect interest rates to increase appreciably for a long time in Australia, and have long held that view, whenever an asset class is over-owned by speculators there is the potential for price declines as those speculators realise their error. To those who bought understanding this dynamic, but rather made a discretionary spend to live in and\or raise a family in their own home, then these factors are of little significance. For such people the issue remains the same – maintaining a roof over one’s head – whether that be a rented roof or one to which a bank holds the mortgage.

That is the crux of intergenerational inequity in the COVID-19 era and the stakeholders in that situation are largely passive and being led by the political class. In the second part I will concentrate more on the closely related tension between business and workers, and here stakeholders are for more active and engaged in politics lobbying for the Government action that supports their aims.

To discuss the tension between business and workers we really need to strip back this issue to economic impacts versus human impacts (i.e. loss of lives) in the COVID-19 pandemic, a topic that is a constant background of my writing at MacroEdgo.

At the outset, it is very important to spell out that by human impacts I mean loss of life and all that entails: a life cut shorter than it otherwise would have been and the loss to that individual and those who knew and loved them.

It is equally important to accept that this discussion must be held in the context of our values – the term du jour – and especially our contemporary societies’ relationships with wealth and money.

Here it is important to draw a distinction as money is one form of numerical representation of wealth. In reality wealth is just a measure of the resources at your disposal to do things while you are on Earth and after (by your benefactors).

Why is it important to make these distinctions?

Society’s relationship with wealth will be a major deciding factor in where the balance is struck: in a society where wealth is more highly valued in relation to human life, then greater loss of life will be tolerated by citizens to lessen economic impacts, and vice versa.

Of course the general wealth of the country is important. Obviously a poor country can endure far less disruption to its economy because it has far less means to assist the vulnerable who will likely need to work to prevent starvation.

So the COVID-19 pandemic, as experienced in developed countries that have the resources which provide the opportunity to decide to respond more aggressively to minimise loss of life than developing countries, really is one of those rare moments in time where citizens are needing to decide where they fit on that continuum, i.e. what are our values.

The degree to which politicians are prepared to meet those society-wide values, even if it affects their own political standing amongst historical supporter bases including powerful financial donors, will decide their political fate.

I am not going to distil this issue down to numerical representations of national wealth in terms of dollars and cents, and GDP, etc. While I enjoy reading and analysing financial and economic data, and I do agree that it must necessarily feature in decision-making, it sometimes leads to the point being missed by many and it alienates (or repulses) many others.

What we are talking about is lives: ours and of everybody we care about.

I agree that greater human impacts will affect economy (e.g. loss of valuable human capital and productivity, reduced subsets of consumers, and impacts on confidence due to fear of infection and death) and vice versa (e.g. increased suicide due to economic impacts). However, I must admit that, even though I am a professionally-trained research scientist and highly analytical in nature, I agree with those who consider the reduction of human impacts down to numbers, whether that be death tolls or dollars and cents, to be distasteful.

As such I would not link to any report that does so, unless, of course, it favoured the argument I am making – such as here (yes, tongue in cheek).

The real purpose of this post is to put as plainly as possible the qualitative assessment of the overall risks that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing on all Australians, and I want to highlight what are the factors, as I see them, that different segments of society are choosing to elevate in importance in their own decision-making.

In the first part I discussed the intergenerational issues which should be more widely discussed in these terms, but are not because to do so would require an admission that all politicians and senior financial bureaucrats were complicit in creating and perpetuating an enormous intergenerational inequity on young Australians.

This second aspect is being discussed, but it is only being discussed tangentially and in faux terms such as a grieving for every “livelihood” without recognition that in all reality that what is being discussed is a job that barely provides a living, and certainly not a living that similar level jobs in previous generations provided especially in comparison to what workers aspire(d) to do with that livelihood (such as buy a family home).

That is because continual weakening of workers’ rights, in the name of workplace flexibility and pseudo-innovation (which essentially leads to the replacement of an already existing industry, powered by workers on more tenuous conditions), have allowed the owning class (i.e. the wealthy) to increase their wealth by keeping an increasingly greater share of profits over the last 3 decades. This is a well understood phenomenon in the English-speaking world.

So we entered the COVID-19 pandemic with Australian workers more precarious than they were decades earlier, where social safety networks have also been eroded and widely considered unable to support a respectable developed country standard of living, and where affordable housing is a real problem for many which has led to many vulnerable people living densely and\or in conditions below what many in the developed world would consider adequate.

On the other hand, our elite have continued to fete the American economic model, falling under the same malaise of mistaking greed for a necessary ingredient rather than the deleterious byproduct it is.

This explanation of the current situation, together with the information in Part I, explains the workers’ risks.

For the business elites – the business owners and executives – the risk analysis is altogether different.

The business elites gain very little benefit out of closing their business to guard against the risks to employees other than at a personal level in knowing that they have behaved morally and conscionably. However, in doing so they risk a severe financial setback to their business which, especially for medium or small businesses, may be devastating. Small or medium businesses owners may lose their business, and consequently their aspirations for wealth accumulation and business success will suffer a serious blow.

Business executives may miss out on attractive incentives awards, such as bonuses and stock\share options, for not reaching operational milestones because businesses were closed to protect employees and reduce transmission of COVID-19.

No doubt the business elites are people, also, no less susceptible to infection by the novel coronavirus, even if their wealth has afforded them a greater level of underlying health than the wider populations, and will ensure that their treatment will be gold standard should they fall seriously ill. Moreover, they are also members of families, with children, and parents, and brothers and sisters, and extended families whom they love and who they hope will not be infected or succumb to severe COVID-19 disease.

The business elites, however, unlike the workers, have done very well thank you very much out of the way that the system has developed over the last 3 or 4 decades and in order for maximum preservation of that system and their advantage they want things to get back as close as possible as soon as possible.

The business elites need for people to retain as much as possible of their spending habits and belief systems around consumer and societal status aspirations – that is why there is an emphasis on opening up the entire economy not just the genuinely essential services.

It is already clearly understood that it is the people in lower socio-economic circumstances, especially the minorities, who are doing the jobs that can not be done remotely and who, to remain employed, must accept greater risk of being infected and ultimately of dying with COVID-19.

At the crescendo of emotion over the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, a video by Kimberley Jones gained a great deal of attention for its brutal honesty. Kimberley explained for white people, many of whom may have been shocked by it, why black and other minority Americans were so willing to destroy property.

It boiled down to one thing and one thing only – after 400 years of toil and building wealth for others, they owned nothing themselves.

They did not respect that property because to them it was a symbol of a system that failed them by being biased and prejudiced against them for four centuries! And they knew it would continue to fail them and their descendants if nothing changed.

They had nothing to lose.

Again in the COVID-19 pandemic it is the business elite – the owners – who have the most to lose.

In earlier writing I spelt out that the advantage that those arguing for rapid and complete reopening of economies have is that the families that will ultimately suffer loss because of that decision do not yet know it. If they did know that they would be affected, surely many more would fight harder for measures to minimise loss of life, and be prepared to suffer greater economic hardship for the chance to save their loved-one’s life.

Right now throughout Australia measures to protect human life are popular, and Premiers of states that have experienced periods of zero detected community transmission and\or are experiencing very low levels of community transmission are very supportive of the state border closures.

At the same time, business elites are placing maximum pressure on the Federal conservative Government to remove measures which keep people safe but which hinder the operation and viability of their businesses, and currently they especially want PM Morrison to politically out-maneuver State Governments so that borders are re-opened.

If one is to listen to these business elites justifying why Australia must loosen restrictions, and thus live with greater risk and subsequently greater spread and death with COVID-19, it will almost certainly be said that Australia simply cannot afford these impediments to business functioning as it did prior to the pandemic.

When Australians hear such a comment, they might want to begin to consider why that might be so – why Australia apparently cannot afford to protect it’s citizens in this pandemic, and especially it’s most vulnerable now, after having experienced almost 30 years of continuous economic growth. They might want to consider in what ways they benefitted from all of that growth, and whether it might actually be the case that the majority of spoils were shared between only a small subset of Australians. As it becomes clear that high house prices are not a symbol of permanent wealth but are ephemeral, while the debt is real and lasting, they may wish to consider who really prospered from the bubble. They might wonder what value might have been gained from Governments thinking ahead and stashing away a lot of the windfall from a once in century resources boom into a sovereign wealth fund to be used at a time of need, and then recall what powerful lobby it was that prevented the Rudd Government from doing it.

Australians might then want to consider whether it is that same subset of Australians that are now saying that Australia cannot afford to do everything possible to minimise loss of life in our lucky country!

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


How to Look After “Our Own First”

I took part in a focus group for Global Citizen a few weeks back. I was thrilled to be asked to participate as it is an organisation with which I share so many values. My own mantra that I developed through MacroEdgo is “United Humanity” and my email signature is as follows:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s 4th Inauguration speech, as WWII drew to an end (he died before the atomic bombs were dropped.)

I used the same email signature in my final years of working as a research scientist, leading up to and during the second Iraq war.

All participants in the focus group were obviously people who had interacted with Global Citizen in one way or another, so they presumably felt that they shared many of their values.

Our discussion early on revolved around Australia’s foreign aid and one question posed to us was whether it should be needs-based or whether it would be appropriate in this time of pandemic to cut back to be able to provide more support here in Australia.

Obviously the question is a little leading because by mentioning “needs-based” it is almost intimating that to redirect funds towards Australia would be against a needs-based assessment because Australians on average were in less need.

Nonetheless, that would be true to my own assessment, and my answer reflected as such when I said that Australia’s foreign aid program should always be needs-based and thus we should be doing more to assist the developing world and not cutting back. Nobody familiar with my blog site would be surprised with this, nor my passion for this topic leading me to express these views plainly with justification in that setting.

I was the oldest person in the group, by some margin, and the only male, and most others answered with some degree of sympathy towards a perception of Australians doing it tough financially in the pandemic, though the people who appeared to have non-Caucasian ancestry were less strong on that view. 

The other more outspoken person in the group was quite strong in insisting that we needed to “help our own first” as she had friends who were struggling to keep their homes. 

While I have a great deal of compassion for people in financial hardship, this comment goes to one of my great bug-bears about societies. I wanted to challenge this viewpoint assertively but it was not the forum to do so and moderators were keen to move the discussion on in any case.

All that is wrong with this statement, in my view, is contained within the title of the organisation with which we were talking – “Global Citizen”.

Many years ago I realised the danger and the folly in nationalism, or tribalism, or any form of division amongst humanity for that matter. 

In essence all of these viewpoints include one overriding premise – I should care more about people within this arbitrary man-made grouping, regardless of whether I know them or anything of them, than I do about other people outside of that grouping.

To me this makes zero sense.

When it comes to “looking after our own” on a national basis, to what does that really refer – people who reside in the country, or people who were born in the country and still reside there, or all people who were born in the country irrespective of where they have resided through their lives. I could go on, and the truth is that the definition would vary from person to person.

Obviously, on a darker level many people will consciously or subconsciously also overlay a further descriptor of what constitutes “our own”, whether that be related to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.

So it is clear that “our own” is a very opaque phrase and extremely subjective.

It essentially infers that in some way we are more closely related to someone within this grouping than to people in all other groupings. But countries really are man-made constructs and are thus arbitrary – after all for half of white occupation of the Australian continent the non-indigenous inhabitants were citizens of England (and my understanding is that indigenous people were not even considered “people”, though I stand corrected on that) – so are we really more closely related to people who belong to the same nation?

Moreover, if we should care about people who are more closely related to us, geographically or otherwise, than to all other people, then it should be true across all man-made groupings to which we all belong. So we should care more about people who belong to the same state grouping (for me Queensland), and we should care even more about people who belong to the same city, town or local government area grouping (for me Brisbane), and we should care even more about people who belong to the same suburb grouping, and we should care even more again about people who live in our street.

I suspect that all people would find this preposterous, though that would vary from region to region, and I recall in Germany how the Bavarians were so “patriotic” that temporary residents from other regions of Germany, such as students who I knew, would attempt to alter their accents to avoid being “detected” and made to feel unwelcome as an “auslander”. Even in these regions, however, there is a point at which the man-made division is seen as preposterous.

While I do believe strongly in community, my level of compassion towards somebody has no relevance to any of these man-made constructs or any other nonsensical ways that some people consciously or subconsciously seek to divide us (usually for their own petty agendas).

“Our own” is really human beings, all human beings, and the best way to look after human beings is to genuinely care equally for everyone. That is exactly what FDR was telling us was the greatest lesson from the horror of WW2, and the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing in the most awful way how those lessons were not acted upon through the intervening three-quarters of century.

That does not say that I have no compassion for Australians struggling to pay a mortgage on a home purchased for a half million dollars or more. 

That will be the subject of my next post.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


How Society Will Change If A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Elusive

I have expressed a reasonably supportive level of optimism towards the likelihood of the development of effective vaccines and/or treatments for COVID-19 since my first updates and report in early February.

In my report in mid-February, however, when frustrated by how slow Governments and financial analysts were to recognise the challenges that we confronted, I was compelled to be more frank about my views:

To understand the ongoing impacts on people and thus on the economy we need to go back to the virus. Without the rapid emergence of an effective therapeutic treatment for COVID-19, amongst already developed treatments or those in the very late stages of development, the pandemic is likely to progress until either it spreads so widely that the majority of people have become infected or an effective vaccine is developed, produced and delivered en masse. This may take several years, so it is possible – probably even likely – that we will be living with this pandemic for a prolonged period.

If we are really unlucky, as some have suggested, it is even possible that the virus may develop the influenza characteristic of mutating sufficiently within a year so that immunity from prior infection does not make the person refractory or immune to infection when exposed the following year.

All in all, this is a very serious problem and we are in a wait and see pattern. However, it is clear that things are going to get far more serious over the short to medium term before things get better.

Repeat After Me, This is NOT SARS: COVID-19 is much worse” published on MacroEdgo on 24 February 2020

As I expressed in my most recent coronavirus (COVID-19) update, understanding the likely path forward in humanity’s challenge with this pandemic virus does not equate to emotional acceptance. (Still, what is occurring in global asset markets at present is an all together other level – that is not searching for acceptance, and it goes well beyond dissonance – it is out and out delusion!)

Like everyone, for me I have had to take a journey of processing what has happened, even though my level of understanding has permitted me to embark on that journey earlier and with greater depth than most others. Hopefully, my family, friends and readers of my posts have also benefitted.

Today I feel ready and compelled to take the next step and begin to countenance the medium to long-term – what I believe is likely to occur with the COVID-19 pandemic over the next several years and potentially beyond, and what will be the likely impacts of that on societies.

Observing rational leadership through this pandemic – yes I am intentionally suggesting the obvious bafoons be ignored in this discussion – it is clear that they walk a fine line between reaching a desirable level of concern amongst society, to guard against complacency, without overwhelming people with the enormity of the challenge we confront.

One way in which this has been done is to avoid discussing the long term and the many small challenges that we must confront over the medium term to overcome the entire challenge. This is a psychological trick that many athletes will recognise – shortening the time frame of each sub-goal, eg. an endurance runner might say “I will just keep running to the end of this street” as if that is when the choice to stop or continue will be made, when in reality they may be overwhelmed at any time and collapse in a heap.

Good leaders are continually saying things like “let’s get to this point in time and we will see how we are situated then” while knowing that it is likely that the situation will not be as resolved as many would be hoping.

This is exactly the approach that is being taken with vaccine development. From very early in the pandemic the timeline on vaccine development has been about as ambitious as is (almost) plausible (to an intelligent but not especially well informed observer). I myself did the same thing in my earliest reports discussing vaccine development when I said that the rush would be on to have a vaccine to be mass administered before the next northern hemisphere winter, all the while knowing that it would be a herculean task and only possible if it proved to be an extremely straightforward process with this virus.

I knew it would be the goal, and I dared to hope with my heart that it might be achieved, but I also knew that it was unlikely to be achieved. I must confess, though, that I felt that a vaccine may just be ready for mass deployment in time for the 2021 southern hemisphere winter and I still consider this a reasonable probability if we are fortunate.

On the other hand, one of the most troubling possibilities with the COVID-19 pandemic is that a vaccine is far more elusive than is hoped – that luck is not on our side and current technology is not amenable to straightforward and immediate production of a vaccine with this coronavirus, thus necessitating further research with this particular virus and innovation to achieve an adequately efficacious vaccine. And I have to say that my aggregated view of everything that I have heard and read said by vaccinologists, and not the CEOs of vaccine companies who sound more like politicians and salespeople, on this slips easily into pessimism and to believing that it may be more likely that we are without a reasonably effective vaccine for quite a few years.

Adding to the pessimistic view, and possibly related to the pessimistic view of some vaccinologists, is emerging views from immunologists that immunity within the population of people who have had the virus appears surprisingly weak and/or short-lived. Thus even herd immunity may not be achieved for those countries where it was a stated (Sweden), tacitly stated (the UK) or unstated but clearly their strategy of political convenience (the US) and thus where higher proportions of their populations have been infected. In other words, the enormous human impact that was endured to achieve herd immunity by direct infection brought no long-term benefit as people may be re-infected.

In “The COVID-19 Elephants In The Room” I stated that there was/is an infinite range of possibilities on the ways that this virus might impact humans which we could only guess at from the known ways other viruses impact us, and that there were likely other previously unseen ways that this virus new to mankind might impact us. In my subsequent post I highlighted this reality in underlining the imprudence in embarking on a strategy of developing herd immunity by letting the novel coronavirus spread throughout populations rather than doing everything possible to stamp it out and if possible aim at elimination.

My concerns have been proven several times over with the following (far from complete list of) discoveries for the novel coronavirus: it can cause serious disease in some children; it causes chronic infection and/or symptoms in some with unknown consequences; there is an emerging understanding that the nature of the COVID-19 disease is different to what was initially thought where its entropy involves blood vessels perhaps as much as the respiratory tract; and just yesterday there were press reports of an important journal article detailing novel and serious neuropathology (disease within the brain) with people only displaying mild COVID-19 symptoms.

I have said it many times before but it bears repeating – some political and medical leaders argued for and enacted a strategy of allowing the virus to circulate through their people, without attempting to prevent it spreading to all but the most vulnerable (and failed miserably at that), when they knew that they did not at all understand the full impacts on their people not even a proper understanding of the nature of the disease in its most common form of presentation.

For me, that is human arrogance at its most destructive.

The point that I wish to make here, again, is that we still can expect more surprises from this pathogen known to mankind now for just over 6 months (as the GAVI report linked to above also makes clear). Just one of those possibilities, if we are unlucky, is that instead of prior infection providing those people with immunity to re-infection it worsens the next infection as in dengue haemorrhagic fever thus increasing the mortality rate.

To this point good leaders have sort to keep as many people as safe as possible from the impacts of this pandemic while everybody looks on and hopes or prays or whatever for our scientific community to develop a silver bullet. Besides vague references to the long haul, the best leaders are mostly working on helping us to focus on the immediate and not think too far out into the future lest many of us become despondent and overwhelmed.

If we are very fortunate at least one of the 140 vaccine candidates currently being developed might be effective. Or perhaps a protocol with one or several might be effective. However, as we approach the end of this year, as the northern hemisphere enters autumn (fall), then I expect that we will begin to hear more honest assessments of the chances of success.

If success seems to be more elusive than humanity has dared to hope, then we will move into a new phase for society and individuals to deal with the challenge.

Already the conservative types that want our focus to be at least as much concerned with livelihoods – a synonym for economy and in their parlance, “aspiration” – are talking about “living with the disease” and we know from social media and even marches in the US that the (typically vulnerable) usual footsoldiers have been marshalled into action.

In the event that at the end of the year assessments of the likelihood of herd immunity being achieved by a mass vaccination program are not optimistic, then everyone will need to begin to consider exactly how we will go about our lives for an uncertain but prolonged period with COVID-19 severely impacting us increasingly as we age.

Those with a predisposition to brutally forthright discussion around the impacts of humans on our natural environment have always mentioned the real possibility of nature “striking back” to reestablish balance. Referring to nature, there need be no element of conspiracy or karma, just a simple recognition that in natural systems disequilibria are not sustainable and that consequences flow from changes to stable systems.

Events that lead to rebalancing can take the form of unrelated natural phenomena which might impact all living organisms, like an asteroid striking Earth leading to mass extinction, or it might be the consequence of the change to that equilibrium. One example often given is epidemic disease which is well known as a moderator of plant and animal populations.

The ability of disease to hold populations in check is a basic tenet of our understanding of biology – it is but one factor that prevents one or several species from dominating all others in plague proportions and causing widespread extinctions.

Does that sound at all familiar? Of course humanity, while avoiding extinction thus far, has experienced pandemics through our evolutionary history but our advanced cognitive abilities has allowed us to learn over many generations how to manage through these periodic challenges and to pass these tools to those who succeed us.

Our apparent success to those humans fortunate to have lived all of their lives in the developed world has created a level of complacency to the risk that our basic biology poses. Many of our contemporaries seem to believe that we are already part machine, and certainly post-biologic, and are ignorant to the costs that humanity paid in gaining our knowledge at overcoming our past disease challenges.

COVID-19 is certainly playing a part in re-educating those that wish to be informed.

Simple biology is at play and it relates directly to mathematics and probability. The larger our population becomes the more densely we live. The more densely we live the greater the chance that something that infects one person is passed onto another. However, living densely does not provide for primary production and those living densely must have all their resources and requirements supplied to them and that necessitates 1) greater utilisation of natural resources for producing goods required, and 2) wider geographic distribution and storage of those goods. As human success at wealth creation in the system developed by and for humans increases, more and a greater variety of those goods are desired from wider geographies. Thus humanity increasingly interacts with a wider range of organisms by expanding areas of production, and domesticated organisms increasingly interact with other organisms, and products are then stored and transported.

All of that increases the probability of pathogens jumping into human hosts, directly and then spreading amongst humans, and/or being spread within goods and then infecting humans.

The interaction of pathogens and hosts are extremely complex. The pathogens that have infected humans for a long period may appear well understood, especially if the disease is well controlled with a vaccine or other effective treatment, but talk to any researcher and you will always be told that their understanding is fairly basic and there is much, much more to be understood. That is not a justification for research funding. It is just the reality and with a limited level of research funding priority is given to what research is widely perceived to be highest priority.

Noteworthy through this pandemic has been the number of researchers who have been identified for warning potential pandemic disease was not receiving nearly enough research attention, and many even pinpointed coronaviruses as being of special concern.

Those predisposed to brutal forthright discussion on human impacts on nature will have already recognised that the novel coronavirus has significant potential to cull human populations based on what we already know. While the mortality rate from the acute phase (noting we do not yet nearly understand the long term impacts) of the COVID-19 pandemic may not be as high as the 1918 flu pandemic, though that is still open to debate centred around how many more cases and deaths go unreported, it is interesting within this context that in aggregate COVID-19 impacts increase in older cohorts while the inverse was true of the 1918 flu. While biologically it is true that the 1918 flu would thus have had greater impact on moderating human population growth, nowadays life expectancy is that much longer than 100 years earlier such that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to significantly reduce human resource utilisation especially when we consider that the later stages of life tend to require disproportionately higher resources.

I do not, however, wish to concentrate on (perhaps harsh) biological theory and reality and I realise that I have already run the risk of losing my readers with this rather dry but essential explanation of the underlying biological situation.

What I really want to discuss is the socioeconomics of all of this – how it is going to impact the choices we humans are likely to make going forward if the COVID-19 pandemic proves to be prolonged.

I was born in 1970 and was a teenager in the 80s living in rural Australia. Even then my father spoke with nostalgia of a period (the 60s) when inflation was very low and jobs were plentiful. However, the economy had experienced a good run through to the mid 80s – not as good as our most recent past, but still good by historical standards – and looking back the standard of living for most even in my rural area clearly improved as judged by decreasing numbers of rust bucket vehicles on the road, etc.

Perhaps the trend that I noticed most amongst adults at the time, besides the obsession with large suburban back yard BBQs with significant beer drinking and then driving home (with still lax drink-driving laws), was the apparent obsession with early retirement. Perhaps that view is somewhat coloured by my rural locale, where people had lower incomes but also had lower living costs (being partly self-sufficient) and lower aspirations, and where most were employed in blue collar work which took a greater toll on their bodies and general physical well being. Nonetheless, when I reflect on this period it does seem to me that it was somewhat of a national obsession, and in part a reflection of financial success (up until recession struck at the end of the 80s).

If I fast forward to our most recent run of financial success in Australia it seems that the opposite has been the case with our national obsession about accumulating as much wealth as possible such that many people approaching retirement are carrying high levels of debt, much of it to support or for tax benefits associated with their property portfolio. While these people could sell down their portfolio to retire, for many it has become a lifestyle and they continue beyond retirement age, while others have gotten entranced by the property ladder theme and thus need to continue to work to pay off their upsized homes and mortgages.

I suspect that this trend of increasing work intensity at later ages interacts with the increasing life expectancy of people at retirement age. While 40 years ago people dreamed of having a period of less demand on their physical and mental resources – a relaxed retirement when still in reasonable physical condition before reaching their declining years – many contemporary Australians fear retirement because it is such a great departure from the manic lives that they have led accumulating wealth and ticking off lots of other boxes (many with the aim of impressing others). And if they think their life will extend 10, 15 or even 20 years longer than their parents, as the media keeps suggesting, including with some predicting that the first people to live to eternity have already been born, then what is the hurry to retire anyway.

A prolonged COVID-19 pandemic will turn that equation around, especially when it will be accompanied by a prolonged period of economic recession or even a period of depression. While Australia’s economy has allowed many retirement-age Australians to continue to work as long as they wished – even though young Australians’ employment prospects only slowly recovered after the Global Financial Crisis – this will likely change in the current recession. As in the 90s recession, people made redundant in their 50s will likely struggle to gain active employment again and this will obviously necessitate a sharp repositioning on aspirations. It is possible that these unfortunate people, however, ultimately prove to be more fortunate than they realise because circumstances force them to be early movers.

As the pandemic progresses, and especially if prior infection does not create lasting immunologic protection from re-infection which is more lethal as we age, the experience of reducing life expectancy for the first time in centuries will cause every middle-aged Australian to re-think and re-organise their priorities.

This will have serious implications in our society and in our economy. I think it is clear that in such a scenario the long-anticipated sell down of housing assets by Baby Boomers and Gen X is a virtual certainty.

Essentially I would expect that people needing to confront their own mortality at an earlier age, like their grandparents, likely will develop a different set of priorities which revolve more around genuine quality (of life) over quantity.

In all of my writing on the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning of February I stated that the world has changed as a consequence of a virus jumping species into humans. Within a few months of me first writing that most of humanity has come to understand this reality. Perhaps, because of the need for self preservation strategies, humanity does not quite understand yet just how much the world is likely to continue to change.

I have tried to play a constructive role in my writing by remaining positive in my outlook while placing maximum pressure on those in decision-making positions to act humanely.

I have always been of the position that Australia, with its rare advantages of being an island with excellent biosecurity know-how and infrastructure, should use these advantages to attempt to eliminate COVID-19 and enact powerful measures to prevent its reintroduction. But I always knew that we may be in the very early stages of a very prolonged battle. My view has always been that we would be in the best position if we did everything in our power – even if it meant sacrificing economic activity in the short-term – to absolutely minimise the number of people within our borders being infected by the virus. The point is that in such a position we have the flexibility to make decisions on how we wish to progress depending on how scientific research is progressing on vaccines and treatments, and based on what we have learned about the human impacts to that point.

It is clear now that other countries that chose early to not do everything possible to stop the spread of the virus have far fewer choices available to them.

While PM Morrison said he was going to the footy on the opening weekend of the NRL I said that large gatherings should have been cancelled weeks earlier along also with shutting of the international borders.

And when PM Morrison began to use his political capital to create considerable momentum towards opening up the economy, when elimination was so near as to suggest it is possible, and which New Zealand has since achieved, I made it clear that it was premature.

On 1 May I said:

Given all of the uncertainties around this new human pathogen, and given we in Australia have experienced a relatively low expression of COVID-19 thus far which suggests that eradication might be a real possibility, loosening of biosecurity measures at this point in mid-Autumn seems to me to be highly imprudent and suggestive of at least a hint of political hubris.

A far more prudent approach would be to continue with very strict biosecurity measures and increased testing, firstly of all those with symptoms of respiratory infections and then as and if capacity allows, all people (prioritising those who have been, through work requirements, more active in the community), to detect any and all cases so that eradication can be achieved.

In “COVID-19 and Food Safety in Processed Meat” published at MacroEdgo

(Since writing this I have adopted the contemporary terminology of elimination from a geography as eradication strictly applies to global eradication, which clearly is impossible with COVID-19.)

Throughout this pandemic the conservative leaders of the major English-speaking countries have exhibited a visceral Pavlovian reaction to the biosecurity measures to lessen human impacts out of fear of the economic impacts. But as the pandemic has progressed it has become clear that the best way to minimise impacts on economies is to minimise human impacts within society. New Zealanders are being rewarded for their patience and achieving effective elimination of COVID-19 by now experiencing essentially normal domestic lives secured by effective biosecurity at their international borders. On the other hand, American businesses are learning that it is difficult to run profitably when workers are afraid of returning to work, and clients and/or customers are behaving entirely different to before the pandemic out of prudent concern for catching the virus.

If my concerns expressed above play out, then we are about to re-learn the lessons of compounding, only the effect will be in reverse since the economic measure of growth has a negative sign. The consequences of all of this will have profound effects on our societies.

In “Toxic Masculinity and Political Footballs” I said:

We were fortunate to have a second chance at eliminating COVID-19 from Australia after PM Morrison dithered on closing the borders to international travellers in February and early March. I strongly doubt that we will be fortunate enough to be able to say “third time lucky”.

And in my second open letter to PM Morrison I said:

to loosen measures for the sake of perhaps an extra month or two of additional limited commercial activity may come at the cost of allowing COVID-19 to become widespread in our population for an entire winter season. If a vaccine does become available before the next northern hemisphere winter, then that would make us in the southern hemisphere the only region other than Wuhan to experience an entire winter season with COVID-19 running rampant.

That would scar the Australian people deeply and would have severe and long-lasting impacts on our society and our economy.

Events in Melbourne over the last fortnight prove these warning to be correct. Politicians know that any chance of COVID-19 elimination within Australia has been squandered, while our near neighbours success proves that it was possible, and thus any COVID-19 deaths from now on were clearly preventable; that is why we are frequently hearing that “elimination was never the Australian strategy”.

Perhaps conservative politicians will fall back on the doubts that I expressed earlier about developing an effective vaccine in the near term to justify “getting on with the inevitable” and learning to deal with the virus. If you come from the perspective that the impacts on the economy are your highest priority, then certain impacts on the economy by stringent biosecurity measures will always outweigh any issues of uncertain benefits for preventing infections amongst people over an undefinable length of time.

Mostly what is given up, however, is the flexibility to make better decisions when we are armed with greater knowledge. Those better decisions clearly can be for the benefit of people and for economies.

To this point decisions have been made mainly by elected officials. Increasingly going forward those decisions will be made by individuals. Collectively those decisions will have significant impacts on society, and the longer and greater the COVID-19 affects are felt, the greater the change in the way society behaves.

That, in a nutshell, is “The Great Reset“. It has already begun and it is irreversible.

High quality, effective leadership will nurture it so that the best outcomes are realised to the benefit of humanity. Scoundrels will try to harness it to bend society to a more warped and less inclusive version. We all must show leadership and engage with the process to achieve the best outcome for ourselves and those we love, and those who succeed us. And we should all prepare to be flexible and supple in thought to make the best decisions that we can with the information that we have as we emerge from the shock of our altered existence and as our future comes into clearer focus.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


The Great Reset: Teaching What We Left Behind

Have you ever had a “Ratatouille” moment? Like in the animated movie where the food critic is instantaneously transported to a deeply cherished childhood memory when stimulated by an extraordinary event, in that case the first mouthful of a dish that invoked his mother’s ratatouille? 

I have experienced it once in my life, and there are many similarities with the fictional food critic’s experience; I was in France when it occurred, it related to food, and I literally felt the rush back to my childhood as so wonderfully captured in the movie.

In my case I was sitting in a side street near to Place de la Comédie in Montpellier, where I was a research fellow in the laboratory of JR Bonami the PhD supervisor of Dr Shi Zhengli who is a lead scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was responsible for identifying bats as the original host of the SARS virus and who discovered the coronavirus cause of COVID-19.

The waiter at the small, non-descript bistro had just placed a humble poulet frites (chicken and fried chips) in front of me and as I took my first mouthful I was instantly transported to my childhood and how roast chicken used to be. It was not to any one particular meal – it was a melange of meals lovingly prepared by my mother and grandmothers. As I quietly savoured the chicken I adored the pure taste and the paper thin crisp skin.

That was 20 years ago but the experience remains fresh in my mind. Over the years as I have prepared and consumed chicken I have remembered that moment in Montpellier, and have taken note of the thick skin and underlying fat, and of how immature the chickens have gotten as evidenced by the size of the bones. Watching my children try to each grip a side of the tiny wish bones is akin to two elephants competing to pick up a bar of soap.

Between 1957 and 2005 the growth rate of chickens raised commercially for meat increased by 400% through genetic, nutrition and husbandry advances. Concomitant with this massive increase in growth were marked side-effects including skeletal deformities, metabolic dysfunction and altered immune function. This progress is made stark by this comparative figure taken from that paper.

Age-related changes in size (mixed-sex BW and front view photos) of University of Alberta Meat Control strains unselected since 1957 and 1978, and Ross 308 broilers (2005). Within each strain, images are of the same bird at 0, 28, and 56 d of age. From Zuidhof et al. 2014

Undoubtedly there were other more subtle changes that have occurred progressively but were not detected by consumers, or if they were detected were not sufficient to cause the industry to rethink this progression. 

This is not meant to be criticism of the poultry-raising industry as these advances have allowed chicken to remain an affordable and nutritious meal in developed countries. I am simply saying that these rapid changes in the industry have undoubtedly resulted in changes in the animal which will have resulted in changes in the experience of consuming the animal which we did not notice because it was an iterative process that occurred over many years.

That experience showed me just how much the experience of consuming a roast chicken had changed in my life time, and I had not even realised it until that precise moment in time.

My Italian language teacher and friend recounted a very similar experience recently. She is actually my neighbour in a very small village in Abruzzo, an area of Italy considered one of the most pristine in Europe with almost half its area set aside as national reserves and protected nature reserves. It is estimated that 75% of all extant European species occur naturally in the area including rare species such as the golden eagle, the Abruzzese chamois, the Appenine wolf and the Marsican brown bear.

Our friend relayed how in our small village of only 400 inhabitants they experienced their first true Spring since her childhood 30 some years ago. She said that the light has been wonderful and that nature seems to abound like she had not seen in years, with insects right through to birds much more plentiful. Unsurprisingly many in the village are putting this down to the measures taken in response to COVID-19 and especially the reduced pollution. These are people who truly identify with place as the village existed before the Romans and most do not know of a time when their ancestors came from another region. 

I found these observations especially interesting because this is considered one of the more “untouched” environments in central Europe.

It was clear that our friend was extremely surprised by this and it appeared that what had been lost had not been quite so well understood with clarity. These observations have been reinforced the world over in a project where scientists and artists were able to take advantage of the low ambient noise in the human world to create the first global public sound map of the northern hemisphere spring morning chorus.

The unique events of this year have provided a moment of clarity on many fronts to people from all over the world, and many are expressing a desire to listen and observe their individual and our collective existence both at the physical and spiritual level.

In recent weeks I have come back to Earth somewhat driving my children to and from school. But this is essentially the only thing different to what we have been doing since our family went into lockdown in mid-March.

There is less traffic on the road from less non-school-related driving, although the 3pm drive is with considerable traffic. I have been marvelling at how relaxed I have been feeling while driving after driving only once or twice a week for the previous 2 months. Other drivers, too, seem much more relaxed. Admittedly, it’s early days, but I have not seen anybody driving erratically like the tradie who last year overtook me while continuously honking his horn, with a line of oncoming traffic, at 8.20 am in front of a school of 2,000 children. And I have noticed far fewer people on their devices while driving, though I expect that is only a matter of time.

Over recent years I have expressed increasing frustration at the erratic behaviour of drivers especially around schools, and I must say that most of the risky driving that I witnessed was by parents heading to or having just dropped off their children. People who not only should know better, but who have the most to gain by responsible driving practices around schools.

Admittedly, sometimes this frustration led me to take risks that I should not have, such as when impatient drivers flout road rules meaning that those following the rules would remain stuck in position if they did not counter their aggressive driving by edging out further or quicker to take a turn to cross a busy intersection.

I was not alone in remarking on the increasing speed with which life was being lived throughout the modern world. Often observers who made such observations drew causative links to increased conspicuous and often frivolous consumption, as I did. There was also a likely link to the long standing domestic migration from rural and regional areas to more urban areas and large cities as higher paid jobs attracted white collar workers which in turn necessitated increased infrastructure construction by blue collar workers and other lower skilled services. All of this added to the densification and population pressure in urban life.

Rural areas throughout the world have struggled with population declines, but European countries with strong family and cultural ties over thousands of years have been especially disrupted by this flow of people away from small villages. However, through the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a growing awareness that those strong family and community ties have been a significant advantage to those who live in small villages that are able to limit physical interactions from outside of the village. Moreover, modern communication technology combined with an acceleration in telecommuting for professional workers as a result of the pandemic opens up the opportunity to live remotely, and hints at the potential for a slowing, stabilisation or even a reversal in the trend of increased urbanisation in developed countries.

The point of this article is not to argue or infer that everything was better when I was child, and I do not suggest that anybody would want to take everything back to how things were 50 years ago.

But this moment in time presents humanity with a very significant opportunity to really examine what has occurred over recent decades, and decide what we want to continue to progress towards. In some areas we may want to curtail or redirect our progress, and in some areas we may want to provide additional resources to accelerate our progress.

For instance, I do not suggest that we might want to take our food production entirely back to how it functioned 50 years ago. However, the risks inherent with a highly centralised, mass distribution system for our food supply in many countries must be examined especially in the light of the strains that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on those supplies. Large food markets selling globally sourced products and large industrial meat processing plants have proven especially susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks amongst workers which threaten food supply. Moreover, centralisation of product from wide geographies for processing and/or wholesale, and then further dissemination, presents a potential risk for the emergence and spread of pathogens.

Already in this pandemic it is clear that globally food supply will be closely examined and modified to address the weaknesses unearthed.

The consumer may also decide that there is more to food miles than just minimising environmental impacts. These might include health and economic benefits from consuming less but higher quality meat produced more sustainably within the community that it is consumed.

Many who have been telecommuting for work may well begin to see a lot of health and social benefits to re-engaging more with their ancestral communities and thus move back to villages.

As I have explained in much of my writing, Elites fear “The Great Reset” because they have prospered from all of these trends that existed before COVID-19 struck, and they have positioned for that to continue. Even disruptions that were on the horizon have accelerated and caught them ill-prepared. The safest strategy for them to maintain their privileged position in society is to use their power to ensure that the ‘game of life’ is returned as quickly and as closely as possible to how it was before the pandemic.

Collectively, however, we have all had a glimpse of the potential for major changes to our lives. In some cases we have remembered what we have left behind without realising it, and in other cases we have learned the potential that innovation provides to change how we live our lives in the most fundamental of ways.

We have all lived stripped-down more simple lives, and many of us have enjoyed it. We have witnessed that the planet, and the animals and plants that we share it with, have enjoyed the space that the drop in human activity has provided, and many have observed the inherent beauty, for example the night sky that has not been witnessed so clearly for many years.

Not everything was better in the past, not by a long shot. But for all of the heartache that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, for all of the harsh impacts on humanity, we all owe it to the victims of the pandemic and to each other to take a long hard look at where things were heading before the pandemic and to be courageous enough to dream of how we want to emerge. 

Regardless of whether we want certain trends reversed, redirected or accelerated, we will need to be prepared to ensure that we have our views heard and acted upon.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Your Life: Something The Elites Have Always Been Prepared To Sacrifice For Their Ends

Although unknown by most who play it, Monopoly was invented as an education tool to demonstrate the pitfalls of wealth being concentrated amongst a few.

It was designed to be a warning of the danger of ‘Monopoly’!

The history of the western world’s most popular board game is fascinating, especially in how it mirrored reality including in the events surrounding how it came to be so widely loved and the wealth it created. Parker Brothers, who marketed the game and brought it to global prominence, still to this day does not acknowledge Lizzie Magie’s role in the game’s origins.

Lizzie Magie developed the game, which she called “The Landlord’s Game”, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Now early in the twenty-first century it still explains much of the behaviours within society, and it remains “a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences… It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem[s] to have, i.e., the accumulation of wealth” as it did then.

To suggest to an anxious and emotionally taught public that the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is close is irresponsible in the extreme.

Yesterday I heard an Australian restaurateur enthusiastically discussing the 3-step plan to reopen the Australian economy and he used this same analogy. All I could think of was this poor fellow mistaking daylight for the light of a fully laden freight train.

The Elites use the same repertoire of tools in a crisis to frighten the public into believing that there is no other option but to return the ‘Game of Life’ as closely as possible to how things were before the crisis.

Of course they would do that. That is the ‘game’ they know best. In fact they came to know it so well, including through intergenerational wealth and power, that they have come to control or even own the game.

Lets take what occurred in the global financial crisis (GFC). Through the rampant greed of a few, investment products dreamt up on Wall Street created a deluge of debt down to Main Street so that anybody with a pulse could get a loan to turn a necessity of life – a home – into a speculative asset and with it the dream of a better future for the budding speculator on Main St. Of course what I describe is a classic bubble and they have a nasty habit of bursting, which is exactly what happened in the US in 2006. As the value of those speculative assets – homes – fell, the value of the products created and traded on Wall Street fell such that the financial viability of financial institutions around the world trembled. Indeed, long-standing investment firms collapsed whilst others were forced to merge. 

As the value of their homes fell, and with the economic shock emanating from Wall Street reverberating, many people on Main Street lost their homes as well as chunks of their retirement savings and the ensuing recession cost many their jobs. 

But it was not those people on Main Street, who were so directly disadvantaged, who received assistance. Instead the bankers who created the problematic products, and had earlier lobbied for the removal of regulations which would have prevented the egregiousness that caused the bubble, were bailed out by Governments. And no sooner had the cash come in their front door from the Government did the bankers turn around and give themselves rewards and incentive bonuses. 

Meanwhile Central Bankers around the world continued to flood the globe with liquidity, from their own dreamt up manoeuvres, to keep aloft asset prices especially stock market values. 

It is hardly surprising, then, that inequality between the owners of capital – the already wealthy – and the providers of labour – the workers who have little else to trade other than their own hourly labour – has continued to increase. 

Effectively what happened in the GFC, as in other financial collapses, is that the ‘game’ became so out of balance that it collapsed under it’s own weight. 

Imagine a Monopoly board in 2007 tipping under the weight of all of the hotels on the expensive half of the board, from the red properties to the royal blue ones, so that everything was sliding off the board. Immediately those who owned all of the hotels said they realised that they made an error in being so greedy, but they needed the (central) banker to get things back to ‘normal’ and support that side of the board so the game can continue safely. So everyone scrambled and lifted that side of the board and quickly put all of those hotels back in place. And for good measure the (central) banker paid them a few times over for a job well done. Meanwhile, the people in the cheapest properties lost their houses and were set back enormously.

Nothing demonstrates this truth better than this graph from the US Federal Reserve which demonstrates clearly that the only group of Americans back ‘in the green’ after the GFC is the most wealthy 10% (‘Top 10’). Moreover, this group experienced the least set back to their wealth during the GFC, besides the least wealthy Americans (‘Bottom 30’) who own few assets which went backwards in value, but who remained 31% less wealthy in 2016 than in 2007!

From A Wealthless Recovery? Asset Ownership and the Uneven Recovery from the Great Recession a report by the Board of Governors of the (US) Federal Reserve

Already in the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic there are signs that wealthy Americans are benefitting disproportionately which creates a perception that it is always ‘Heads we win, tails you lose‘.

In my post “The Magic Sauce of American Economic Dynamism Is Not Based On Personal Greed” I laid out my arguments for why such personal greed is not integral to the capitalist system of which America is upheld as the pinnacle, rather it is a malaise of wealth which serves to weaken society and thus the capitalist system.

Actions by Elites, including the bankers, politicians and senior bureaucrats (including Central Bankers), which have led directly to increasing inequality within societies, only serve to weaken trust in institutions.

Thus humanity confronts major challenges which threaten our sustainability on Earth from a weakened and non-cohesive position. It is in this fertile ground where populists with extreme views and emerging powers advance their interests.

The COVID-19 pandemic is fast-evolving and the consequences apparent already are devastating, but that does not stop some from continuing to try to downplay its significance. Another challenge, the climate crisis, is more serious but to this point has evolved less rapidly which allows some to downplay its consequence and even its very existence in the face of significant evidence and the intellectual weight of the scientific community. 

In large part it is exactly the same actors who seek to dismiss or downplay the need for action on both crises.

The increase in inequality in developed countries is seen as a prime reason for the growth in populist politics. In the United States and the United Kingdom the top elected representatives presently are Caucasian men with similar backgrounds and political playbooks, born into immense privilege but having convinced a heartland of the most financially disadvantaged that they offer them a brighter future by scapegoating migrants and anybody or any organisation working towards a more united humanity. The current Australian conservative Government under PM Morrison uses a very similar playbook.  

In the companion post to this, “Toxic Masculinity and Political Footballs“, I discussed how the elected officials of the major Anglophone countries have created a great deal of momentum towards re-opening economies while COVID-19 remains poorly understood in their communities, and what is known of it is devastating.

For these conservative Caucasian men the answer is always more economic growth, and suppression of any questioning over what is the quality of life experienced by broader society from that growth and how sustainable is it.

These same men, who apparently care about mental health in society during crises, but do not recognise that mental health has long been deteriorating in Western societies, never give credit to the opportunity to work on the deeper causes of this with the aim of improving the underlying mental health of populations.

They cannot do that because they continually promote ‘aspiration’ which is a synonym for competing in a never ending cycle of one-up-manship which we all implicitly understand is a zero sum game because no matter how rich we become, there is always somebody who has more wealth, unless you are Jeff Bezos… for the moment…

There are some Elites that I can respect and even admire – they are those who authentically understand the privilege that they have enjoyed, usually from birth by virtue of the luck of being born in a developed country or into middle class even if they consider themselves ‘self-made’, as well as respect and appreciate relationships with other human beings especially the people who loved and guided them.

Steve Schwarzman is a quintessential Elite and to some a hero of capitalism, or more specifically, the way it is currently practised. Schwarzman is enormously wealthy and by virtue of this wealth he is one of the most powerful men in the contemporary world. I recently watched his interview with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg Television. Now in his 70s, in modern parlance Schwarzman would still be described as being extremely goal-oriented and driven, almost the definition of ‘aspiration’. If you measure life success in terms of wealth accumulation, while there are a few that still have an edge on him, his personal wealth would equate to the cumulative wealth of quite a few million of the poorest of our 7+ billion contemporary human beings.

In discussing his formative years with Rubenstein, Schwarzman did not seek to disguise his lack of appreciation for, or even understanding of, his parents’ station in life. His mother was devoted to the family as a housewife. The family owned a retail shop in Philadelphia which his father ran successfully. Schwarzman told Rubenstein the story of him being a young man suggesting to his father that the success of his business suggested that he could take the store concept nationally. His father said he did not want to do that. He then suggested he could develop a strategy to open new stores throughout the state, to which his father again stated he was not interested. Finally he suggested that his father open more stores throughout the city. His father told him no, he was content and happy with what he has. Schwarzman shook his head saying that he could just not understand his father. The story was meant to be an indication of how a lack of aspiration was essentially the antithesis of Steve Schwarzman’s very existence.

How very sad…. for Steve… that he is blind to his own impoverishment.

I wonder whether Joseph and Arlene Schwarzman knew another quietly influential Philadelphian, Lizzie Magie, or at least learned the lessons of her game which they may well have played in their youth? Or perhaps it is just a strong indication of the change in American culture post 60’s as I discussed in “The Magic Sauce of American Economic Dynamism Is Not Personal Greed“.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, right now people are scared and they are training their hopes and trust on institutions and officials. Popularity of elected officials is (or has been) high but electorates will become more discriminate in their opinions as the shock of their altered existence subsides. 

As I explained in “Politics Vs Society in the COVID-19 Pandemic“, it is never possible to totally remove politics from decisions and actions by officials. As would be expected at such times, there has been a range of responses – some of these trusted sources are acting responsibly and less politically, while others are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a crisis to advance their own political agendas. 

In “The Great Reset” I discussed how major events that affect large swathes of society typically result in significant changes in the psyche of citizens, and such changes threaten incumbent Elites because they controlled the ‘game’ as it stood.

Right now there is an extraordinarily heavy weight pressing down on the centre of that Monopoly board. In early March this pressure was suddenly recognised and positions began sliding into the centre.  Global efforts by Central Bankers have, however, supported the centre of the board and the Elites are busy sliding their property and other wealth back into position and making arrangements to keep them in position.

To be clear, from my first comments on the economic impacts in my 11 February Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update and in “Repeat After Me, This Is Not SARS: COVID-19 Is Far More Serious” I said that I expected Central Bankers to try “absolutely extraordinary actions (as opposed to the already ‘extraordinary’ actions that we have become desensitised to over the decade)”, and further suggested that while I was concerned about their continual inclination to ‘over-egg’ markets by doing too much and creating moral hazard – which they have never tried to redress by ‘removing the punch bowl’ – I felt that a financial panic on top a health panic was to be avoided.

Nonetheless, critically the response should be aimed at smoothing the transition to prices reflecting the nature of the challenge confronting humanity and thus businesses, not acting like it does not at all exist!

At the same time those playing the ‘game’ are becoming unwell, some are dying, others dealing with the pain of loss of a loved one, but all grieve the loss of their former freedoms.

True to type and form, the Elites want the board supported at all costs so that the ‘game’ can continue even if it means more players suffering personally devastating impacts. 

Presently there is no better example of this than what is being played out in meat processing plants in America where President Trump has ordered them to stay open even though workers in such plants have been dying of COVID-19 and many are afraid to work, and COVID-19 is spreading quicker in areas where there are major meat processing plants suggesting that it is a high risk factor. The move listed meat processing as an essential service and protects the industry from legal liability should more workers become infected.

The inescapable reality is that 90% of those in the ‘game’ are sharing the resources from just the first 5 squares after “Go”, the least valuable 1/8 of the board, and every time they round the board, after they pay out the rents to the Elites, they keep going backwards.

Sometimes they pay with their life. Then again, their life has always been something that Elites have been prepared to sacrifice to meet (or meat?) their ends.

The memory of the wealthy being bailed out during the last collapse is fresh, as is the sting of how their own lives were negatively impacted, so Elites need to try even harder to give the appearance of the bailout not being tilted so heavily in their favour. 

Then again, greed is such a serious malaise, and well everyone knows that political science, with its modern social media tools, has reached such an advanced state that the 90% will feel powerless to do anything other than accept the situation as inevitable, right?


Then again, human history is full of kids flipping the board while playing Monopoly against others who own all of the wealth of the board, especially when it is realised that the banker is slipping favoured players extra money for nothing and all of the “cards of chance” in the game have been intentionally tilted to favour the landlords.

The Elites know this well, and are aware that this risk is growing. 

But greed is such a powerful malaise!

And power affords a lot of protection, right?

What I advocate is not a ‘flipping’ of the board, which some might equate with revolution, or anything near it, because that entails more loss in and of itself, and there is a wide range of possible outcomes with a great deal of uncertainty as to whether we will arrive at a place that is better.

But we do need a peaceful revolution to readjust the ‘game’ to make it much more fair and that requires resolute and sustained society-wide engagement.

Having just watched Warren Buffett’s entire 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting I was, as I often am, in total agreement that conditions have improved (not just in America but throughout the developed world) over the last century. Buffett’s comments around diversity in his introductory comments were welcome, even if the related motion did not carry. (Sadly this topic was not discussed in the Q&A.) 

Moreover, due not just to his success but because of his patent authentic humanity, Buffett has become the cheerleader of prominence for American capitalism which, as I discussed in “The Magic Sauce of American Economic Dynamism is Not Based on Personal Greed“, has taken on a very hard edge in recent decades. Sadly Buffett bypassed the opportunity to take this on and instead largely concentrated on historic diversity and inequality.

Still Buffett’s clear views that there remains much to do to improve American society around these issues, as perhaps the best known “proponent” of capitalism, were incredibly valid and valuable.

I am a great admirer of John Lennon and I, too, am a pacifist. However, we have learned in history that when we are entirely passive then the aggressive actors within our societies will push all of their favourable positions back in place and with growing inequality, as discussed by many others including Ray Dalio, probably the highest profile hedge fund manager at present, we all risk a much more disruptive response in the future.

The Great Reset” provides us all with an opportunity to dream of a world that we want for ourselves and the people we love most, and ponder how we can realistically bring that to fruition, not instantaneously but with enduring commitment and innovation.

Goodness knows humanity has proven to itself, once again, even still in the early stages of this pandemic, that human ingenuity and endeavour is without limits.

My general optimism in humanity means that, even while often pessimistic (or realistic) about issues over the short term, I am often considered a dreamer on the big picture.

It is a badge that I wear proudly, for I know that I am not the only one. In fact, we are the majority.

Let’s get to work, in our minds, our hearts and in our actions, and claim that luminous future for all.

The alternate path is dark and disturbing for everyone including the Elites, as I have spelled out in “Xenophobia Must Be Challenged For An Effective Response To Climate Change Inclusive Of Human Population Growth“, “The Conundrum Humanity Faces: But Nobody Admits“, “Investment Theme: Defence and Military Spending” and “Let’s Wage War On Climate Change“.

Nobody should think for a second that our success is inevitable. There is no doubt that the Elites are going to make it so that we have to earn it.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


The Great Reset

This is a post of hope. Of promise. Of potential within our grasp if we have the courage to reach for it. The commencement discusses markets because they give a verifiable account of the slow reaction to the threat that COVID-19 posed to humanity. The latter discussion opens up to encompass implications and aspirations for humanity.

Being a professionally trained scientist and also having a passion for economics, especially socioeconomics, and investing, I was already thinking about the likely economic impacts and the investment implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – and note that was before it had even been named COVID-19 and well before it was named a pandemic – as Global stock markets reached their bull market peaks. The S&P500 index of US stocks reached a peak of 3,397.50 17 days after my first report detailing my views on the coronavirus outbreak on 3 February entitled “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises” and still 8 days after I said the following in my 12 February Coronavirus update:

People outside of Wuhan may be confused by the concern. You need to imagine it like an enormous tsunami, like the one in the Indian Ocean a few years ago. There has been an event that has triggered a chain of consequences – for a tsunami it is often an undersea earthquake – in this case it was a virus “jumping” species, to humans. Because we have no previous exposure to the virus it is highly virulent to us. Like a tsunami emanates outward from the epicentre, so too has this virus. At the moment we in most countries are at the stage where the sea is calm, but we know that it will arrive soon. Scientists from China and all around the world will be working feverishly to try to develop some tools – medicines, vaccines, procedures to minimise spread – to mitigate the impacts. Everybody needs to remain calm but be alert and be prepared, in your mind and in what you do.

In “Politics vs Society in the Coronavirus Outbreak” published on 21 February I stated my frustration (perhaps a little too strongly, in hindsight) at market and media commentators and analysts and the general public for being slow to realise the threat that the coronavirus presented:

I have to admit to being flummoxed by the response of markets, the media and by most people that I speak with about this outbreak.  I cannot understand why everybody is so slow to understand the rather obvious realities of the situation and the serious implications. It really does seem to me that the movie “Idiocracy” is not a Sci Fi but a work of non fiction and one would have to have travelled forward 50 years in a time machine to the present day to realise it. Is it that humans, when faced with a scary situation just cannot accept that it is real? Is it that our arrogance has reached such heights that we really believe nothing from nature can genuinely affect us until after the event?

Then in “Repeat After Me, This Is Not SARS: COVID-19 Is Much Worse” I broadened my discussion to help others to realise what a serious impact the coronavirus would have on markets, societies and humanity.

I can assure the reader that this event is unlike SARS in 2003 because the virus is all the more serious to humanity. Barring a miracle of nature, i.e. a surprising attenuation to lower virulence by the virus, or a highly unlikely rapid cure being developed, this virus will be with us for much longer than SARS was and its direct consequences on people will be far more serious (i.e. will produce greater numbers of mortalities) which will necessitate prolonged biosecurity measures.

…..The consequence to national and global populations of people should be clear to all readers. As the human cost of the pandemic becomes increasingly clear Governments will be forced to attempt to minimise those impacts in ways that I spelt out in my Coronavirus Outbreak update on 11 February, and these are increasingly in use in Japan, South Korea and Italy, which include school closures, discouraging/banning public gatherings, workplace closures, public transport curtailment, and/or further border restrictions. Besides the human costs, the direct impacts on national economies are obvious.

……If the reader considered me pessimistic above, then I am about to get down right depressing (pun intended).

For the last decade I have marvelled at how we have gotten so desensitised to extraordinary measures that Central Banks have taken to revive economies after the Great Recession or Global Financial Crisis (being an Australian I will use the “GFC” from hereon).

…..I would hope that a reasonable person having read the analysis above on COVID-19 would realise that this is no garden variety economic issue. This is undoubtedly a Black Swan event of nature’s making. This is a very, very big problem in a marketised world where everybody has been prepared to play the game of pretending that the central bankers are Gods while the profits and capital gains flow in.

All of that is going to be reversed, and because the natural event is characterised by exponential spread, this is going to happen a lot quicker than anybody can imagine.

….I understand that a financial panic on top of a growing panic about an increasingly obvious pandemic will be devastating.

I know that. And for that reason I do understand why Governments, even though they always prefer to egg on markets, will be right in trying to prevent it from happening. However, that propensity to always seek higher asset prices has led to great vulnerability in Global markets, and I think that the consequences of that are about to be revealed.

….To understand the ongoing impacts on people and thus on the economy we need to go back to the virus. Without the rapid emergence of an effective therapeutic treatment for COVID-19, amongst already developed treatments or those in the very late stages of development, the pandemic is likely to progress until either it spreads so widely that the majority of people have become infected or an effective vaccine is developed, produced and delivered en masse. This may take several years, so it is possible – probably even likely – that we will be living with this pandemic for a prolonged period.

Now, of course, almost everybody has caught up and the gravity of the challenge humanity faces combatting this pandemic has become patent to all. Almost, except for apparently the “followers” (the anti-leaders) of the major Anglophone nations, even if one of them is now infected. This post is not specifically aimed at these dinosaurs of a world we must leave behind.

I will, however, express again my disappointment at the lack of courage by the Australian “follower” Morrison to use our natural advantages and human capital in biosecurity to act earlier and more decisively as I implored him to do in “Australian Politicians Care More About the Health of Our Prawns and Bananas Than About People” which I published 28 February:

Australians need to wake up – your politicians right now are deciding between jobs and high house prices on the one hand, and a higher death rate amongst over 40 year olds on the other. Between economic activity and people’s lives.

In this time of global pandemic, Australia has a choice. Use our significant advantage of isolation and our adept biosecurity knowledge and skill to fight tooth and nail to minimise the impact of the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic on our citizens, thereby ensuring more of our parents and grandparents live out a full life. Or choose a “lighter touch” with lesser impacts on our economy while accepting that a consequence of that will be a higher level of mortality amongst our citizens and especially those over 40 years of age

…Australia’s isolation really is a huge advantage for us, and it is time that we made use of that very significant advantage. As COVID-19 begins to rage globally, we should strongly consider whether we should close our borders to people flows and tightly manage vessels carrying freight to and from Australia.

It really is as simple as that; we could close our borders and significantly cut down the opportunity to reintroduce the virus while we threw everything at containing the virus within the country. That would minimise the human cost while we wait for a vaccine to become available.

I repeated the same assertions in my open letter to PM Morrison after these opening comments:

Dear Mr Morrison

I am writing to inform you that I have left instructions for my estate to sue you personally if I die with COVID-19 before the term of your Government expires (if it serves the full 3 years).

As a 50 year old male with a pre-existing respiratory condition – asthma – I am in a higher risk category for suffering serious illness and death with COVID-19.

As Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreysus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said on Twitter on 29 February, “If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick”.

I note, Mr Morrison, that you are not in agreement with this advice because you are still encouraging all Australians to go about their business normally in order to delay or minimise the impacts on the economy.

The truth now is that if I was listened to, if the effective border closure and increased testing were implemented when I was imploring that to occur, then the following discussion about the economic bounce back from COVID-19 would be from a more favourable position than what will now be the case because a much lower prevalence and incidence of infection in the country would have allowed more of the domestic economy to remain open.

The following discussion on the way forward must necessarily start from where we are today, the last weekend in March with over 3,000 confirmed cases in Australia and certainly many more undiagnosed due to continuing restrictions on testing which preclude detection of asymptomatic infections and symptomatic infections not within areas of concern and where there has been no contact with a known case.

As shown above, early in this pandemic I stated my concerns about the economic impacts and made reference to the possibility of an economic depression occurring.

In the last week or two, after the violent reactions in the stockmarket to the human and consequent economic reality of this pandemic, more analysts and commentators are increasingly discussing the likelihood of a very severe recession globally.

Some journalists as well as some brave business and investment analysts are now even countenancing the possibility of a depression.

Unsurprisingly there is much mention in that context to the most memorable depression in Western Societies, the Great Depression that lasted from the collapse of stockmarkets in 1929 until World War 2 effectively brought it to an end.

In my post entitled “Let’s Wage War on Climate Change” I discussed an emergent undercurrent of thought, that I had perceived, which suggested that the problem of persistent low inflation threatening deflation and consequent very low interest rates, negative in some major economies, which was reminiscent of conditions during The Great Depression, typically in human history had been resolved only by a reset that occurs during a major war.

Concerned that some hard-hearted right wingers – who Pink Floyd, senza Roger Waters, may refer to as “The Dogs of War, and men of hate” – may ruminate for exactly that, I proferred the reality that humanity already had a war to confront:

Are we not already confronted with a crisis of our own making?

Is there not a majority of our scientific community not warning us that we face a dire climate change crisis?

Of course the answer to both questions is an emphatic yes!

…If our Australian and other global political leadership decide to grow into capital “L” Leaders and join with the few authentic Leaders working hard to take on the climate change crisis with all of the pride, passion, and determined fervour of a populace facing truly challenging circumstances with an uncertain outcome, the reality is that we will never know the counterfactual. The small number of skeptics that remain will always be able to say that it was never necessary and it was an enormous waste of financial resources and human effort.

But the very great majority of us, and our descendants, will forever know that any “waste” that might have possibly occurred along the way can never be in any measure anything more than infinitesimally small compared to the enormous waste of human lives by a power-hungry few, and compared with the enormous gift that is a quality life on this wondrous planet that we all share.

It is noteable that the same “followers” inclined to deny the reality of the climate change crisis were the same ones seeking to downplay the threat that COVID-19 represented. The difference, of course, is that the absurdity of their position was very quickly revealed by the explosive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I now suggest that climate change can be a continuation of the war to reshape our world for the better for humanity, where we are currently fighting a battle against COVID-19, which now sees many others referring to it in conflict metaphors.

If we wish to see The Great Depression as analogous to the current situation, then perhaps there is a way of looking at things a little more positively. It may be more appropriate to consider the stockmarket collapse of 2007-09 as equivalent to the collapse from 1929. The central banks have done a better job of supporting the economy since the initial collapse in 07/08, even if I do think that in the recent half of the decade they have been responsible for over-indulging markets seeking continual capital gains out of fear of a repeat of what occurred in the 1930s when the depression intensified.

If this analogy were accurate then we are nearer the end of this episode than the start. Yes, things do seem bleak right now. They also seemed bleak in Europe in the very early 40s. Just like then, there is much more pain to be felt before we come out the other side. But we know there is another side from which we will emerge.

Once this battle is won, however, we will be in a strong position to take on the even greater battle necessary for sustainable human life on Earth.

I believe that if the current most urgent battle against COVID-19, followed by the equally necessary and increasingly urgent fight against the climate crisis, is handled with adept leadership, we have every chance of having a very rare psychological reset which could set up the global community for the next half century. It will be a much more humane and equitable one if we follow the edict of FDR as brilliantly articulated in his 4th Inauguration speech, and if the lessons of needing to stand up to hard-hearted right wingers and imperialists is heeded from the record of FDRs loyal and loving son Elliot Roosevelt in “As He Saw It” which recounted events immediately after FDR’s all too early passing as WW2 drew to an end and in the immediate post-war period.

In “Social Cohesion: The Best Vaccine Against Crises” I stated:

I consider the climate change crisis to be the greatest challenge to humanity, and I can see no sustainable and durable response that does not involve a more cohesive humanity built on equivalent access to the same standard of living irrespective of where on Earth one chooses to live and raise a (typically small) family.

Depending on how the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak progresses in the next few weeks and months, and how successful are the scientific and pharmaceutical communities in expeditiously developing an effective vaccine, this disease may prove to be the most serious immediate challenge to humanity. 

Moreover, if this outbreak is successfully contained and eradicated – primarily on the back of the impressive response by the Chinese authorities – it still gives an indication of the tenuous nature of our existence on this wonderful planet, and just how quickly the reality of our existence can be placed in danger.

Most significantly, it highlights that whether we are talking about acute or long-term crises, the reality of life on this Earth for humanity is that we have no choice but to face these challenges together.

Acting individualistically and with self-interest can not produce the sustainable effective response for which all people wish. 

Clearly there is little chance of humanity coming together and working towards solutions to the greatest challenges if the groundwork to build mutual trust has been neglected. 

Therefore, the best vaccine against crises is social cohesion within societies and across humanity.

Through the fog and shock of the current battle, it is imperative that people of good character engage with what is occurring in domestic politics and geopolitics.

I realise that cynics will immediately ask for all of the answers from me on reading this, and obviously I cannot provide all of them or even many. But the “followers” offer very few answers of their own as their tactic is mainly to attack people who want better from society by referring to us as “do gooders” or inferring that we are foolish dreamers.

This is undoubtedly a “big picture” concept, and it is only possible because collectively we have all suffered an enormous shock and consequently perceptions of contemporary lives and indeed what is possible are changing. Already we are proving what can be achieved when humanity is determined and working collectively towards goals bigger than ourselves and bigger than any one nation or continent.

I offer two points on why we can significantly change our course to tackle the big issues confronting humanity, which I would proffer relate to inequality and xenophobia and to the climate change crisis as I have detailed in reports such as “Xenophobia Must Be Challenged For An Effective Response To Climate Change Inclusive of Human Population Growth” and “The Conundrum Humanity Faces But Nobody Admits“.

Firstly, economies are being idled right back to bare essential services. It makes absolute sense that we would give a great deal of thought to how we want economies to function after the crisis. It is not enough to suggest that we want to get it back to where it was before. As Greg Jericho spelt out in the report linked above, that is going to be extremely difficult to achieve and not likely anyhow. So, if it is going to take a great deal of effort and support, financial and otherwise, to bring back our economy, it would be an enormous pity if there was not a great deal of thought and then effort that goes into bringing back the economy in the best possible ways to enhance sustainable human life on Earth. This leads to the second point I will make.

Such a reset in the way economies function are rarely possible because the status quo is always the safest option and major reforms are normally undertaken iteratively and typically occur very slowly. There is a great deal of human capital that has thrown its collective force behind the effort to be constructive in the COVID-19 crisis by producing necessary goods directly for keeping as many people healthy as possible in the pandemic, for supplying necessities in difficult circumstances, and for providing vital Government services. But still there is a lot of human capital idled, in isolation and social distancing initiatives, some working in their normal jobs, and some of those working below their full potential if we are to accept the thesis of David Graeber in “Bullshit Jobs”, and others recently made unemployed. And we have to add the retired and the high school students, also, with very valuable contributions to make.

One of the comments made in the press by a young person who lost their job last Friday was “if this is how vulnerable we are with capitalism, then perhaps we had better “F”ing think of a better way of doing things”. I sincerely believe that this underutilised human capital, together with that of the public servants working at home, and not in vital areas who are currently working almost around the clock, can be harnessed to brainstorm on what we want from our society going forward. If the political class can loosen their hands of control to allow people to dream – and here I am thinking about Rudd’s silly 2020 Summit where he tried to control the flow of ideas from the local meetings upwards (which I experienced personally attending his local electorate’s summit) – then it could be a very positive contribution to getting through this crisis, especially for younger Australians who have been disenfranchised by the “smashed avocado” smears.

Sure, it might seem a bit like the 60’s revisited, but the world could do with that bit of that optimism and hope for the future right now. And I have little doubt that a politician that did this with sincerity, prepared to act on the outcomes, would set themselves up for post-crisis success.

The alternative will be depressing for many more than just myself.

Be in no doubt that there will be hard-hearted factions that want things to go back as closely as possible to the inequitable and unfair world that existed before this war because that is the game that they know how to win. That is exactly what was occurring in the post-GFC period. There will even be others who want to tilt things further to their advantage. These are the people that like to say that “a good crisis should never be wasted” and you just need to read Elliot Roosevelt’s “How He Saw It” to understand how that occurs.

Ask yourself this: Do we really want to get through all of this hurt, of the realisation that we are all humans, fearing and hurt by the same things, and come out the other side of this battle against COVID-19 to enter into the same petty argument of the reality of the climate change crisis with hard-hearted right wingers behaving petulantly not accepting that they are in the wrong?

If this battle against COVID-19 proves nothings else it shows that all our fates on this beautiful planet are inextricably linked. The only sustainable way forward for humanity is united and time and effort spent moving in the other direction is an utter waste and dangerous to us all.

Let this be the Great Reset that puts humanity back on the track that perhaps the greatest US President ever wanted for us all!

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


The Conundrum Humanity Faces: But Nobody Admits

In this essay I distil down to a common sense level the interplay of Global population growth and climate change to explain the reality of what has been the impact of delaying both our progress towards global equality and innovative responses to climate change.

Just imagine for one moment that at the completion of World War II we truly heeded President Roosevelt’s lessons about the need for a united and compassionate humanity. 

Sure, regulation and architecture to improve the security of financial institutions – which remained robust until the lead up to speculative euphoria which caused the Great Recession (or Global Financial Crisis) – as well as other vital global institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank – were created in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

However, the opportunity to genuinely make the world a fairer place by allowing (and supporting) all countries an opportunity to develop was squandered. 

In “As He Saw It” published in 1946, Elliot Roosevelt (a US military WWII officer who attended many important meetings with his father FDR who died soon after he delivered that 4th Presidential Inaugural speech and before the surrender of the Japanese) expressed his extreme disappointment with what occurred as the war came to an end and in that year immediately after his father’s passing.

In the second paragraph of the introduction to his book “As He Saw It”, after a long list of reasons for why he wrote and published his account of proceedings, Elliot Roosevelt says “all of the signs of growing disunity among the leading nations of the world, all of the broken promises, all the renascent power politics of the greedy and desperate imperialism were my spurs in this undertaking”. 

(His introduction is so powerful – I have posted it here and recommend all readers to at the least read this passage if not track down the whole work.)

Given what has occurred in the world since the 1970s, and especially now the attitude of President Trump, that is an interesting contrast, but that is the subject of a separate post which I have entitled “The Magic Sauce of American Economic Dynamism Was Not Greed“.

We know that when people are presented with opportunity for a better quality of life, unsurprisingly, they take that opportunity. This in itself leads to lower birthrates as people are occupied by career and professional development, as well as enjoying the trappings of having a disposable income. 

Equally important, the security of knowing that babies born into a more developed world have a far, far greater chance of surviving to continue family lines means that biologically people feel less urge to have larger families.

So it is a virtual certainty that if for the last 80 years all efforts were made to make the world a genuinely fair place, so that the degree of opportunity for a standard of life equal to anywhere on Earth was not determined by the geography in which you live, then the global population would be significantly less now than it is.

No doubt many will counter that a higher proportion of the global human population enjoying a higher standard of living would mean that average per person impacts on the environment would be greater such that environmental impacts and degradation might be even greater than where we are at right now. 

Of course that would depend both on what was that average global standard of living and the actual population level, as well as how much of the additional human capital unleashed would have been devoted to innovation to counteract those environmental impacts.

Now I realise that the climate deniers and hard-hearted right wingers will use this space to attack this analysis as unrealistic pipe dreams (as if a better world for all is never achievable). And I readily accept that the issues surrounding geopolitics and developmental sociology are extremely complicated and difficult to solve. 

However, as is clear in my essay “Let’s Wage War on Climate Change“, humanity has devoted significant resources – including human capital and human lives – to man-made crises throughout our shared history. Human ingenuity and toil can achieve amazing results when directed to a common and crucial cause. Nobody would suggest, I believe, that those sacrifices to save the world from oppression and tyranny were in vain.

So let us imagine for a moment what would have happened if humanity had worked together so that we lived in a (near) perfect meritocratic global community. Perhaps the global population, which really took off after WWII, might be half of its current level and be tapering off if not already in gentle decline.

Figure from Wikipedia World Population page adapted with the addition of a scenario where post-WWII development occurred in a more compassionate and humane, rather than greedy, fashion.

As that figure shows, the reality of our actual population growth is quite different to this theoretical scenario, and several scenarios for future population growth developed by the United Nations are shown.

We still have a very unfair world with gross inequality in the standard of living and opportunity for a “decent life for all” (in Sir David Attenborough’s parlance from a speech he delivered in 2011 which is essentially identical  to this essay he published at around that time).

If everybody were to enjoy an equitable high standard of living now with the population that we have, without an astronomical surge in innovative technologies to reduce our impact, then most would agree that we would all be imperilled due to the extreme impacts on environment and climate change (again that is the thinking contained in Attenborough’s speech).

The truth is that global elites are already building into their thinking that what will be considered a “decent life” for those in Africa, throughout much of Asia, or South America, or on Pacific Islands, will remain to be VERY different to what is considered a “decent life” for those in the already developed countries.

That is the rub, those same elites are surreptitiously attempting to reduce population growth within those poor regions, all the while the biological impulse (from billions of years of evolution) of those very vulnerable people in those regions will increasingly be to boost their birthrates to increase the chances of survival of their family line.

When those poor people in those other regions become more and more aware of how they have been “hung out to dry” as climate change impacts grow more and more stark, and as they start to get more desperate as their growing populations are increasingly squeezed by diminishing resources due to climate change impacts, then the global tensions will grow to such an extent that containment will require heavier and heavier-handed military actions.

Essentially, it really will be a world where those nations powerful enough to guard their borders to preserve their natural endowments and what they have accumulated from the rest of the globe, as well as guard movements of resources between other “islands of prosperity”, will enjoy a “decent life” while those outside will enter some sort of Mad Max ultra-Darwinian state.

If that sounds like a world that you would enjoy living in, then go for it – live it up now and do not give a second thought to what lies ahead.

I cannot. We cannot go back and change what was and was not done 80 years ago.
But be in no doubt that we do have a choice of how we progress from here. 

Instead of continuing on this path we can recognise our folly immediately, admit to it, and move forward collectively. 

As Attenborough rightly said, climate change cannot be effectively and enduringly addressed while the global population continues to grow. But the only humane way to address this – not by trickery or coercion – is to allow all people the opportunity to have access to the same standard of living so that humans make the natural decision to have fewer children. As not all people that currently exist on the Earth can enjoy the highest standard of living enjoyed by some nations at present, there will need to be a play off between population and standard of living, meaning that those presently enjoying very high standards of living will need to accept that their standard of living will fall.

To facilitate a more inclusive humanity with equal opportunity for an equivalent standard of living will require a great degree of social cohesion which will require genuine political Leadership to harness the political capital that now exists to confront the climate change crisis and which is prepared for mutual sacrifice, and which stands up against xenophobia and it’s foot soldiers, the naïve, uninformed or precarious.

To give all people an equal opportunity to have an equal standard of living will require an enormous rethink of how globalisation has occurred since WWII. It will also need to occur in the context of the now clear understanding of our impacts on the Earth. 

Essentially we need “quality globalisation” rather than the unsustainable, geopolitically-oriented market-based globalisation that has predominated since WWII. Many of the ideas that I discuss at MacroEdgo.com will be important, but the implications will be far, far greater than anyone can currently imagine.

Greater mobility between countries will be important, as will very open trading and commercial links between all countries.

Ironically, while many ethno-nationalist Australians are attempting to subvert the climate change debate to use it as a reason to reduce immigration, one of the most effective contributions to climate change that Australia can make is in continuing its recent high level of immigration or even increasing it.

This is the case for all developed countries that have what we might describe as  “developmental space” – analogous with the economic term du jour “fiscal space” – to grow their population in a well planned and generous manner to move toward equalising the mean standard of living of humanity.

This will, of course, require significant infrastructure and innovation to minimise local and global environmental impacts. However, again, this is supported by the comments of Attenborough in his 2011 speech where he described Australia as being “big and empty”, thus indicating his position that we do indeed have significant “developmental space”.

Australia has a proud history of success at taking in people from all over the world when responding to humanitarian crises. This history has, however, been tarnished in the last 2 decades commencing under the Howard Government’s response to “boat people”, but this does not diminish the immigration successes.

The fruits of our very successful post-WWII migration policy are visible all throughout our society – in our school yards, in our restaurant strips, and all of the places where we come together as a community. The Asia migration period, now with African and South American migrants, too, is every bit as successful from my standpoint, but I realise that there are elements within our community that seek to portray it is as troubling.

No doubt there are challenges, such as infrastructure provision and housing, but these must be the attention of our endeavours for solutions, not the migrants themselves who just want the same things from life that we all do.

It should be obvious to everyone that there is an enormous opportunity here for a climate and environment-sensitive nation building narrative – the type that Politicians of all descriptions are normally so keen to jump on – the only problem being that the divisive xenophobic element must be addressed for once and for all.

This is demonstrated by the 2019 Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Australia Talks Survey where 54% of Australians considered immigration a “problem” – unless, of course, many thought the problem was that we did not have enough immigration (I think it a fair assumption that that is not what they meant).

To those who reject the notions within this essay I say this. Each and every citizen of a wealthy country needs to stop and think right now. If you choose to remain indifferent to this conundrum, then you are actually choosing a world where you continue to enjoy the proceeds of living on an island of prosperity at the expense of others in poor countries who will increasingly suffer as climate change impacts worsen. And your high standard of living will be increasingly protected at the point of a gun with increasingly aggressive and callous military actions to keep those increasingly desperate people suppressed.

It is time we stopped pussy footing around this reality – as Attenborough said, it is much too late for fastidious niceties.

Let us stop not spelling out the truth as some form of political correctness so that people in wealthy countries can continue on with their commerce-producing mindless consumption in a guilt-free manner.

To achieve this transformation the political class will most likely put the globe and their specific nations on a war footing to deepen the non-partisan buy-in from their citizens and to ward off the populists.

This time, however, it will be a war for all of humanity – a united humanity – instead of against or within humanity.

Let’s wage war on climate change!

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Social Cohesion:The Best Vaccine Against Crises

As survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp mark the 75th anniversary of their liberation by appealing for people to remember the perils of indifference, the Wuhan coronavirus is set to test multicultural cohesiveness in a way that has not been tested since World War II.

 The European Day for Remembrance of the Holocaust is 27th of January, the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. This year the commemoration was especially poignant – not just because it marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz survivors – but because many of those survivors spoke up about concerns about humanity forgetting the lessons that their hellish experience, at the hands of the Nazis, delivered the world.

During the Holocaust 6 million Jews were slaughtered. At Auschwitz 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered. 

More than hate, the Holocaust survivors feared indifference because we know that in any large grouping of people the number of people who will be racist to the point of hate will be minor. It is the indifference by others to xenophobia and prejudice which allows the haters to rise up and become powerful.

In my own country of Australia the events of the Holocaust seem a world away, and most contemporary Australians would consider it largely irrelevant to our culture. However, Australians have a long history of indifference to racism. 

The first, and thus longest lasting form, of racism is towards the Indigenous Aboriginal peoples, which started soon after colonisation (better described “invasion”?) even though the leaders of the new colony were surprisingly enlightened and in many ways had a higher regard for the Aboriginals than certainly the convicts that they were charged with keeping incarcerated.

In the early stages of the colonies there grew a virulent racism against Indians and Chinese, which evolved into formal legislation known as the White Australia policy which remained in place until the 1970s (Lockwood, R. “British Imperial Influences in the Foundation of the White Australia Policy.” Labour History, no. 7, 1964, pp. 23–33. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27507761. accessed 18 October 2019]. As brilliantly articulated by Tim Watts (2019) in “The Golden Country: Australia’s changing identity”, now over 40 years since the formal extinguishing of the White Australia Policy, there remains a great degree of indifference to Asian Australians.

The waves of Asian immigrants over those 40 years, initially mainly from conflicts in Vietnam and Sri Lanka and elsewhere, and more recently from China and India, has coincided with an increase in conspicuous ethno-nationalistic racism.

Moreover, even though surveys consistently show that the great majority of Australians object to racism and consider it an issue of import – highlighting on the one hand that there is a widespread perception that it is prevalent in society, and on the other hand that the great majority are concerned enough about that to consider it a problem – those same surveys suggest that indifference is highly prevalent.

For example, while the 2019 Australia Talks Survey conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation found that 75% of Australians considered racism a problem, 54% considered immigration a problem.

Moreover, Watts (2019) did an excellent job of describing the multitude of ways in which conscious and subconscious biases and prejudices pervade all aspects of Australian society. In workplaces we are only now coming to grips with the impact of the Bamboo ceiling on crushing the aspirations of hard, smart working Asian Australians, and on how that is having a deleterious affect on business innovation and productivity.

It is for this reason that I believe very strongly that quotas are necessary to bring about sustainably diverse workplaces in Australia.

Australian politicians have had an unfortunate habit of playing on this indifference and latent xenophobia to garner political support, and even though the 70s marked the highpoint in bipartisan support against racial discrimination, since the emergence in the 90s of Hansonism and the global success of populist parties overt indifference to xenophobia has been too enticing for those on the right side of politics to ignore. 

In pandering to these xenophobic elements their divisive views have been given legitimacy and social cohesiveness in multicultural Australia has been setback significantly.

In a “former life” I was a research scientist specialising in disease of aquatic animals. I had a special interest in viruses and carried out some basic virological research on a few novel viruses that I discovered.

So to preface what I am about to say, I would describe myself as knowing much more than the average person about microbiology and virology, but much, much less than a cutting edge contemporary virologist like Shi Zhengli who is based in Wuhan and has been conducting research on these coronaviruses for the past 15 years including leading the research team responding to the current oubreak.

I mention Zhengli because I know her. She did her PhD in the laboratory of the brilliant and legendary invertebrate virologist Jean-Robert (JR) Bonami in Montepellier, France, where I worked for a year, and I visited her in Wuhan many years ago. Zhengli was also kind to list me as a co-author on a paper published soon after I had retired from scientific research. Zhengli is a wonderful person and researcher of the highest quality and when I learned that she was intimately involved with the response to this outbreak I immediately felt better about the situation.

Evenso, I have great concerns for the implications of this outbreak. To be clear, in no way am I suggesting that I am an expert – I am no longer even an expert on crustacean diseases even though a decade and half ago I was one of the global experts. And I have not spoken with Zhengli in many years so I have no special information. These are my own views which are based on common sense as much as anything else.

I recall in the early 90s reading about the Ebola virus. People do not realise it, but for a virus it is massive and it is scary looking! I commented to a friend that it is so large it would probably feel like receiving an injection when it entered cells to replicate.

The thing about Ebola virus is that while it is deadly, it is not highly transmissible. It is spread by exposure to blood or other bodily fluids of a seriously ill person. While in poor countries with limited and basic medical facilities it can spread and cause some deaths it does not present a serious threat to humanity as modern biosecurity protocols can limit its spread.

Ebola gets media attention because of the high mortality rate and because the symptoms are so severe including haemorrhage and ultimately bleeding from orifices.

The really concerning diseases from a whole of humanity standpoint are those that are highly transmissible, have a reasonably long incubation period where the infected person is asymptomatic (so the infection is undetected) but is transmitting the infection to others, and which has a reasonably high mortality rate (ie. a reasonably high proportion of people who contract the infection die).

The information presented by the WHO on incubation period and asymptomatic transmission confirms that Wuhan coronavirus presents those first two characteristics. 

These characteristics combined make a disease difficult to contain and thus eradicate in its early stages, without need of a vaccination program which will take time to develop and administer widely.

At the time of writing the rate of increase in the total number of cases, the proportion of which are serious and very serious, and the number of mortalities, is indicative of a virus that is capable of rapid human to human spread in populations. It will be some time yet before it is fully understood how much of this is due to the ramp up in diagnostic capacity and public health response – i.e. some of this apparent hyperbolic increase in the number of cases may be due to increased diagnosis. If diagnostic capacity reaches a steady state with virus spread, in part due to biosecurity measures taken, then we may see the apparent hyperbolic spread become more linear and then decelerate. However, if the actual spread remains hyperbolic then diagnostic capacity might never catch up. 

The mortality and morbidity (what proportion of people become ill and to what extent) rates will not be completely understood for some time. Underlying health status of populations and other factors will play a part.

If the virus becomes pandemic quickly, then it will be the mortality and morbidity rate that determines the full cost to humanity.

With what is already public knowledge with regards the two week incubation period and asymptomatic transmission, I very much suspect that the WHO and the major countries are working on an assumption that there is a high likelihood that the Wuhan coronavirus will not be contained within China and that it will spread in Asia. Though I, too, am impressed by the response by the Chinese authorities and scientific community, early indications of the characteristics of this virus make it extremely difficult to contain.

I suspect that in the weeks ahead it will soon become clear that the virus has escaped the biosecurity net into wider China and into nearby Asian countries, especially the lesser developed countries which have less capability to respond and contain the virus.

One of the complicating factors is that it is still winter in the Northern hemisphere so it is perfectly normal that cold and flu viruses will be circulating, and so there will be no way that any country – and especially not the developing countries – will have the capability to isolate any and every sick person until they are tested and cleared.

Also significant is that we are talking about many poor people here who are not fortunate to enjoy a standard of living which affords them the best possible underlying health status. Moreover, these people have no social safety network, usually have tenuous employment earning low wages, and have little or no savings to draw on during a health scare. Thus these people will have little choice but to continue working rather than subject themselves to self-imposed isolation. 

At this stage, what I believe that the authorities are really working on is slowing the spread of the virus. Of course officials are not going to admit to this because they do not want to panic populations and create conditions which stretch (already stretched) social cohesion.

For those in the northern hemisphere there is a factor which will be supportive in those efforts. With the outbreak occurring at around the midpoint of winter, within another 10 weeks the most favourable conditions for respiratory viruses to spread will subside which will likely naturally slow the spread of the virus (at least compared to what it would be if conditions remained cooler).

Pharmaceutical companies will have around 6 months to swing into action and develop an effective vaccine, produce it in significant volumes, and administer it broadly in the large population centres in the northern hemisphere. My understanding is that, at this stage, there is no reason to believe that this would be problematic as it was with HIV (because of its unique characteristics).

Writing in Australia, in the southern hemisphere, the outlook is somewhat more frightening if I am correct in my analysis that the virus will not be eradicated this northern hemisphere winter. I would be unsurprised if more draconian measures were introduced in Australia than elsewhere in an attempt to prevent its introduction as we will endure a full cold and flu season without any chance of administering a broad vaccination program.

This will produce a great deal of anxiety amongst Australians.

Given Australia has a questionable history in terms of racism and xenophobia, and indifference to it, what are the early indications of how Australians are reacting to this global health scare originating from China and likely ultimately broader Asia?

Not surprisingly, the early indications are not good with many reports detailing increased verbal and online attacks on people of (presumed) Asian ethnicity.

Moreover, there have been reports of online petitions with thousands of signatories seeking schools to restrict families that have travelled throughout wider Asia from attending, and the New South Wales Government has requested that students who have visited China remain at home in isolation for two weeks even though the Minister admitted it was not medically necessary and was done to appease public concerns.

As the patriarch of a mixed Asian Australian family, I was at the shops early last Saturday morning with my wife. We went to a quieter, stand-alone supermarket and agreed that there seemed to be more people of Asian ethnicity out early there with us. We bought a little more food than we normally would so that we could reduce the frequency with which we need to shop.

If my worst fears are confirmed over the next few weeks, then I expect that overt and angry xenophobia will be increasingly expressed towards Australians of perceived Asian ethnicity as the Wuhan coronavirus spreads especially throughout Asia, and as people become more fearful as Australia heads towards a long and difficult cold and flu season.

In my earlier seminal essay “Xenophobia Must Be Challenged For An Effective Response To Climate Change Inclusive of Population Growth“, I explained the clear-cut logic on why it is imperative that leaders provide strong leadership in denouncing racism.

I consider the climate change crisis to be the greatest challenge to humanity, and I can see no sustainable and durable response that does not involve a more cohesive humanity built on equivalent access to the same standard of living irrespective of where on Earth one chooses to live and raise a (typically small) family.

Depending on how the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak progresses in the next few weeks and months, and how successful are the scientific and pharmaceutical communities in expeditiously developing an effective vaccine, this disease may prove to be the most serious immediate challenge to humanity. 

Moreover, if this outbreak is successfully contained and eradicated – primarily on the back of the impressive response by the Chinese authorities – it still gives an indication of the tenuous nature of our existence on this wonderful planet, and just how quickly the reality of our existence can be placed in danger.

Most significantly, it highlights that whether we are talking about acute or long-term crises, the reality of life on this Earth for humanity is that we have no choice but to face these challenges together.

Acting individualistically and with self-interest can not produce the sustainable effective response for which all people wish. 

Clearly there is little chance of humanity coming together and working towards solutions to the greatest challenges if the groundwork to build mutual trust has been neglected. 

Therefore, the best vaccine against crises is social cohesion within societies and across humanity.

Social cohesion within multicultural societies is the best stepping stone towards cohesion across humanity. And to do that we must address all of those biases and prejudices within our societies from the ground up, in our workplaces and in our day to day lives, and we must demand of our elected leadership that they work towards a united humanity, and we must punish (politically) those who seek to divide us.

That, I believe, is a world that the survivors of Auschwitz would want for us all, and as it was articulated so warmly and brilliantly by President Roosevelt shortly before his all too early passing.


In times of crisis it is very much human nature to reach out to friends in potential danger and inquire on whether they are doing OK, and to let them know that you are thinking of them and wishing them well. I certainly have received those types of emails myself from friends overseas this past summer as they expressed their concern and sorrow for the bushfires in Australia.

I guess we all hope that that brief moment of personal connection – a few kind and caring words, a smile, a pat on the back – will provide some emotional support to our friends and at the same time nourish our own souls.

That is what I did yesterday. After a long time I reached out to Zhengli to let her know I care and that I am thinking of her and her family. I had an inkling that she might be involved in the research into the outbreak, of course, but I was entirely unaware of her career successes since my early retirement from scientific research. Zhengli responded quickly, which I appreciated given the enormity of the challenge she and her team faces – I like to think a brief heart-warming personal distraction provided some light relief in the midst of the intense environment they are undoubtedly working through.

I am so glad that a person of the quality of Dr Shi Zhengli is heading up the research response to this current outbreak – a better person you could not meet, a loving mother and caring friend, and an exceptional scientist. We should all be grateful to her and her team, and our other Chinese friends responding on the ground, who are making significant personal sacrifices for all of our benefit.

As I have said on numerous occasions in my writing, it is when we face collective crises that we truly know that we are united together as human beings against our greatest challenges. Please let this be a lesson that we can hold onto and move forward together before we damage ourselves and our wonderful planet to a point where all of the progress of the last century is lost.

Gained value from these words and ideas? Consider supporting my work at GoFundMe

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Introducing MacroEdgo

This site encompasses economic, investment, financial, business and managerial analysis and life philosophy.

It is unapologetically challenging! 

If you do not take with a grain of salt some of what I say here then I have failed in my aim. I pride myself on being ahead of the curve and absolutely feel uncomfortable being a part of the herd, ie. part of the consensus, perhaps the one exception being when I am ready to take profits on an investment position.

I developed this site to fill a number of growing voids around the need for quality unconflicted opinion accessible at a reasonable cost, but not from a robot! 

In fact, this site is run on a new business model – you decide what the analysis is worth. If you read a piece of analysis which you feel has added value to your thought process then you decide yourself on what that value is – immediately and enduringly – and make a donation on my GoFundMe page.

Of course if down the track you realise that something that you have read that I have written has added value – such as something that you took with a grain of salt initially but you came to realise there was validity to it – you can return and donate when you reach that conclusion.

This model is essentially an “honesty system” and it reminds me of my family’s first watermelon stall (we own a sugarcane farm along the Bruce Highway in northern Queensland) which operated under the same principle. My older brother, always a sceptic, insisted that we collect the money via a slot in an old steel safe in which we placed 4 x 50kg tractor weights. (Dad of course made the point that the tractor weights were worth more than a few days of takings.) One morning in the first week, as we brought the watermelons to stock the stand, we noticed that the safe was standing on its edge. Somebody did well to even lift a side off the ground, but we failed to notice who around my small home town was walking with a sore back!

I prefer to work this way because it is entirely fair and democratic to the reader. Just like I was prepared to accept that some people won’t pay for a watermelon, I accept that some who will profit from reading these pages will not pay for it. But I also know that being optimistic about the goodness at the core of human nature has been the most profitable – in all of it’s senses – courses that can be taken in life.

I do not want subscribers with automatic renewals where other content providers hope payment will slip by unnoticed or for subscriber lethargy leading to cancellation after payment has been made one more time.

Moreover, not operating on a subscription basis releases me of any obligation to produce to deadline. I will write what I want when I want – when I feel passionate is when I write best. 

If you find value in what I have written, you reward me. Simple as that!

There are a few economic analysts – working privately or within investment banks – who charge several thousand of dollars annually for a subscription to their research, and I would also certainly appreciate gratis access as an “in-kind” contribution for my efforts.

In this age of click baiting, please be aware that there will never be advertising on these pages and I will not in any way attempt to determine what genre of writing brings in the greatest revenues.

Finally, there is a good reason why there are no contact details on these pages and there is no opportunity for another’s opinion to be stated here. If you wish to understand these reasons then you can read the “About” page to its conclusion.

Warm regards

Brett Edgerton

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2019



I am an ex-scientist and believe in full disclosure… so here is the full story…

Check out my Curriculum Vitae for my career as a scientist.

Check out my Investment History.

Firstly, why the “Edgo” in “MacroEdgo”. I come from the small agricultural town of Innisfail in northern Queensland where my Great Grandparents were pioneers after moving there when only 5 houses existed in the town. My Great Grandparents had 13 children, and my Grandparents alone then had 7 children who gave them 26 grandchildren of which I am the youngest (and many of my cousins have grandchildren). Very many of my extended family remain in Innisfail and most of us are referred to as “Edgo” often preceded by our first name – so in Innisfail I am often referred to as “Brett Edgo”. A voila

I was a research scientist until the age of 34 when the biological clock caught up with my career aspirations. After returning to Australia from 2 highly regarded international research fellowships (in France with the CNRS, the equivalent of Australia’s CSIRO, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany) I was unable to find a way to continue my work or obtain secure employment, and having delayed starting a family to obtain that security, I “retired”from my career when my wife fell pregnant with our first child.

My accountant wife had far superior career security and earnings potential, and with home prices charging ahead (I will discuss this in one of my posts), it really was the only choice for me to assume the role of being the primary carer for our beautiful son who was joined shortly afterwards by another beautiful son.

I won’t pretend that the transition was easy – for 14 years I had poured my heart and soul into my research and I could only imagine a future where I never retired and was the dottery old professor still hanging around the University electron microscopy centre. I was devastated.

Making it worse was the knowledge that my work was important even if it was difficult to obtain funding. For instance, at the time when I retired I was almost certainly the only Australian that had worked with White Spot Virus which was the cause of the disease incursion in south east Queensland prawn farms in recent years. While in France in 2001 I obtained funding from Biosecurity Australia (my previous employer) to expose native Australian freshwater crayfish to the virus to determine their susceptibility.

Because I could not even contemplate another future for myself, I went “cold turkey” and retired immediately with the clicking of the “send” button of the email announcing it to my colleagues. And within a few weeks I was in the emergency room of a hospital having a breakdown, panicked at the thought of how I could ever deal with my loss.

That was a long time ago, and I now am entirely certain that ending my career was best for me and my family. I am extremely satisfied and happy with the course of my life. Becoming a stay at home Dad is my ultimate fulfillment and, while I left behind a body of research of which I will be forever proud, my primary role in raising two quality young men – worldly, rounded, confident and at ease within the world – is easily my most enduring contribution to mankind. 

But I still had a very active, analytical mind and I yearned to contribute to societal progression. 

I submitted my PhD thesis in October 1996 and earned my first professional income a few months later when I was very nearly 27 years of age. Even though my work was far more important to me than money – eg. when moving to France with my wife in 2001 our joint income fell by 80%! –  having foregone so much earning potential I instinctively knew that I needed to use well whatever funds my wife and I were able to accumulate. So I became a voracious reader of financial and investment literature as well as Business media. Thus began a long and enduring passion.

I was raised on a sugarcane farm, which was originally owned by my Great Grandfather, and my parents had long struggled with meeting debt obligations taken on to clear additional land during (what turned out to be the end of) the 1970’s resources boom. My father always regretted listening to industry and Government forecasters who encouraged those that had capacity to expand to do so as they forecasted sugar prices to remain high for the foreseeable future.

From this I instinctively understood that I needed to develop a strong knowledge of markets and economics to insulate myself from “salespeople” peddling agendas which are not necessarily in my best interest. I realised that it is not sufficient to plead ignorance and blame others for my decisions – if I was going to take on risk then I was going to be informed and take responsibility for my successes and failures.

On returning to Australia in 2003 Brisbane was in the grips of the first leg of the house price run up as the housing bubble spread from the larger southern centres. I will go into greater detail in a post but suffice to say that by 2007 I was ready to turn my market analytical talents to providing an alternate opinion to the property-conflicted mainstream media.

In 2007 I launched my website “Homes4Aussies” shortly before I shirt-fronted a newly installed PM Rudd at a Community Cabinet meeting in northern Brisbane (see here). Even more than my personal early glimpse at Rudd’s now famous temper, I remember the meeting for being taunted at arm’s length by Treasurer Wayne Swann. And I honestly shook all the way home as I congratulated myself for showing such admirable restraint while wondering how it would have played out in the press if a guy who had had his rent raised by 30% in one year while saving for a home deposit while property investors pushed prices to surge higher, with a second child on the way, while recovering from a breakdown after finishing an accomplished career in scientific research due to lack of opportunity in this country, took a swing at the Treasurer after he taunted him with “you’re dreaming if you think negative gearing will ever be ended!”

I drove traffic to my website by blogging widely on mainstream media and listing as my location my website (I had not seen anybody do that previously).

I wanted to play a role in public policy debate. But most of all I wanted to show particularly younger Australians that there were alternate views to the ones that they were being bombarded with in the mainstream media. I wanted to challenge these so that fellow Australians might stop to think twice before committing to a future of debt repayment for an asset that they were being told only ever went up in price and where they could not lose. For example, I blogged against and attempted to initiate a wager with the realestate agent author of a report which featured in all major Brisbane papers who forecasted that the median price of Brisbane houses would rise exponentially and would reach $1 Million soon after 2015.

I was also invited to participate in several online debates.

And I proudly walked with Steve Keen on his first day out of Canberra after losing his infamous bet which Rory (where are you these days?) Robertson ambushed him with the proposed wager at a public presentation.

A lot of things happened around those times. Such is the passion around housing investment that I received a lot of threatening email which, on reading, my family would wonder why I persisted with my efforts. On this site I have placed as much of my work from that time as possible, but unfortunately I lost quite a lot when my computer was hacked. I was tight-lipped about having been hacked for a few weeks but within a couple of hours of me mentioning it in an email to Tony Richards of the RBA I received a phone call from my bank saying that my credit card had been cancelled due to suspicious activity which had just occurred. I accept that it could be coincidence but I think it highly likely that I was being surveilled (by someone) at the time.

I became quite active on a blogsite named “Bubblepedia” set up by Sydney anaesthetist Daniel Cox and I think it is fair to say that I was a key contributor and my involvement was a major reason for it’s growth in popularity. In the midst of widespread group think around housing I found it helpful to “hang out” with like-minded individuals often in similar situations. I have always been careful not to provide advice but I was keen to provide my opinion on factors surrounding the housing market and the purchase decision.

While active on Bubblepedia I led the development of flyer which was available to print and deliver into mailboxes, and donations received funded the printing and delivery of the flyer in the electorates of PM Rudd and Treasurer Swann.

In late 2011 I bowed out from blogging on Bubblepedia as I had been hard at it for 4 years and there were some quality contributors entering the space who I felt could do a better job than myself. Three of these went on to form MacroBusiness. And by this time I had bought a family home which required work and I was happily getting on with that.

I left the group saying that I wanted to write a book around the issues of the home purchase decision process. But I was never committed enough to sit down and write it. In many ways this site will pick up on that desire, although housing will only be a minor focus, in a more progressive manner than writing a large treatise in one hit!
After Bubblepedia I continued blogging occasionally on MacroBusiness, and in the early days had a couple of Guest Posts.

However, in 2017 I pulled my support for MacroBusiness due to concerns over the way that they are prosecuting their arguments around immigration. As I explained to Leith Van Onselin when he called to discuss my withdrawal of support, I had become increasingly concerned with their emotional language, and the final straw was Leith’s use of the xenophobic terminology “white flight” in a post. Leith immediately admitted it was a mistake to use the term and edited the post upon my objection, but I explained that it is an error that should not have been made. The response by other participants to my objection in the comments section below his post really confirmed my greatest concern that the site is acting as a ecosphere for people who have ramped up and seek to further ramp up xenophobic emotions – Leith informed me that they do not moderate comments, which in itself is problematic in my view.

I read on occasions comments about the choice of Homes4Aussies as the name for my website. It should be noted that one’s definition of who is an “Aussie” is very much subjective, and all should be assured that mine is a very broad interpretation and I have always been very clear about that. In fact, my aim was to help all people seeking housing in Australia whether they be temporary residents right through to peoples who have resided in our geographical area for 40,000 years.

I never cease to be amazed by how quickly us human beings connect. If you need any assurance of that just participate in a student exchange and see how many children and adults are crying a the end of the week! (We have recently participated in two exchange programs and our guests leaving was sorrowful for our family.)

Anybody who respects us and our country enough to wish to spend some of their life here – even if just a year on a working holiday – almost certainly considers themselves partly “Aussie”, and I certainly see them as just that.

I vividly remember singing with moist eyes, arms around each other, “We are Australian” with an Indian-Aussie guy at an entertainment night during a month-long workshop in China. I love multicultural Australia and it is what I am most proud about this country. And being overseas, amongst intellectual and worldly fellow Humboldt Fellowship recipients, answering questions about the children overboard election was one of my most embarrassing and disappointing moments as an Aussie!

As I said in my parting comment on MacroBusiness, human beings are at their best when they seek to unite not divide.

Most recently I have only blogged infrequently on various investment websites and most frequently on Roger Montgomery’s. I have re-posted on this site some of my more recent comments as they remain topical and are themes that I will surely return to in the weeks and months ahead.

During my early blogging activities I seriously entertained the idea of challenging PM Rudd in the political arena by running against him in his electorate as an independent, admittedly not with any fantasy of actually beating him but with the aim to draw attention to the housing affordability issue. 

However, after a few years of intense blogging I realised that I did not possess the mental health capacity to be so actively and publicly engaged in public debate, and this was also a factor in me stepping back from blogging. 

As an early teenager I was exposed to chronic stress and conflict, and on one occasion I had to to bravely stepup to prevent a seriously violent escalation which could have had catastrophic outcomes.

These times left scars on my mental health, and in part precipitated my breakdown later in life when I was confronted by extreme stress and loss. As a consequence, while being reasonably adept at conflict and heated debate, I know that prolonged conflict – such as protracted debating – takes a toll on my mental health and causes me great anxiety.

While I wish to have my views heard on these critical issues, I need to do so in way which protects my health.

That is why, unlike on my first website and through my blogging activities on other sites, and although I respect others’ rights to have their voice heard, there is no opportunity on this site for others to state their supportive or contradictory views, there are no contact details to voice disagreement directly to me, and I aim to not publicly respond to any comments about me or this site.

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2019

On The Origin Of COVID-19 And The Trade Difficulties With China

I have steadfastly criticised and praised Governments and other actors in the COVID-19 pandemic when and where I felt it was due.

I agree with China’s sensitivity over Western innuendo about the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19.

I realise that many will immediately dismiss this on the basis of my friendship with Dr. Shi Zhengli, but I would counter that my logic is clear and undeniable. Moreover it is consistent with many highly regarded scientists including Australian Nobel Laureate Prof. Peter Doherty, that being that these studies are important for future management strategies (to reduce the risks of future pandemics) but were not a high priority given the resources that needed to be poured into managing the pandemic globally. What is transpiring this Northern Hemisphere Summer only supports that view. Prof. Doherty’s comments were even more strident than mine:

the whole thing is a distraction from the next United States election and it is pointless for anybody else to buy into it, in fact it is stupid

Prof. Doherty speaking on Bloomberg Television, 4 May 2020

Australian PM Morrison and other conservative Government officials are attempting to rewrite history and denying the geopolitical aspects inherent in their pursuit of the issue, but they cannot avoid the context in which they called for an inquiry into the origins.

In “The First Victim Of War Is The Truth” published 20 March I pointed out that “in recent days [President Trump] has returned to [pointing blame at China] by referring to it as the ‘China virus’”. And it was in April that Australia through Foreign Minister Marise Payne began pushing for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

To suggest that the two issues are unrelated, given the close links between President Trump and PM Morrison, is a farce if for no other reason that Australian Government officials and politicians would have known for certain that China, and every other nation, would interpret it as such and so would have chosen to avoid the perception of joining with President Trump if they were at all concerned about China’s reaction.

Truthfully, the WHO team going into China this week should have been a story of scientific interest. Important, yes, but a purely scientific matter. Instead, because of the crass assertions of US President Donald Trump, now almost universally condemned within global political circles as being “unhinged” as if his election loss “suddenly” pushed him into psychopathy, along with the supportive innuendo from Australian Government officials, has turned the story into a fraught geopolitical issue involving limited trust, and suggestions of subterfuge and nefarious agendas.

It is important to note that even though SARS emerged in late 2002 tracking the origin of the virus took exhaustive research spanning a decade. It took three years from the outbreak to determine that bats were the likely original host when a 2005 paper showed that they were reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. It took another 7 years of exhaustive research, painstakingly and methodically analysing samples collected by crawling through pungent guano-lined caves, to determine the exact origin of the SARS virus.

If the reader followed those links, and here is another for good measure, they might have observed an important fact. The scientist that led that research was none other than Dr Shi Zengli. 

Sadly lost in the perceived cloak and dagger game of deception is the one undeniable truth – that Dr Shi is an outstanding virologist and a world-leading authority on SARS-like coronaviruses – thus there was no better laboratory in the world to receive those initial samples from sick people in Wuhan a year ago, and the work of these scientists gave the world the best possible start in combating the pandemic.

I am the first to admit that my views on China have evolved over the preceding 24 months as shown in my writing on MacroEdgo. However, I see few who have been consistent across all important issues as the pandemic has shone a spotlight on societal values and leadership which has permitted or even necessitated deep reflection by all of us. Those few who have been consistent are likely so through inflexible ideology rather than having sound reasoning that has stood the serious tests of this time which I refer to as “The Great Reset” era. Moreover, my evolution has been as much about how I view my own nation and our allies as much as it is about China.

Quite simply, when the facts change I update my views.

Of course the ones with the most challenging decision on whether to stay the course or pivot are the conservative politicians who condoned, if not enabled, the erratic actions of President Trump for the past four years.

I even said in the past that I would not invest in Chinese companies out of concern for human rights and military involvement. I have long had similar concerns over western companies, and I have resolved to redouble my efforts – when value returns to global stockmarkets, whenever that might be – to carry out the necessary due diligence to ensure that I am morally at ease with activities of the companies in which I invest, whether they be domiciled in China or elsewhere. Anything less would be hypocritical of me.

Many Australians seem to come at disagreements, or “spats”, with other nations from the automatic perspective that we must be in the right. We are not always right, however, and we only have to look back at the second Iraq war to see that sometimes our national leaders just do what they want to do irrespective of what are the views and desires of Australian citizens.

I agreed with and supported a reframing of the relationship between China and the West. However, the moment that it was clear that global humanity confronted the enormous challenge of COVID-19, with China the first affected nation, that reframing should have been put on the backburner. What is more, that could have been done knowing that a tremendous amount of goodwill may have been derived from empathetic determination to be a good friend.

We should have done everything we could to help them. If they wanted, through pride, to be somewhat independent in their response then we should respect that for what it is rather than being suspicious. But most importantly, when it became clear that they successfully stamped out the infection in Hubei we should have praised them profusely for their achievement, and we should have gone to them to learn from their experience.

Instead of being a friend to China we seemed determined to show that we were antagonists, no doubt in large part due to the Trump Administration requiring overt demonstrations in support of them. The ironic thing about “big, tough” bullies is that their insecurities drive them to seek support for their actions leading to “ganging up” on adversaries.

Now China is determined to show not only that it does not need Australia, but that Australia needs China much more. I consider that all of the ways China has demonstrated this has been highly intelligent because, to the observant, they have clearly been demonstrating all of the ways that Australia has been hypocritical in the way it deals with China and the rest of the world. 

I will focus on trade issues which China is highlighting with widespread actions against many of our primary products, but will not entirely sidestep the very serious issues over human rights and our actions in theatres of war. I will simply say that it is preposterous to call their social media stunt – yes, a stunt and far from delicate – fake news because it was not a real picture as the same could be levelled at anti drink-driving or speeding advertisements which feature actors. They were making a point, and did not go as far as they could have by questioning why we went into the Middle-East to start with in our longest-lasting conflict ever – that if you are going to talk to others about human rights then you bloody-well had better come from a higher moral ground. But Australia and it’s allies fall well short of that. The point about the Middle-East conflict is all the more pertinent when a comparison is made between the number of innocent bystanders killed in the conflict to those killed in the 911 attacks, and also to compare that number with the number of Americans currently dying daily from COVID-19 because it is out of control and their politicians did little to stop it.

When I worked for Biosecurity Australia on developing import policy for aquatic animals and their products I learned that Australia had a reputation for using biosecurity as a technical barrier to trade which impacted our relationships with many nations including allies. There was always an issue that low-income developing and newly industrialised nations felt they lacked the expertise and resources to negotiate for fair arrangements, and/or fight cases in the World Trade Organisation. 

In reality it was alike a movie where a wealthy individual or corporation, with a huge legal team of Ivy league-trained lawyers, crushes the opposition that can only afford a pro-bono lawyer. Then we had around 80 policy analysts working on risk analyses for a broad range of animal and plants and their products, but in all actuality these analyses moved at snail’s pace (look at the Biosecurity Australia website some time to see the incredibly  long timelines for these analyses).

It was often discussed casually in-house that other similar nations, such as Canada for example, had far fewer staff and a much more streamlined process. Of course, the objective was not really to perform these analyses promptly, unless, of course, under duress of the threat of WTO-sanctioned penalties as a consequence of an adverse finding through their process (such as the Canadian Salmon case which was a major issue while I worked there – of 8 of us then in the aquatic animal unit, I was the only analyst not working on the response to the Salmon finding).

I have spoken about my experiences working for Biosecurity Australia in a number of posts including “Politics And Biosecurity“.

Australia did work at assisting our near neighbours to improve their biosecurity resources, including by running workshops and funding research as a part of foreign aid programs. 

During the prawn import risk analysis (IRA) I recall that in discussions with scientists and officials from a newly industrialised nation, one of the main exporters of prawns to Australia, they stated that they had grown suspicious of our motivation to fund research on biosecurity through foreign aid projects. Specifically they felt that by researching the health status of their aquaculture industry, and being open with their findings including in reports to our foreign aid funding agencies, that they had left themselves vulnerable to this information being used to restrict trade in those products.

They had some justification for thinking that way because, as I have made clear when talking about challenges that I faced in maintaining a career in research science in Australia, in my experience industry-aligned fish pathologists in Australia always challenged the more independent university researchers being clear that they had concerns over trade impacts from disease findings. And that concern was a continual challenge to obtaining research funding on the general health status of Australian wildlife and farmed stocks.

The truth is that all countries have their own favoured areas where they attempt to dodge and delay trade obligations from international agreements. 

I am in little doubt that one of China’s aims in these trade disputes is to expose Australia’s weaknesses that were being ignored when relations were more cordial and forgiving.

Be in no doubt, this growing trade spat is as much about our own failings as it is about China’s.

Unless we come clean ourselves, then there is little hope of the relationship improving.

I suspect that the relationship was much more redeemable before PM Morrison decided to add innuendo to President Trump’s crass assertions on COVID-19’s origins. Without some sincere statements from Australia around COVID-19 and it’s origins, which China will be able to parade domestically as a backdown or apology, and no doubt providing succour to my friend Zhengli, I believe that the relationship will remain troubled for a prolonged period.

Frankly, I would have little problem in doing just that because it was wrong of us to head down this path in the first place, and when so much is to be gained from closer relations. Then again, toxic masculinity is not an affliction that challenges my own reasoning.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021

End Racism!

That the statement above the photo is relevant to me as an individual means that it is of equal relevance to my nation… We can never deal with our issues if we lack the courage to “pull back the carpet” and admit to our failings… Admitting errors and failings is what takes true courage, not the toxic masculinity crap that the racists’ “heroes” go on with on their pay tv megaphone… It is time for those with the real courage to stand up and use words, compassion and yes, love (that most frightening thing of all to the emotionally-challenged – vulnerability), to denounce the aggressive and divisive language from those whose egos prevent them from admitting they idolised an “unhinged” turkey in a suit for 4 years… they seem intent on growing their hate in our home so the time for timidity and fence-sitting has passed… It is time that racists really knew they are the true minority in our proudly fair and humble nation…

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021