Why The Rush Messrs. Morrison and Frydenberg?

We have all been duped, like a classic Rob Mariano maneuvre in the Survivor series my family is currently binge watching.

At the end of July, and early in the latest outbreak in Melbourne, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his aim was now “aggressive” suppression and when pressed on what that meant, clarified that as zero community transmission.

It must have felt right to him to give this message to fearful Melbournians uncertain of what lay ahead.

Now the fissures in the conservatives are being exposed since the blow torch is being applied in the public glare first by the ultra conservatives exemplified by Tony Abbott’s recent comments in the UK – no doubt trying to impress his populist-leaning future employer – and now by business elites, traditionally strong supporters of the conservatives – who argue for lesser or even few biosecurity measures to retard the spread and human impacts of COVID-19.

From these groups Morrison is under enormous political pressure to back away from his commitment to zero community transmission, and instead to have lesser measures which would minimise impacts on businesses.

That is how we arrived in recent weeks at Morrison attempting to try Premier Palaszczuk in the court of public opinion, especially when a young woman was prevented from attending her father’s funeral due to Queensland’s strong biosecurity measures. Cynically he used the emotion surrounding one funeral – incredibly traumatic and stressful for the people impacted – to put political pressure to force a reduction in biosecurity measures which as a consequence would increase the likelihood of more funerals being held than otherwise, and thus many more people grieving for the loss of loved-ones.

For Morrison zero community transmission was apparently just a thought bubble for that moment in time, but he has never really gotten the idea behind “People Before Money” which the majority of Australians naturally support.

If, on the other hand, he did finally find his road to Damascus and realised that minimising human impacts was the humane path to follow, he has wilted as the blow torch was applied.

In either case it is a less than acceptable performance by Morrison.

While the prescience of my writing on COVID-19 is undeniable, I do not suggest for a moment that my record is perfect – it is just closer than any “expert” or any other person who has had the courage to utter their views publicly from early on (obviously in this tongue-in-cheek comment I am guilty of not being sufficiently modest, but if you read my R U OK day post then perhaps you might agree that I have earned the right to grandstand a little, even if from the outset of the pandemic I had wished that I was wrong).

The two areas where I have been most wrong are related. Like the Swedish epidemiologist who advocated for developing a herd immunity strategy, I made several assumptions automatically of which I was not aware until developments revealed them because they were wrong.

Firstly, in those first writings in early February, I thought that all wealthy developed countries would do everything in their power to minimise loss of life. As a former animal biosecurity policy analyst I knew that our health officials would have plans in place to deal with this eventuality, and I just assumed that national decision-makers would automatically implement them.

Secondly, and flowing on from the first, I considered that closing of land borders between states and like-minded countries would not occur. In other words I thought that ring fencing would be more localised and dynamic\adaptive (bearing in mind that the level of granularity on measures would necessarily need to reflect the wide degree and large number of uncertainties with a pathogen known to mankind for only a short period of time).

Because the first assumption was not met, and balancing economic impacts with human impacts has fallen on sharp ideological political lines between right wing conservatives and left wing progressives, the importance of these borders demarcated by political jurisdictions has grown in importance in biosecurity risk management to those who have prioritised minimising loss of human life.

Let me be clear, I am tough on politicians – I know that – but the world has been crying out for good leadership for a very long time, including in Australia. Still politicians are human beings, also, and in a crisis nobody will be perfect.

What is important, however, is from where the motivation for actions come – if at their very basis is a deep love for humanity, or whether it is driven by greed and aspiration for personal power and advantage.

Most human beings have a reasonably good antenna for detecting that motivation.

One additional motivation in Australia that has existed for decades, but is rarely discussed in terms of costs to the nation, is the imperative to stay in good stead with the United States. Over the decades this has led to Australia taking part in US conflicts which were thinly justified for the US let alone Australia. Now in the COVID-19 pandemic we have a US president who has chosen to not protect human life as he could, and is extremely sensitive to being shown up – especially by comparison to other English-speaking countries – for doing a better job at protecting their citizens. It is perverse now that a factor to be considered especially by like-minded conservative politicians is not earning the ire of the US President for being seen to better protect our citizens.

With retrospect, it is hardly any wonder why Trump has gotten particularly provocative towards China over the origin of the virus given how China showed how to get on top of the pandemic and protect its people so that over the last month there have been zero cases of community transmission in mainland China and the official death toll stood at 4,743 in mid-September as the US’s closed in on 200,000. In a population of over a billion people, coming from where they were with the limited knowledge they possessed on the virus in those first few weeks of January, this is a remarkable effort. I have never discounted the likelihood of some level of management of official data in China, but equally I have been clear that I understood that virtually every country has the potential to do likewise, and likely has to varying degrees. Nonetheless, it seems clear that the scale of the catastrophe in the US is far, far worse than in China.

The reality of the matter is that now that the economic data is rolling in from around the world, the anticipated economic benefit of lesser social isolation measures by some countries has not materialised. Moreover, it is becoming clear that the economic impacts on nations is somewhat proportional to the degree of human impacts (i.e. in terms of lost lives). In other words, countries that have fought hard to stop the spread of the virus (with strong social isolation measures, etc) and thus minimised human costs have experienced lesser falls in economic growth than countries where the pandemic has spread widely and caused larger numbers of deaths. Again, in retrospect this should be of no surprise as common sense says that the greatest fear for anybody is death – it supersedes all other fears – which highlights the extreme short-sightedness of those with an eye on “confidence” by arguing against the use of face masks as just one example.

Summing it up well is this passage from Milton Friedman’s famous doctrine “The Social Responsibility Of Business Is To Increase Its Profits“:

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.

In the face of this emerging evidence, clearly politicians and others still arguing for reduced measures on the grounds of national economies have alternate motivations.

I believe that the key to those other motives are found in the plethora of articles reflecting on the simpler lives being led in the COVID-19 era, as I pre-empted early in the pandemic in “The Great Reset” and which I discussed in several articles would frighten the incumbent business elites.

This fear is highlighted by the following comment on an ABC.net.au post inviting people to reflect on how the pandemic has affected their spending habits:

Conservative politicians the world over through the pandemic have used the mental anguish of those in social isolation to garner support for reducing and minimising biosecurity measures. I understand from personal experience that mental health is a serious issue but it misses the point that to choose to ameliorate this by loosening the measures is the same as treating the symptom and not the cause.

Young Australians have increasingly been feeling despondent for their prospects in the lucky country before the pandemic. A far more compassionate and better approach for these people who are the future of our country would be to use this pandemic-induced paradigm shift to authentically address the inequities and other issues which have long held them back from feeling that their future is as bright and full of optimism as earlier generations enjoyed.

Politically intractable issues such as equality and equity, affordable housing and environmental issues must be central to confidence-building reforms.

There needs to be a bright spotlight shone on the fact that many do not want things to simply return to the past, because that is depressing in itself.

Instead of concerning himself only with the optimism of business, Morrison should concern himself with the optimism of our future – young Australians – and while protecting their health he should open his mind to a program which can lead to a genuinely bright future rather than trying to take everyone back to the “Truman Show” nirvana built on nothingness.

It is a very great pity that PM Morrison has chosen to politicise state Government responses, pitting state against state, and especially using harsh comparisons of the Victorian response in relation to the NSW response which has been placed on a pedestal. This only serves to increase the pressure on first line responders who are doing their best, both in Victoria and NSW. It also increases the political capital invested in the continued success of those NSW contact tracers, and thus incentivises a reduction in transparency should these data become less less flattering (so that its public release is obscured, delayed or worse).

It is becoming apparent that what the conservatives fear most from the pandemic is not serious impacts to the Australian economy. What they really fear is the end of their ideological paradigm – the end of laissez faire greed is good, walking over anybody is justified, win at all costs, nothing is ever enough, toxic aspiration.

Through this pandemic it has been a common refrain of right wing conservatives to say that people who are for strong measures aimed at minimising loss of human life are driven by a desire to pretend the virus does not exist. In fact it is the opposite, and it is those who continually argue for minimal measures and quick re-openings who are guilty of continually making that mistake. Whenever such a course of action has been followed, the reality of the pandemic quickly asserted itself and people’s reaction to the escalating human cost either forced a rapid reversal or at least people’s behaviour has produced the same result.

For example, in recent days Jamie Dimon, long-term CEO of US investment bank JP Morgan, incidentally known as a Democrat supporter (I have to admit that I consider very few Wall Street professionals to be genuinely left of centre), has insisted that his employees begin to return to their offices but that was dealt an immediate blow when one of their traders in New York was found to be infected and the office was shut. Moving into winter such efforts in the northern hemisphere will be very problematic.

These are not unintelligent people and surely are well aware of Einstein’s definition of insanity. Thus it is difficult to escape the conclusion that what is being defended is not national economies but an ideology on what constitutes contemporary capitalism.

I was prepared to accept Mr Morrison at his word when he said that his aim was for zero community transmission. However, it appears that I repeated my error of believing that decision makers would naturally want to minimise human impacts.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Evidence of MacroEdgo Impact

Readers who have followed my commentary since early February will know that I have been prescient from the beginning of the pandemic.

Those who have found my commentary more recently will have some idea of my accuracy, but it is reading ahead of time my views on what is likely to occur and then seeing that come to fruition when the perception of prescience is really underlined.

Typing away in isolation without contact with anybody who would even remotely be considered an Australian “insider” has been useful to keep my ideas as free as possible from groupthink, but is also difficult as even the most self-assured writer appreciates some (evidence of) positive feedback – though I must admit to being a bit like Groucho Marx, sceptical of any group\club that would want me to join it! – and in my “About Me” page I made it clear that I have good reasons for not permitting comments (interaction, debate or trolling) on my site.

Then came the pandemic! In other words, this is how I have worked for years before it became fashionable in 2020!

I have, however, had that confirmation from a few sources during the pandemic – a coffee mate who also reads my FB posts said in April “if only they listened to you – everything has happened exactly the way you said it would”, and a portfolio manager at one of Australia’s best-known boutique fund managers in a personal email thanked me for pointing him in the right direction early in the pandemic.

Perhaps most important to me has been my friendship with Zhengli. I do not wish to betray our friendship by saying too much. I will just say that in our email contact she has said very little about her own work to me (and what she did mention is widely known), and has been sparing in her own views of the future, other than to say early on that she agreed with my concerns over the potential for meat to play a role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

That is a concern I began expressing publicly in late April and is summed up in this passage from my open letter to The Australian Prime Minister and Ministers for Health and Agriculture published on my site on 29 April:

A far more significant and society-wide concern is the potential for SARS-CoV-2 contamination of meat during processing and its persistence in product which may lead to processed meat being a significant factor in spreading and prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic.

I then released on 1 May a detailed post on the issue entitled “COVID-19 And Food Safety in Processed Meat“.

I also expressed these concerns in comments on “The Conversation” which has been my go-to site to drive reader interest in my own site (given that I am hamstrung by not participating in Twitter for the same reasons discussed above).

Now that potential has been proven by a nice piece of research by a group in Singapore headed by an ex-pat Australian (whom I had been aware of since he wrote an interesting article published on The Conversation in March). I stumbled upon a reference to this new research in a news article just prior to publishing my most recent piece on the topic, which prompted a quick but prominent paragraph insertion in that post.

Given that in my piece I had been writing about my being an outsider being an advantage to me, including by not being subjected to the omnipresent coercive pressures that career scientists face (which this more recent article has also highlighted), I was keen to write to the senior author with some questions on why he did the work and how it was funded. Dale responded promptly and was very obliging.

It was not until later that I began to think about how I had a reader from Singapore looking around my site some time back, who had not visited again since. When I looked through the viewing logs for my site I saw that they had visited on 1 May and again on 5 May looking at several pages, when I had just released my report on the potential for contaminated meat to spread SARS-CoV-2, “COVID-19 and Food Safety“, and when I had been active in promoting my concerns over this potential including writing comments on “The Conversation” and open letters to politicians.

As I said in my recent post about my career, I had to accept when I retired that I was never going to be given the full credit I deserved for my contribution to my field.

Now in the COVID-19 pandemic what is most important is that good science is performed to help humanity to overcome our serious challenges. And as I said in a comment below the pre-print of this research, I am very pleased that these researchers have conducted this research and so very well.

If, however, the idea, or the seed of the idea, to conduct this research was gained by reading my ideas then it is only right that I be recognised for my contribution in some manner, even if I am a maverick outsider!

Just a little food for thought to those who can make or encourage the adjustment…

Or not…

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

© 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.

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

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update 4 September

WHO has stopped releasing daily Situation Reports and wisely is publishing a dashboard (similar to Johns Hopkins). As at 6:31 pm CEST 3 September, there have been 25,884,895 confirmed cases globally with 859,130 deaths.

Source: John Hopkins University. Now that exponential growth in case numbers, and consequently deaths, has taken it’s toll, these trends now resemble fully-laden tankers which deviate from their paths only slowly (except for Peru, which is a little odd but probably reflects reclassifications). The Americas remains the worst affected region, and that upward inflexion in US deaths is now visible, though Brazil (and soon Mexico and then Columbia) has overtaken the US in term of deaths per 100,000 people. There is no other way to describe this for Americans but very sad, because it should be obvious to all that the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, and the world’s richest nation, should have done a whole lot better at protecting its people than this…

It is difficult to believe that one whole month has passed since my last “Update”. Of course, I have not remained silent over that time writing 3 COVID-19-related posts which I consider some of my most important work:

The outbreak in Melbourne has been dampened by the introduction of stringent social distancing measures but daily new cases are not yet consistently below 100. Moreover, the psychology of the situation, understanding that stringent measures will not be eased until confirmed cases fall, may be making people with only minor symptoms reluctant to be tested. That is why I agree with mass testing (initially based on pooled testing such as households, etc.) In my previous update on 4 August I spoke of my concern of a northward progression to the outbreaks, and indeed NSW is having a difficult time constraining the growing number of cases (though, being a conservative government, officials are extremely reticent to introduce stricter measures.) And in my state of Queensland authorities are throwing everything at contract tracing what seems to be increasing numbers of flare-ups. While I feel very indebted to the contact tracers, I have serious concerns that (especially) NSW is straining to sustain the effort and prevent a dangerous escalation.

I have to be honest – I am wondering whether we in Australian have been duped by conservative politicians, because I have not heard anything recently about that aggressive suppression strategy defined by an aim for zero community transmission. Instead all I hear from them is pressure, in the other direction, on loosening measures. Worse still, a recent past conservative PM spoke out in very dark Trumpian/BoJo-ian terms (which means it is definitely time to call it out in another upcoming post).

This contrasts with New Zealand which has dealt swiftly, including promptly introducing strict social isolation measures, with an outbreak centred around a frozen food importer and distributor. These measures aimed at minimising loss of life have a high level of support and their people are justifiably proud of their achievements which seem to have enhanced national confidence and cohesiveness.

On a personal note, while I have settled into my new normal, which will persist for some considerable time, and which will never return to its pre-COVID state, but will eventually settle somewhere between the two – the exact positioning largely determined by how effective are the vaccines currently under trial – I have been dealing with a persistent melancholy causing significant intraspection even though my region of Australia has had only minor restrictions over the recent months.

(I should be clear that my family’s behaviour, other than our children returning to school, has not altered greatly since March as we well understand that by the time we learn of clusters often many will already be infected, and we consider it a better psychological strategy to consider life under a COVID suppression strategy to consist of rolling periods of greater restrictions interspersed with only slightly greater freedoms.)

If I am accurate in my intraspection, the sadness that I feel is not really that my freedoms have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Rather it is the knowledge that humanity still suffers unbearable loss, and I remain at risk of personal loss, while the pandemic is ongoing.

We are in a flat period of waiting for news on vaccine trials – the hoped for silver bullet. Donald Trump has set a deadline of 1 November for the initiation of a mass vaccination program – conveniently before the election, but not too early before the election so that the undoubted issues will become well known.

As I said in my 23 July update, it is difficult to overstate what is at stake for vaccine companies. In investing parlance, I would describe the risks around an early vaccine delivery to be asymmetric for the vaccine companies, in that they have much more to lose from it going wrong then they have to gain from delivering it a few months earlier.

Of course President Trump only cares about the risks to his re-election.

I doubt very much that many Americans will be given the opportunity to receive the vaccine prior to their winter.

My family, like all others, are in search of some light to the end of the tunnel and I wanted to share how I have come to rationalise our future and how I have been preparing them for it as I do believe it to be one of optimism from where we currently stand if one basic condition is met – that Australia does actually prioritise protecting human life and does authentically aim for zero community transmission.

(If we were to listen to the likes of Tony Abbott, who like to pretend that only “old people” are killed by this virus – as bad as that is in itself – then our misery will certainly escalate along with case numbers and deaths as all but the most ignorant people fear loss of their own and others’ lives.)

I believe that one major key to feel optimistic about the future is to have worked hard on accepting that our pre-COVID reality is lost forever. I said it from my very first writing on the subject in February, and I said it to my family then, also. I also believe that once that has been accepted broadly within society, at that point we will have been through the worst of the psychological challenges because I am certain that things will improve from here if only because we have so much lower expectations. (Of course for some of us it will get worse as we experience personal loss, and that should never be forgotten or downplayed.)

Based on what I am hearing from vaccine experts, I think that we should prepare for (again in investing parlance, my base case is for) a vaccine ready to be administered en masse in about 6-8 months throughout much of the developed world that is around 50% effective and which will require a booster at least half yearly. If we are lucky it may be 70% effective.

I think hoping for more would be to set ourselves up for disappointment, and we also need to be prepared for a lower effectiveness for some (hopefully not all) of the earliest candidates.

I think it will be difficult to make vaccination compulsory, especially given how “new” each of the vaccines will be, especially if they have low efficacy – so lower benefit at the individual level. However, at the population level a lower efficacy level increases the importance of a very high vaccination rate. That will be a very difficult paradox for politicians to deal with.

At the individual level, those who are vaccinated will gain appreciable advantage even from a 50% effective vaccine. If I am confident that the safety protocols have been followed on the vaccine development, then I will certainly be very pleased for each of my family to have a 50% reduction in the probability of becoming infected, and then introducing infection into our household. When that probability is multiplied by the probabilities of adverse outcomes from being infected, the worst of course being death, then I see this as a significant advance for my family.

At the population level, however, a 50% effective vaccine would mean that many measures that have been introduced – by Government regulation and/or by individual choice (such as wearing of face masks) – will need to be continued to reduce the risk of infection to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

Complacency and fear will continue to drive responses by people. The hard-hearted right wing types who have been pushing for looser measures all along will seek to encourage complacency and over-confidence in the benefits of the vaccine. However, the trauma of the pandemic will mean that many will remain cautious and fearful, which to a point will be justified, but for some that anxiety may create lifelong risk aversion (as the Great Depression did for young adults who remained distrustful of banks for the rest of their lives to the point of stashing cash in their houses and even in their yards!)

The opportunity for a 50% reduction of risk is significant, and those with the capacity to logically think through risk will recognise that quickly and behave accordingly, especially if those additional risk measures are maintained. On the whole I think the population will only gradually shift away from “pandemic behaviours”, and the longer it takes to develop a vaccine with 80-90% effectiveness against the novel coronavirus, and preferably coronaviruses in general, the more long-lasting on a society-wide basis will be those “pandemic behaviours”.

To conclude, the more effective a vaccine and the higher the vaccination rate, the more measures can be loosened without increasing risk to the entire population. These reductions while being at least as safe will improve sentiment amongst the population. For that reason I do believe that for those prepared to accept that we will never go back to how things were before will find this as a source of optimism. (I will discuss in that upcoming post that this inability to let go of the past, as encouraged by conservative politicians including Tony Abbott, is holding people back from feeling greater optimism.)

Bear in mind, again, however, that all of this is predicated on the pandemic not worsening from where it is now. If that occurs, then there is significantly less reason for optimism going forward because our expectations will first need to re-base even lower.

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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


COVID-19 Risks With Animals

Now that Prime Minister Morrison has clarified that the aim of Australia’s aggressive suppression strategy is zero community transmission, we need to begin to reposition to be more proactive rather than reactive towards COVID-19.

Australia has long been a world leader in biosecurity policy and implementation, and together with our natural advantages from being a relatively remote island, we have managed to remain free from many of the important animal and plant diseases and pests.

Think about it, on your overseas travels, what other countries so jealously guard the good health of primary industries and important native plants and wildlife?

The biosecurity operations that travellers into Australia witness at airports and cruise terminals is only the tip of the iceberg.

But this is an article about the COVID-19 pandemic, the most serious disease challenge to confront humanity in a century. Why are we talking about animal diseases?

When an infectious disease is first discovered a key aspect of management is to understand the host range of the pathogen, whether it be a virus, bacteria or other organism that causes the disease. 

If we are discussing a virus, the host range refers to all the organisms which may be infected by that virus.

This is important because in order to manage disease outbreaks we need to study the epidemiology – the way the pathogen spreads – in all its potential hosts.

Some pathogens infect only a small number of organisms, and thus have a narrow host range, while others have a broad host range.

The broader the host range the more challenging will be efforts to prevent its introduction or reintroduction, and the management of outbreaks.

The more animal species that may be infected by a particular pathogen, the greater the routes for introduction of the pathogen, and once introduced the greater the potential for populations of animals to act as reservoirs from which disease outbreaks can be re-initiated. 

Unfortunately, research-based predictions suggested that the novel coronavirus, named SARS-CoV-2, has a broad host range, and real-world research and observations through the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic is confirming this to be the case.

Initial studies were done with the aim of determining from where the virus originated, or what was the original host of SARS-CoV-2 and whether the virus went through any other hosts – called intermediate hosts – from which people in Wuhan first became infected.

Bats were suspected as the original host because a former colleague of mine, Dr Shi Zhengli, found that they were the original host for the SARS virus. Based in Wuhan, Shi also led the group which discovered that a novel coronavirus was the cause of COVID-19.

These studies are laborious necessitating surveying and taking samples from farmed and wild animals for signs of infection or prior infections. The original work by Shi and her group necessitated climbing through caves knee-deep in pungent guano to collect samples from bats.

In the COVID-19 pandemic time is of the essence so scientists have utilised what is known of the way that the novel coronavirus enters human cells to predict its potential host range. This is a critical aspect because viruses cannot reproduce outside of cells; they must enter cells to multiply and spread infection within the body and then to be shed to spread infection to other hosts.

Initially these studies were performed to narrow down the search for a potential intermediate host. That initial source and intermediate host(s) for the novel coronavirus (I will use this description hereon for SARS-CoV-2) have not yet been identified with real world investigations. 

Those predictive studies found that, unsurprisingly, the closely related primates are the most likely to also be susceptible to infection by the novel coronavirus. Consistently predicted to be susceptible to infection included a broad range of commercially or culturally significant mammals including: cattle, horses, goats, sheep, bison, water buffalo, hamsters, cats (domestic and wild), rabbits, ferrets and some rodent species, while predictions on camels and pigs varied.

Other interesting findings from these studies showed that cetaceans, marine mammals, were found to be highly likely to be susceptible to infection, but that raises the issue of pathways for and likelihood of exposure. 

Of particular interest in Australia, the one monotreme (egg-laying mammal) and four marsupial species studied were predicted to have a very low likelihood of being susceptible to infection.

Perhaps the most curious finding was that bats and pangolins, considered the most likely original and intermediate hosts for the novel coronavirus, were less likely to be infected via this channel. In other words, it seems likely that the novel coronavirus can utilise more than one mechanism to enter host cells, which suggests that the host range may be even broader than these studies predicted.

While the predictive studies suggesting a broad range were concerning, interactions between potential hosts and viruses are extraordinarily complex so observations with real animals are vital.

These studies take the form of transmission trials to establish infections by unnatural routes (injection) or natural routes (swabbing virus onto membranes or cohabitation with infected animals), along with analysis of samples from sick or surveyed farmed or wild animals.

Actual transmission of important pathogens under experimental conditions requires biosecure facilities which are rare. These trials are important because conditions can be strictly managed and replicated to confirm research findings, and animals are exposed to a known amount of the pathogen (under conditions strictly audited for ethical considerations). 

This approach allows the development of animal models to study infections with pathogens which infect people, but it is obviously time consuming and resource intensive. 

In transmission trials by swabbing the novel coronavirus onto nasal membranes, infection could not be established in pigs, chickens or ducks. However, cats, bats and ferrets were infected, and these species passed on the infection to in-contact animals of the same species making it clear that they are susceptible to the virus and will transmit infection. Transmission studies suggested dogs have low susceptibility to infection, but some did show signs of infection.

While transmission trials with SARS-CoV-2 are ongoing, real world developments are progressing faster as the virus spreading rapidly and widely amongst people has led to a broader range of animals being exposed. 

We are learning that indeed the novel coronavirus can infect a broad range of other mammals.

Initially there were reports of companion pets such as cats and dogs found to be infected with novel coronavirus. In April lions and tigers at a zoo in New York were found to be infected by the novel coronavirus, and the most likely source was an infected zoo employee.

More recently there have been reports of outbreaks of disease amongst farm animals infected by the novel coronavirus. Mink in at least 25 farms in Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark have been found to be infected with the novel coronavirus, and it is suspected that the virus was transmitted between the mink and the workers in both directions in this environment.

In one outbreak in Spain 87% of mink were found to be infected. Detection of the novel coronavirus in animals necessitates the culling of the entire stock of mink.

This highlights some profoundly serious considerations.

It raises the issue of epidemiological surveillance for the virus in farmed populations of susceptible or potentially susceptible animals. Also, the risks of some infected material entering the processing, or pet or human food, chain must be addressed.

Meat processing facilities have been the site of serious outbreaks of COVID-19 amongst workers globally. Attention has focused on the environmental conditions within these facilities and the general living conditions for workers which favour contagion.

These host range studies suggest the potential for the novel coronavirus to be introduced into the meat processing plants is not just with the workers but with the animals that are being processed.

The novel coronavirus has been shown to maintain viability, without any loss of infectivity, for 3 weeks on the surface (i.e. simulating contamination) of fish, chicken and pork stored at normal refrigeration temperature of +4ºC and normal commercial freezer temperature of -20ºC. Moreover, a similar coronavirus has been shown to remain viable in meat frozen for 2 years.

This highlights the potential for the spread of the virus geographically and over time within meat. Virus actually within tissues, due to infection of the animal prior to slaughter, is likely to be present at much higher titres (quantities) and is likely to be more persistent (survive for longer) than virus lying on the surface of meat due to contamination. Thus meat from an infected animal would represent a higher risk than meat that was contaminated with the novel coronavirus.

As for the risks associated with transmission of COVID-19 with contaminated meat, the risks of transmission to people from animals infected by the novel coronavirus are being downplayed by authorities in the US and even in Australia.

In the US the argument is similar to that discussed in the companion post to this, On The Risk of Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 With Contaminated Meat, that with their limited resources they need to concentrate their efforts to slow spread of their very severe pandemic with other more direct strategies such as testing of people.

As discussed previously, Australia together with New Zealand and other countries that have mounted aggressive responses that have succeeded in eliminating or very strongly suppressing the pandemic, the situation is very different. In these countries much greater attention must be turned to proactive biosecurity measures to limit the probability of re-introduction of the novel coronavirus.

These countries have much to gain from that proactivity in terms of protection of human life and also their important domesticated and native animals.

There are clear implications here for Australian primary industries which trade on an image of animals being raised in pristine and natural environments free from major infectious disease. If that is maintained through the COVID-19 pandemic that will provide significant economic benefits to rural Australia.

On the other hand, if the novel coronavirus is found in populations of commercially significant animals then culling will be required to curtail its spread.

In the companion article to this one I mentioned that the new anti-food wastage campaign initiated very recently in China may be in part due to concerns about food security (obtaining sufficient food) if food safety was called into question during the COVID-19 pandemic. It may be that this aspect, the potential for important food animals to carry infection, may be what is driving that apparent anxiety. It would also be acutely concerning for the World Health Organisation with the remit to “promote health, keep the world safe, and guard the vulnerable”.

The more the virus spreads within people in Australia the greater the probability companion, domesticated and wild animals will be exposed to the virus, and thus for it to escape into the wild and become endemic. This will create reservoirs of the virus to cause future outbreaks in people and other animals.

At this stage only a few native Australian species of mammals have been the subject of predictive studies on whether they may be susceptible to infection by the novel coronavirus, and no transmission trials have been reported. From these limited studies it appears that the unique native Australian mammalian fauna may be less susceptible to infection.

This evolutionary distinction may work in their favour, by being refractory (not susceptible to infection), or their naivety may increase their susceptibility to infection and severe disease. That is difficult to predict when it is suspected that the novel coronavirus utilises multiple mechanisms to establish infection.

There are three key takeaways for Australia from this emerging knowledge around the broad host range for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19:

1) if Australia’s aim is zero community transmission, we need to be extremely aggressive in minimising outbreaks because the longer or more intense the outbreak the greater the opportunity for other susceptible animals to be exposed and become a reservoir for the virus to re-establish infections in people;

2) Australia needs to be proactive and utilise its biosecurity expertise to determine what pathways exist for the virus to enter Australia other than being carried by people, for example in animal products or with live animal “passengers” on cargo ships; and

3) To protect primary industries, and as custodians of special and precarious native fauna, Australia needs to be acutely aware of the need to assess and manage the risks posed by the introduction of the novel coronavirus into native, domesticated and feral animal populations, and should commence surveillance for the novel coronavirus in domesticated and wild animals starting in areas that have been identified as hotspots for infection in people.

Drafted entirely by Brett Edgerton on 28 July, with minor revisions and additions on 26 August immediately prior to publishing.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020


On The Likelihood Of Transmission Of SARS-CoV-2 From Contaminated Meat

Executive Summary

Citizens of countries that have fought off earlier waves of the COVID-19 pandemic rightly guard their (relative) freedom from COVID-19 fiercely. Remote and/or isolated communities, from small villages through to island nations such as those in the Pacific, many with limited resources to fight an outbreak, fear its introduction and need to focus intently on prevention. In these situations the effectiveness of handwashing and face masks at slowing infection spread are secondary to understanding the ways in which SARS-CoV-2 may be introduced to their communities. Even though many scientists and/or Government officials have attempted to downplay its significance, one area of increasing concern is the potential for the establishment of new clusters of infection via contaminated perishable food and especially fresh or frozen meat. This is especially pertinent as SARS-CoV-2 may remain infective on fresh meat at 4 degrees Celsius for over three weeks and for several years in frozen meat. It is agreed that in regions experiencing severe COVID-19 outbreaks this route of transmission is less likely a major contributor to its spread. Concentrating on just that misses the point, however. While the likelihood of being infected by SARS-CoV-2 from processed meat might be lower than other routes, and may be very low, the consequence of such infection for many communities around the world is so great that the scientific community must begin to acknowledge the veracity of this risk and begin to conduct the necessary research to develop risk mitigation. Until credible and replicable research is forthcoming, application of the precautionary principle is entirely appropriate.

I have been alerting readers to the risks around the geographic and temporal (over time) spread of SARS-CoV-2 from fresh and frozen meat contaminated by infected meat processor workers since it became known that these workplaces are centres of major outbreaks.

I have also ruminated for Governments to address these risks (note that I still have received no response to this letter).

All the while experts and Government officials have dismissed the risks with a blanket statement that “there is no evidence” that this represents a risk.

Recent research by a group headed by an Australian, Prof Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in the division of infectious diseases at the National University Hospital in Singapore, has shown that SARS-CoV-2 remains viable for at least three weeks at 4 degrees Celsius on the surface of processed prawns, salmon and pork, thus confirming the potential for this route of transmission.

Throughout this pandemic I have been prescient discussing risks with the COVID-19 pandemic, and about failings of Governments and their officials. That is not because I am especially brilliant or better informed. Obviously I am a complete outsider and only equipped with the knowledge that is public, and general knowledge and intuition from prior experience as a research scientist and biosecurity policy analyst.

Being an outsider is my greatest advantage for several reasons. I am not subject to intense group think by spending all of my time with other individuals necessarily focused on this one major challenge. More importantly, however, is the fact that I am entirely free of conflicts of interest: I have no colleagues who I want or need to stay “good” with (vital for future career progression due to peer review and input into publications and grant applications, or collaborations), I do not have to be concerned about relationships with industry (another important source of funding and considerable political power), I do not need to consider how an employer considers my comments will affect their business model (note universities are major stakeholders in international flows of people, especially students), I don’t need to be concerned at whether politicians will be annoyed with my comments (as those who have the final say over much grant funding and general funding for the sector and specific institutes), and perhaps most critically, I don’t need to be concerned for protecting my professional reputation within a field, generally within the academic community, and for my own security both financial and how I view my own contribution to the world.

I have none of these conflicts. I have no reputation to protect because I knew when I retired that those who remained would have the opportunity to write the history of my career in the way that they chose, and given that I had to deal with a number of sociopaths in Australia (which is what my old boss at Biosecurity Australia, Dr David Banks, was getting at in his farewell speech for me), they were always going to write that history in a manner that flattered them and detracted from me. (This began happening even before I retired, e.g. some reviewers of my Australian grant and fellowship applications inferred that they credited my early career success to my PhD supervisor – and likely some reviews were by he, himself – when in reality we were barely on speaking terms for the final crucial, and my most productive, 2.5 years of my PhD program.)

There are very many conflicts faced by the “experts” and these are very real and serious considerations. Of course how much they allow those conflicts to affect their opinions and/or how they choose to express those opinions will differ between individuals, but it must be said that science very definitely does select for political aptitude.

I often say that to succeed in science one has more to learn from the reality television show “Survivor” than in science journals, and with the perspective gained from 17 years of retirement from science I have found no better explanation for my own challenges to maintain a career – while I was an emerging leader in my field due to my ability to perform scientific research – is my lack of political aptitude. As will be abundantly clear from my writing at MacroEdgo, politics in all of its forms annoys me and I have little patience for it, and I have no problem with saying that it should have no place in science or how science is applied for the benefit of humanity.

I am a purist in this way and always have been. Human beings are political animals, however, and I have had to accept that it will never be possible to eradicate politics from any area of human endeavour. Nonetheless, I believe wholeheartedly that mankind benefits enormously when strong, persistent and effective measures are taken to minimise, in all of its forms, dysfunctional politics in science.

Now that I have set that background context to this discussion, I want to be extremely clear about the risks that I will discuss in this post.

In this discussion I am referring to the presence of SARS-CoV-2 inside of meat packaging, i.e. was on the surface of the meat as it entered food packaging, not on the external surfaces of the packaging. Of course the risks there are also relevant, but I agree with others that they are likely less because the outside surfaces of packaging are subject to harsher and more variable conditions which would act to inactivate the virus more rapidly. Moreover, to the extent that these surfaces can act as a means of transmission, they may be re-inoculated at any stage through the product cycle including immediately before an end consumer brings it into their home

I am also not referring to the issue of whether the meat has virus within its cells – in other words, in the event that the animal was carrying infection by SARS-CoV-2. This in itself is a very serious topic for discussion as the risks would be greater in this case. I have a paper in preparation on this particular issue.

Even though experts have stated that the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2 within processed meats, including seafood, other white meats and red meats, is not substantiated by scientific observation and is considered very low risk, real world developments continue to progress so fast as to cast considerable doubt on these entirely unscientific statements.

First cutting boards in a food market in Beijing, used to butcher salmon imported from Europe, were associated with the emergence of a COVID-19 cluster. The significance of the finding is difficult to know with certainty. This led to China initiating a number of biosecurity initiatives including requiring attestations from exporters that their products are free from SARS-CoV-2 and surveillance of fresh and frozen food imports for the virus by PCR to detect the viral genome. The details of this surveillance program are not well understood and it is not clear whether some packaged products are opened and tested or whether just external surfaces of packaging are swabbed. Recently this surveillance led to the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in shipments of chicken from Brazil, a country experiencing severe pandemic, and 7 facilities have been banned from exporting product. Other countries have followed China’s lead in banning chicken imports from Brazil until a protocol is developed which provides the surety that China seeks.

At the same time, a new cluster in New Zealand – after the virus was not detected in the country for over 100 days – centred around a cold facility which handles imported frozen foods. Genomic testing has revealed that the strain of COVID-19 had not been detected in the country previously strongly suggesting that it is newly introduced. There have been no findings suggesting an alternate route of introduction for the virus.

Many experts who have discussed these risks previously, and even many who are studying these latest developments, have stated that they consider the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 with processed food to be very low. Even the Chinese scientist advising on China’s response to COVID-19 has said “let’s not exaggerate it”. New Zealand scientists also are mostly quick to suggest that they do not think that the latest cluster did come from imported food, even though their extensive studies have failed to reveal another likely cause. Post-event studies are difficult as testing for the virus in this environment is not conclusive as what I am discussing is the presence of the virus within packaging (and perhaps the workers consumed some product at home).

Now I realise that some will assume from my writing and my videos that I consider the risk of spread of COVID-19 with processed meats to be much higher than these experts.

Let me be clear – I do not disagree with the experts on the level of risk posed by this manner. I would prefer to refer to it as low rather than very low, but that semantic difference relates to how the receiver interprets the statement. After all, we are not talking about a strict scale linking the level of risk directly to a quantified level of probability. So the words chosen to describe the level of risk are as much about the desired affect on those receiving the message as it is about the actual level of risk.

The reality is that such statements lead the listener or reader to infer that because the risk is low (or very low) then it is not significant.

Even though I agree that the risk is likely to be low, it is not insignificant, not by a long way. That is because the “risk” that is being inferred in that statement is the likelihood of the event occurring, i.e. the probability that somebody consuming processed meat will be infected by SARS-CoV-2. But true risk in this context has a broader definition as it also encompasses the consequences that flow from that event happening.

To explain that in dramatic fashion, as I showed in my detailed video, one of the more credible views on how SARS-CoV-2 first infected humans was during the butchering and/or consumption of an infected original or intermediate host animal.

Obviously the consequences of SARS-CoV-2 jumping into humans was enormous (some times there are no words that seem to capture the full scale of what is being described).

Clearly the consequences of that event mean that the risk was high even though the probability of the event occurring was low. That is why so many are now talking about what needs to be done to ameliorate the risks of a similar event occurring again, such as stopping wet markets and/or the trade in wild animals, and I bet that many others, at a moment of despair, have indulged in the futile pass-time of wishing that these measures had been in place earlier to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from ever occurring.

So the key is that even if the risk of something occurring is low, that does not mean that it should be considered insignificant. This is one such time.

Right now there are many qualitative risk analyses on COVID-19 being done, not just in Government offices, but in homes, around the world. As I have highlighted from my earliest writing, sadly for some that assessment goes along the lines of “I need to earn an income to be able to feed my family, and even though I may become infected and die, my family will surely die if they do not eat”.

Governments in poor countries must consider that in their wider risk management programs for COVID-19.

Governments in wealthy countries have the resources to ensure that choices for their own citizens are not so stark, but financial aspects certainly do come into considerations.

While these Governments of wealthy countries speak of concerns about the financial security of their citizens, in reality I believe that they are more concerned about their business elites who are lobbying to keep economies open (I have another post in late stages on this topic). 

A complication in all risk assessments around COVID-19 is that it is a pathogen known to mankind for only 8 months, so the gaps in information necessary to draw strong conclusions are considerable.

Where there are measures that could be taken to reduce the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2 on the basis of the precautionary principle, but where there would be significant impacts to (some or all) business elites, it is easy for Governments and their officials to reject those measures with the blanket statement “there is no evidence”.

Here is the critical point. My experience in biosecurity policy development, implementation and research has shown me that when Governments do not want to deal with the consequences of research findings, then they simply will not encourage – and at times will actively discourage or work to impede – it to be performed or will seek to suppress its publication or actively seek to discredit the work or the researcher.

It is vital that research be done on whether processed meat from facilities that have been the site of COVID-19 clusters has the potential to spread the virus geographically and temporally.

I say temporally – over time – as well as geographically because similar coronaviruses are known to remain infective for over two years when frozen, raising the potential that a country which has (theoretically) eliminated the virus for over two years could experience another outbreak even if their subsequent international biosecurity was perfect and there were no more importations of the virus.

These risks are not insignificant, and they most definitely do have relevance.

In countries with major COVID-19 outbreaks and weak measures to impede the spread of the virus, it is obvious that this is not a major area for consideration because it is likely that people have a far greater risk of contracting infection outside of their homes. Thus in those countries there is much “lower hanging fruit” to be taken to stop the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2.

In countries that have worked hard to stamp out outbreaks, like in New Zealand and Australia, and even in China where at great initial financial and personal cost they succeeded in stamping out major outbreaks, the situation is very different.

Such countries have done the hard work, and have experienced the rewards of less loss of life while other nations have suffered catastrophes, and so their citizens rightly want to jealously protect their COVID-19-free status.

Moreover, there are remote communities that largely due to luck, with a low movement of people meant SARS-CoV-2 was not introduced before the devastation it caused was so apparent, have managed to remain free of COVID-19, e.g. many Pacific islands. Many of these have the added risk factor of having limited capability to respond if COVID-19 were introduced.

Small communities, and even down to household units, all over the world, including in countries which have experienced major outbreaks, have also worked hard at keeping the virus out and are justifiably afraid.

At these levels, the consequence of the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 would be devastating.

Who is going to stand up for these people and say that there is a certain level of risk here, and if those in a position to encourage and fund such studies are afraid of the political and economic consequences from the potential outcomes of research into those risks, who will?

It is not at all accurate to say that we cannot, or it is impractical to, test for virus presence in and on food. For nearly 20 years Australia has tested all imported shipments of uncooked prawns for the presence of white spot virus. I know this well because these import conditions were imposed around one month after I left Biosecurity Australia where I had been the desk officer responsible for prawn importation policy, and I strongly disagreed with this policy change because it was beyond what was reasonable for the risk posed and it was done to appease the prawn farming industry mostly as a technical barrier to trade (i.e. to reduce competition and increase compliance cost of imports). 

I have long pointed to Australia’s world-class, and I might add very costly, biosecurity as a very significant advantage in our fight to minimise the human impacts of COVID-19. It is a real pity when it becomes clear that that capability appears to be considered by the political class to be strictly for protecting financial interests not human life. 

National politicians and officials are not the only actors in this space. There are multi-national organisations which are playing key roles in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and chief amongst them is the World Health Organisation (WHO). I have a high level of respect and appreciation for the WHO and their officials, and I have commonly expressed as much in my posts.

The WHO’s position in downplaying the risks associated with COVID-19 spread in food is interesting and at first blush disappointing. However, several things must be acknowledged. The WHO is not free from political interference and that is clear by what the current US administration said about their closeness with China, and then the US pressure on the WHO by moving to leave it.

At a pragmatic level it must be recognised that the World Health Organisation has a much wider mandate than assisting the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, important as that is. Likely the WHO is very concerned about the broader health implications of disruptions to global food supplies if there is a major scare that COVID-19 may be spread with food.

Perhaps this issue is at the heart of a new national campaign in China against food waste which, due to the apparent immediacy and conviction with which it is being implemented, confused expert observers who have suggested that the Chinese leadership has suddenly become very concerned about food security.

For scientists the science should at all times dictate their actions, including using language that conveys the scientific facts and realities, being mindful of contemporary media’s obsession with 3 second sound bites which will not convey the full picture.

Good science requires humility, and from humility comes a supple mind that is open to all possibilities. 

When scientists lack that humility, and their ego grows from being in a position to influence decisions that will profoundly affect the lives of millions of people, the consequences can be disastrous. Perhaps that is why Sweden’s chief epidemiologist deleted so many emails that were requested by journalists looking into what was the decision process that led to that scientist recommending a very light-touch response to the COVID-19 pandemic, presumably centred around pursuing herd immunity via natural infection, only a few months into the pandemic when there was a paucity of information on critical aspects such as: how the virus caused disease in humans, what was the full consequence (short, medium and long term) of infections in humans, whether infected people develop immunity following natural infection and would that immunity persist long enough to provide substantial protection, and whether the behaviour of citizens would result in the minimal economic impacts that were presumably sort by introducing only minimal measures (obviously a non-scientific issue).

Presently only China is prepared to openly consider and research the risk of spread of the COVID-19 pandemic geographically and temporally in contaminated processed meat. I agree that it is possible that there might be some element of this issue being used as a technical barrier to trade, especially when the current US administration, along with some allies, is intent on being provocative. However, the aggressive and effective Chinese response to stamp out COVID-19 shows that they have fought hard to keep their citizens safe and so it is hardly surprising that they would want to understand all of the risks that may lead to the reintroduction of COVID-19.

I, for one, am grateful that they have made this an issue when many others would continue to dismiss it behind a blanket statement of “there is no evidence”.

What is more, I look forward to their further findings being made available so that the pressure will be maintained on other Governments to implement policies which will keep their own citizens safer in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, I will share my thoughts on managing the risks of being infected by SARS-CoV-2 when preparing and consuming processed meat.

This issue highlights the importance of understanding from where our food comes. As the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria grew, I contacted the supermarket from where I buy most of my meat. They refused to give any further indication on the source of their meats other than to say that they are only legally obliged to confirm that it is of Australia origin.

With major clusters in many Victorian meat processing plants, I think it is clear that customers have a clear right to greater information about their food and should be able to access more granular information on the origin of their food, especially the region where it was produced and processed.

In the absence of mandated testing for presence of SARS-CoV-2, I consider it preferable to procure meat from regions unaffected by COVID-19. This obviously highlights the benefits of good relations with local producers which is less common in countries that have had the link between producers and consumers be upended by supermarkets and national/international food supply chains. It does also highlight the level of confidence of surveillance for COVID-19 in workers at facilities which produce and process food products, and that encompasses an assessment of Government oversight of them as well as of individual businesses (which is standard in biosecurity assessment at the international level where audits and other assessments are conducted on the competency of local biosecurity/quarantine authorities and individual processors).

The following are general good health standards to adopt, especially when dealing with meat of uncertain origin and COVID-19 status:

  • attempt to maintain food preparation areas clutter-free and wipe down with mild disinfectant before and after preparing food;
  • minimise the number of people in the food preparation area while handling uncooked meat;
  • wash hands before and regularly while handling uncooked meat, being extremely careful not to contaminate other surfaces, and do not touch your face with contaminated hands;
  • minimise dropping of meat or packaging containing fluids which can lead to aerosolisation of viruses;
  • with their longer “use by” dates, I am keeping my red meats longer before consuming until much closer to the the “use by” date, and then freezing if the butcher has confirmed it is safe to do so, and even if I buy fresh chicken I am freezing it so that it goes through a freeze/thaw cycle – all of this will reduce (but may not eliminate) the viability/infectivity of any virus present;
  • take particular care to minimise splashing while cleaning up utensils that have come into contact with uncooked meat (particularly important with pressurised tap fittings);
  • ensure meat surfaces are well cooked as coronaviruses are rapidly inactivated at high heat; and
  • if really concerned, food grade gloves may be used and a face mask or face shield will significantly reduce risk.

The thing is that while this might seem extreme to some, after brief reflection most should realise that these are nearly all standard food safety requirements in developed countries. The difference is that most people just have not adopted them in their own homes, but if Governments refuse to give consumers greater surety over the safety of food through the COVID-19 pandemic, then this is exactly where we are at.

As a parting point, the level of risk posed, specifically around the likelihood of being infected by SARS-CoV-2 with food handling and consumption, increases significantly if food animals may be infected by the virus, and that is the subject of a soon to be released post. 

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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


An Education In Equality And Disadvantage

This is powerful… I especially like how she uses the game Monopoly as an analogy to explain disadvantage… In my post “Your Life: Something The Elites Have Always Been Prepared To Sacrifice For Their Ends” I also used a Monopoly analogy, in that case explaining how the top 10% own 7/8 of the board, with just the first 1/8 of the board, with the cheapest properties, and poignantly “income tax”, shared amongst the remaining 90%… As Kimberley Jones explains, African-Americans are mostly at the bottom of that remaining 90% who own nothing on the board, after playing the game for 450 years with the rules biased against them, and most have nothing to lose by flipping the board entirely… I love her final statement to be grateful black people only want equality and not revenge!

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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


People Before Money

Why are our right wing political “followers” so reluctant to choose society over economy – people over money – saving lives over more deaths?

The answer is simple…

Because their political power comes from the elites, the people who use their power within society to get what they want from it damn others, the people who send their children to the elite schools to build those powerful connections, the people who were bailed out in the GFC and then gave each other massive bonuses while the ordinary people felt the direct pain from their blunders, the people who do not send their own sons and daughters to war but agitate for expansion of influence and power to increase sales and wealth.

And these are the same people that will be in the front of the queue for any COVID-19 vaccine and/or effective treatments when they become available while others will have to wait in the hope that it arrives for them in time in an affordable manner.

There are few people in Australia who can talk with greater authority on this subject than me, and while that might sound brash, if you stick with me through this I will explain in personal detail why and I doubt that you will see it that way by the end.

When Morrison cries for business owners and employees I know it to be either crocodile tears or misinformed or naive.

Why do I know that? Because I grew up in a household which lived under the chronic stress of financial pressure so intense that we had become certain that any day the bank might foreclose on our business and our home, a family farm that had been owned originally by my Great Grandfather.

The pressure was so great that as a teenager I had to have the courage to stand up and literally save the people that I love from catastrophe. To save those people from embarrassment I will not go into detail of what I was called on to do, but believe me when I say that it is truly shocking and it has impacted my entire life and was a major factor in me having a breakdown and feeling overwhelmed by other life pressures as an adult.

What I kept repeating that night, while I was still yet to complete high school, was “how could you do this?”

For over a decade I did not process what had occurred, and it was never discussed again by the people involved. It was like a fuzzy dream, in reality a nightmare that even as I began to recall the events to a psychologist many years later were disjointed in my recollection. I began to understand the impact only in my 30s when visiting I lay awake all night alert to any movement throughout the rooms in case it was going to happen again.

Now I know that hard-hearted right wingers will be jumping for their faux tissues and suggesting that all of this supports their argument of needing to save the economy and livelihoods even if the cost of doing so is losing the lives of some more vulnerable people, the elderly or those with existing conditions.

Now that I have resolved all of what happened to me I realise that my repeated question that night – “How could you do this?” – was much deeper than related to that one incident.

In reality my question was how could you allow this to happen, that a family has been transformed into believing that what it does is more important than the family itself. 

That the external thing – the business, the farm (though in other families it could equate to infinite other things like the house) – was more important than the family. 

That somehow none of us was as important as keeping this “thing”, and that our lives and us as individuals was just collateral damage to that aim.

It took me a long time to stop being angry about that, and in truth there are times when that anger can be aroused again. 

Mostly I feel sad. Sad for what was lost; what I lost; and what we all lost.

So I tell anyone who is prepared to listen, I do not underestimate the stress that financial hardship causes for I know it well. But I equally know that we, especially in English-speaking countries, have progressively come under the spell of the “greed is good” credo that sees most of society competing to get one up on others.

We must realise that money and things are not the most important aspect of our lives. It is not our “things” that will be sitting next to us, tears streaming holding our hand to comfort us, when we depart this world. What we will have in our hearts is people and we will remain in theirs.

If there is anything positive to come from this pandemic, let if be that people are more important than money! And let humanity together live in that realisation!

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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 summer, 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

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update 4 August

WHO Situation Report 196 for 3 August (released 4 August Brisbane, Australia, time)

Globally: 17,918,582 confirmed cases (257,677 new), 686,703 deaths (5,810 new)

The inflection upwards in US deaths is becoming evident now, though the change in collation procedures raises questions especially under the current President. Just as I highlighted the apparent success that Africa has had in dealing with the pandemic as pieces on Bloomberg have discussed, South Africa especially has begun to become one of the most impacted countries. The Americas are still the most impacted region, but without that curious jump in the Peru line on the deaths graph the US would have the highest number of deaths relative to their population (perhaps Trump has provided some “foreign aid” to assist them with their data collation).

I was prompted to write an update today because my friend Dr Shi Zhengli has, for the first time in this pandemic, written in some detail about her work for an article published in “Science” magazine.

I would suggest that the article is well worth the read, but the magazine published her answers in full in a supplementary document, and I suggest that it is compulsory reading not just for those interested in more “meaty”, technical information, but to gain an insight into the personal cost paid by a group of scientists to make such a significant contribution to all of mankind irrespective of nationality or ancestry.

I truly hope that Zhengli and her group one day receive that apology, and it should be equal in sincerity to any given in the history of mankind.

Moreover, I believe that nobody would be more deserving of being named a Nobel Laureate than Zhengli.

I will also take this opportunity to discuss the current situation in Australia (not really to highlight the contrast between “Toxic Masculinity and Political Footballs“, but because there is another very important message in it).

Whether all of the current phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne can be put down to security breaches at quarantine hotels – and I doubt that is the case – or not is more a political question than anything else because it allows the Federal Government to sheet home the blame to Dan Andrews.

The truth is that by deciding in March/April on a suppression strategy – instead of an elimination strategy which Mr. Morrison has since adopted with a semantic maneuver placing the adjective “aggressive” before “suppression strategy” and clarifying further that the aim now is for zero community transmission – always meant that his initial decision was for Australia to have to deal with more community transmission.

As I wrote extensively on this site through the first half of this year, Mr. Morrison was little different from his ideologues in the US and UK by dithering on strong measures to minimise loss of lives out of concern for impacts on businesses. However, he had a seasonal advantage being based in the southern hemisphere with warmer weather and Australians spending more time outdoors serendipitously lessening the likelihood of transmission.

When our heroic front line health workers dealt with the first phase of the pandemic – I won’t call it a first wave because this suggests a closed population with mostly community transmission, but in this period it was almost entirely travellers returning from overseas – and the number of new cases went down to zero in most states on most days, instead of using that breathing space to prepare for the subsequent phases of the pandemic, the Federal Government concentrated almost exclusively on economics and politically herding all of the cats towards the bright lights of a fully open economy.

At the same time the expectation of greater freedoms of movement imparted on the public, especially the younger members of society, was always going to make subsequent measures challenging to implement including from a mental health perspective. Again, these were issues that I have discussed on these pages.

The southern hemisphere winter period was always going to challenge Australia. In those weeks with low case numbers, which offered some respite to the front line responders, there should have been an enormous amount of biosecurity human capital swung into action to protect Australians from the ravages of this devastating pandemic.

While our near neighbours New Zealand have basked in a bright winter glow safe without community transmission, the COVID-19 pandemic reignited in our coolest, populous state with a vengeance unseen during the earlier period.

The current phase of COVID-19 in Australia threatens to move northward.

The concerning thing is that if there is a lot of community transmission heading into summer, evidence from the sunbelt in the US and in Spain suggest that warmer climates in developed countries may have difficulty in containing the spread, possibly due to the wide use of air conditioning systems.

I personally am relieved that Mr. Morrison has adopted an elimination strategy even if for political reasons he can not bring himself to say those words. And I know that in the role that I am attempting to play for my fellow countrymen I cannot strongly prosecute an argument highlighting that he was wrong because ultimately I have gotten what I wanted and have pushed for from my first reports in February – a Prime Minister who wants to do everything necessary to minimise loss of life – and I cannot lament too loudly the time lost.

Going forward we need to implement our enormous biosecurity human capital and infrastructure to start to be more proactive rather than reactive in our battle against COVID-19.

I am currently co-writing a paper on what I consider to be a particularly important aspect of that proactivity, and as a hint, it follows on from a theme that I have discussed in a previous post as well as my previous update on 23 July below and was touched on in Zhengli’s document.

Keep out an eye for it in the press (hopefully) and I will link to it from these pages.

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

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update 23 July

WHO Situation Report 184 for 22 July (released 23 July Brisbane, Australia, time)

Globally: 14,765,256 confirmed cases (202,726 new), 612,054 deaths (4,286 new)

Source: John Hopkins University. On these data the US and Central and South American countries continue to be in the worst positions. In the US, the greater involvement of younger age groups is creating a delay in the inflection in the case numbers showing up in the deaths. Bloomberg is running a regular information piece suggesting that Africa is managing the pandemic well because of their recent experience with Ebola, which is a rare piece of good news.

Watching the progress at vaccine development is like riding a real roller coaster. One day the media is concentrating on the positive news from early stage trials with a particular vaccine candidate, the next day the news is full of disappointing news that antibodies to the novel coronavirus drop quickly in people who have been infected.

I watched two conversations on Bloomberg this week that presented the best available opinion on where we presently stand. The first was with Richard Horton, the Editor of “The Lancet”, the pre-eminent medical journal, where he said that the Oxford vaccine trial went about as well as could be expected. He cautioned, however, that it is at a very early stage, and there may be other challenges faced, so best to keep expectations well in check. The second was with Dr Vasant Narasimhan, the CEO of Novartis, whose background is in vaccinology, who said that they are not going to risk rushing the vaccine because the dangers are too serious to contemplate, and data checking would take around 6 months from the completion of trials.

I had not thought of it until he said those words, but it is difficult to overstate what is at stake here for the vaccine companies who have been under attack from the global anti-vax campaign. A timely, well tolerated and effective vaccine would go a long way towards dispatching the anti-vaxxers for once and for all. On the other hand, a problem with a vaccine that is administered to large swathes of the population would be enormously damaging to the industry, especially those companies involved, and would be a boon to the anti-vaxxers. Those dangers for the vaccine companies will ensure that time will be required to ensure that all safety boxes are properly ticked and verified before any vaccine is administered en masse.

On an equally pertinent issue – yes, believe it or not there is another issue as important – since uttering “aloud” in my previous update on 30 June my concerns over whether some of our food animals may be susceptible to infection by the novel coronavirus, I have been trawling through the literature.

One development in this area was of particular concern – a mink farm in Spain culled 100,000 animals when it was discovered that 87% of animals were infected with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 along with 7 workers. The virus is believed to have entered the farm with an infected worker, and there is concern that the virus can be transmitted both from humans to mink, and from mink to humans. The same report stated that 25 mink fur farms in the Netherlands were found to have infected animals, along with 3 farms in Denmark.

This clearly is a very serious issue as it highlights the potential for other animals to act as reservoir hosts for SARS-CoV-2 and to reseed new outbreaks in humans. This is possibly the most troubling finding for COVID-19 in recent months, and that is likely why it is not being widely discussed in the mainstream.

While that is serious enough, if food animals are found to be susceptible to infection then the situation would be worse by several orders of magnitude because difficult decisions would need to be made about whether to cull infected populations, potentially causing food shortages, and it opens up the issues of food borne transmission.

Now I know nothing about the mink industry, but it would be interesting to know whether there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 in slaughter houses which processed mink and what happens to the meat which I assume is a by-product of their main purpose of fur production.

Before discussing these implications, I should spell out that early technical research on the way that SARS-CoV-2 enters the cells of its hosts (i.e. our cells) suggested that the virus would have a relatively wide host range – i.e. these studies suggested that it could infect a large range of mammal species. These studies suggested, however, that two important food animals, chickens (obviously not a mammal) and pigs, were unlikely to be susceptible to infection. However, cattle, sheep and horses were considered highly likely to be susceptible.

These studies are predictive in nature, and real world studies are required to test those predictions and they can include observations and analyses on wild and farmed populations of animals, and through experimental infections studies using both unnatural routes (i.e. inoculation by injection) or natural routes (i.e. inoculation onto membranes, or cohabitation with infected animals).

As I stated in previous reports, biosecure facilities for testing large animals for susceptibility to serious pathogens are not common but a study reported in early July failed to produce infections in pigs and chickens, but established strong infections in ferrets and fruit bats. These results are consistent with the earlier predictions.

Now I do not want to go into deeper detail than this, but this gives the reader enough background to really have a clear understanding of the risks that this issue present. However, if the reader wishes to conduct further research then I suggest clicking on that link above and reading especially the box “research in context”. The reference list at the end of the paper is a good start to finding additional technical information. Searching terms such as “SARS-CoV-2 host range”, “transmission studies” and “ACE analysis” (ACE refers to the mode of entry to host cells to initiate infection) will provide links to most available literature.

Obviously, if it is shown that beef and/or sheep or other meat animals are susceptible to infection then that really opens up the risks associated with dispersal of the virus geographically and over time in frozen meat. The intensity of farming is always related to the risk of disease outbreak, so beef feedlots would be especially at risk if cattle are susceptible.

Importantly, real world observations and transmission studies do seem to be confirming those predictive studies.

The lack of open discussion on this topic should not be interpreted that this is a non-issue. In reality, it is such a serious issue that Governments will avoid discussing it until it becomes necessary by events. When I worked at Biosecurity Australia, the extreme public sensitivity over the idea of pathogens being present in food – even when there was no chance that the pathogen could infect humans – was foremost in the crafting of all media releases.

If it becomes clear that some of our most widely consumed food animals are found to be infected by the most serious human pathogen to emerge in a century, then reputational damage to that industry would be enormous. That is what is at stake here (too serious for obvious puns!)

I was already concerned by the potential for contamination of processed meat by infected workers. But this suggests that it is entirely possible that the route of transmission might be the other way around, also – workers being infected by meat from infected animals. (Remember my video when that was one of the most credible pathways for the virus’ initial jump into humans.)

The broad host range of SARS-CoV-2 serves to emphasise just how unwise it is to allow this pathogen to spread in human populations without doing everything within the scope of our modern scientific and biosecurity capabilities to impede it and aim for elimination. If it becomes endemic in reservoir host species, then COVID-19 will only ever be managed in humans by effective vaccines.

Finally, just imagine the value to Australia of eliminating COVID-19 if it were found that cattle and sheep are susceptible to infection. I would not like to be a conservative Government minister explaining to the bush that the opportunity to export meat from a certified COVID-19-free region was squandered. Now that really is a major economic and political benefit from an elimination strategy!

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

© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020