Issue 253: 2020 10 29: Leadership and Risk

29 October 2020

Leadership and Risk

How will history view us?

By Lynda Goetz

The population of Australia is currently estimated at almost 25.5 million.  It is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with an average population density of just 3.3 people per square kilometre.  Their Covid-19 deaths to date amount to 909, ie 0.0035 percent of the population; and yet the Australian government announced in September, when Australia went into recession for the first time in three decades, that Covid-19 has ‘wreaked havoc with the economy’.  Is this really true or is it the panic measures taken by that country and others around the world that have led to the worldwide economic catastrophe we are now witnessing?  Would we be seeing the same ‘car crash’ had we let Covid-19 run its course without the devastating lockdowns which have been implemented by governments around the world in our risk-averse times?  What exactly are we trying to avoid?  Mortality? Various coronaviruses have been around for a very long time.  For most people, this particular one is not a deadly virus.  As has been constantly reiterated, it is most dangerous for the elderly and those with co-morbidities.  That being the case, why have we all followed the authoritarian route taken by China and other Asian countries (less effectively it has to be said) and imposed strict lockdowns in a seemingly fairly futile attempt to ‘control the virus’?  It surely has become increasingly clear that these severe restrictions on personal freedom have not controlled the virus at all.  They have merely suppressed it for a while.  Eventually it will move through the population.  In doing so, it may well kill those who are ‘vulnerable’.  The vulnerable, however, might equally die of whatever else is causing their vulnerability, or they might die a little sooner because of Coronavirus. Given the situation, some might choose to live a ‘reduced’ existence, shielding themselves from the chance of catching the coronavirus, or they might take the more risky option of continuing to live their lives, doing the things they enjoy and in contact with those they care about, in the knowledge that they may die earlier than they otherwise would have done, but that at least in the meantime they would have lived, not just existed.  That should be their decision, not a matter of government legislation or regulation.  As the now famous Barnsley pensioner said in an interview last week which went viral, “I’m 83 and I don’t give a sod.”  She added, ““How can we get the country on its feet?  Money-wise?  Where’s all the money?  By the end of this year there’s going to be millions of people unemployed and you know who’s going to pay for it?  All the young ones.  Not me because I’m going to be dead.”  Some applauded her candid view and others accused her of being ‘selfish’, although it is rather hard to see in what way this is a selfish approach.  This surely is the approach which has been characteristic of humans around the world for millennia?  It is the totally risk-averse attitude of modern civilisation and modern political leadership which is the new element in this situation; the view noted in Sapiens* that the state, rather than the individual, the family or the community, now has the responsibility for and control over almost every aspect of life, as well, it seems, of life and death itself. The Radio 4 programme on Wednesday morning Across the Red Line’ with Claire Fox and David Gauke, asked the question ‘Do we need to learn to live with more risk?’  Perhaps one of the most interesting points to come out from this interesting discussion was that of responsibility.  David Gauke made the observation that he could understand the PM’s unexpectedly cautious stance since his own experience as a minister meant he was aware of the difference between being a commentator (as Boris had been as a journalist) and being the person with ultimate responsibility.  Claire Fox graciously saw this as a very valid observation, although she also pointed out that many politicians were often concerned more with damage limitation to reputation rather than real responsibility.  She acknowledged that as a commentator it was perhaps easier to take the more risky position on many things, (whilst pointing out that her strongly-held views on Brexit had led her to take real risk with her position as a commentator). So, is our Government’s authoritarian and risk-averse position, like those of other government’s around the world, to do with a sense of responsibility for the vulnerable or more to do with an eye to the future and their place in history as caring politicians concerned for the health and well-being of their people?  In taking this stance are they in fact looking after the minority and ignoring the greater good?  The greater good being the well-being of all those who may not die of Covid-19, but run the serious risk of being financially ruined; of being long-term unemployed; of missing out on education; of not getting the treatment they need for other, possibly curable conditions; of serious deterioration in the well-being and mental health of millions. Will historians in the future look at this time and marvel at the fear and panic generated world-wide and the hysterical reaction to a virus which became more deadly than the virus itself?  Will governments be judged as having erred too much on the side of caution and risk-aversion when leadership required a bold and steady conviction that the greater good meant, as it has in fact always done, the sacrifice of the few?  No longer, it seems, are our politicians prepared to look out for the majority if in the process they have to sacrifice a minority.  Minorities rule, in this as in so many other situations, currently.  Perhaps it is time for all governments, not just ours, to step back and take a good long look at the greater good, at the needs of the majority.  In so doing, they might also be helping the minority too.  Why would the ‘vulnerable’ and ‘the elderly’ (do they really mean ‘the old’?) wish to be subject to regulations which prevent them dying with their family around them or indeed perhaps more importantly, living with their family around them?  This is not leadership, it is appeasement. * A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
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