Microregulation is the new Sackcloth: Lockdown Diary

This is from a blog, and it is a bit crude. But it hits the main issue, one that having multiple laws won’t affect. The more you limit economic activity, the more the diseases of despair take over. Poverty, including engineered poverty is a killer.

It is OK to have a day of mourning, sackcloth and ashes. It is not OK to have a week. One could justify a short period of social isolation to allow contact tracing, but you cannot quarantine an entire population. You instead quarantine the sick, and allow the recovered to join the healthy.

As the BBC reports, researchers have measured the lost life-expectancy from a prolonged economic dip and found that it could outweigh the benefit of a long-term lockdown in reducing premature deaths. And the tipping point, they say, is a 6.4% decline in the size of the economy – on a par with what happened following the 2008 financial crash.

A 6.4% decline would see a loss of three months of life on average across the population, because of factors such declining living standards and poorer health care. Accordingly, an economic decline of that magnitude would eventually cost each of 4,900,000 New Zealanders a quarter of a year off their lifespans – the equivalent of 1,225,000 life years.

Will the Level 4 decision cause a 6.4% decline in New Zealand? The best available evidence is the independent opinion of the International Monetary Fund in their World Economic Outlook of April 2020. The IMF projections “show the depth of pain New Zealand’s economy will feel due to the coronavirus, forecasting a contraction of 7.2 per cent this year… The IMF believes New Zealand will see the biggest fall outside of Europe, except for Venezuela…”

So, we can now offer the first ever cost/benefit analysis for the Level 4 lockdown –

Cost: 1,225,000 life-years lost

Benefits: 1,835 life-years saved

This speaks for itself. It’s crude of course, but I’m confident it’s the best attempt that’s yet been published in this country. And it’s expressed in lives-vs-lives, which helps those slow commentators who can’t be bothered to understand any other currency.

Cost-benefit analyses that come before Cabinet are usually more sophisticated. For example, they would bring in the quality (quality-adjusted life-years or QALYs) as well as the quantity of lives lost and saved. They would recognise that some portion of the coming economic pain did not not flow solely from the Government’s determination to lead the world. They would resist New Zealand being bracketed with Venezuela. But the outcome would be much the same.


Prolonged lockdowns help no one. This the first guess and approximation, and there will a lot of arguments over time as to this kind of analysis. But the issue of the cure being worse than the disease remains. We are trying to eradicate a virus without a vaccine. The only virus we have ever eradicated from the wild is smallpox — which took 50 years with an effective vaccine. The government is not helping, but COVID is helping the mono-manicial micro-regulation.

I think I first understood the joke, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you,” when I was about 10 years old. It displays a pretty simple sentiment that was common in the rural area where I grew up: government wasn’t the solution to our problems, government was the problem. Reagan used both of those phrases during his campaign and inaugural address, but he could have been speaking for most of the farmers who had coffee in the local café.

Now, sure, those farmers were fine taking the government’s money, but what they didn’t like was when government told them what to do. From the farmers’ perspective, government was out of control even back in Reagan’s 1980.


The wearing of sackcloth continues. We are able to open businesses, but are not allowed to meet in groups over ten, as of Thursday. When the pubs open a week later, they can not have any group more than ten people in it at all. No church can have more than ten people in it.

This is not going to end well.