Laws and Lockdowns are Making Australians Dull and Dumb
Freedom of expression, movement, and the free exchange of ideas. Such liberties underpin a progressive, innovative, and economically prosperous society.
The free exchange of ideas is fundamental to charting the best path forward. As Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman observed in his book Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, you can improve decisions by aggregating multiple independent judgments.
Associational thinking or connecting the dots between disparate ideas and disciplines fosters innovation — something Steve Jobs noted in his famous Reed College commencement speech. Frans Johansson too observed this phenomenon in his book, The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation.
On the other hand, freedom of expression, movement, and the freedom to act empower us to experiment, to fail, and to learn — hallmarks of the scientific method and innovation.
As the late Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s DNA Clayton Christensen noted, challenging the status quo, taking risks, and questioning are vital attributes that underpin innovative thinking and entrepreneurship.
But when these freedoms are suppressed, we stop learning, we stop growing, and as the world marches on, we regress.
One need not look further than the public service for evidence of this.
Give a public servant a problem, and they won’t respond with independent thought and a novel and circumstantial solution. No, they will respond with a process.
“Here, fill out these forms, and we’ll get back to you within in 5 to 10 business days”.
This is precisely why organizations like Netflix and Amazon keep process and bureaucracy to a minimum. This helps these companies attract and keep the best talent, and empowers said talent to make decisions, to take action, and to learn, ultimately fostering a culture of continuous learning, speed, and innovation.
And when you burden an entire society with process, policy, red tape, and rules, you end up with a nation of people who think in terms of ‘follow the process’ — effectively passive, dull, and dumb people who don’t question or create anything.
The Rule of Law
The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index presents a portrait of the rule of law in 128 countries and jurisdictions by providing scores and rankings based on eight factors such as order and security, regulatory enforcement, and civil justice.
Unsurprisingly, Australia and New Zealand rank highly on this list, 11th and 7th respectively. Unsurprising because these nations’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals a rule-based society and an all too compliant public like few others on earth.
As I write this, the entire country of New Zealand is sending over 4 million inhabitants into a ‘snap’ four-day lockdown on the back of just one case.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the people of Melbourne are currently enduring their sixth lockdown — a “two-week” lockdown that has effectively lasted 18 months.
Melbournians aren’t permitted to venture more than 5 kilometers from home (and only for four lawful reasons), visit friends or family at home, be outside after 9PM, go to the gym, and wait for it…take kids to a playground.
All of these restrictions are a result of just 20-odd cases per day in the city, paling in comparison to global cities that are well and truly open for business such as London (3,000+ per day), New York City (4,000+ per day), and Dubai (1,000+ per day).
In fact, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, Israel, is currently recording over 6,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, yet Australia pushes on with its relentless and curious pursuit of zero case numbers.
Doing so has seen it suppress the mobility of its citizens both within its borders and without, with 38,000 Australian citizens stranded overseas and inhabitants unlucky to find themselves inside the country right now not permitted to leave without an exemption from the Government.
Australia isn’t in great company on this front. Only Malaysia, Brunei, and Laos currently ban people from leaving as a result of COVID-19. Oh, and preventing citizens from leaving is, of course, a staple of North Korean policy.
And in Sydney, the military has been deployed to ensure people conform to lockdown regulations.
You would be forgiven for thinking people are dropping dead in the streets and that mass graves are being dug across Australia’s outback. But no. Since March 2020, Australia has recorded 40,097 cases and 967 deaths. The country has recorded less than 50 COVID deaths in all of 2021 so far.
Of its all-time cases, 27,821 cases were attributed to under 60-year-olds, 27 of these fatal — an effective fatality rate of 0.00009% for people under 60 who contracted the virus.
This, of course, is not to say that we should do nothing to protect older and more vulnerable members of society. We absolutely should. But the controls deployed need to be commensurate with the risks.
Risks and Controls
Like many business graduates, I cut my teeth as an auditor for big four accounting firm, EY. When it comes to risk management, you first define the impact and probability of a risk to determine its risk profile. A high-risk profile calls for stronger controls, a low-risk profile for weaker ones. You also need to consider the unintended consequences of controls and ensure that they are acceptable.
If there’s a risk that employees can steal several hundred dollars a weak from petty cash, it would be foolish to mitigate this risk by installing a $1 million security system.
This is cost/benefit thinking.
But Australia’s response to COVID is a perfect example of controls that far exceed the risk profile and create far too many costly and unacceptable consequences.
The nation — its politicians, the opportunistic media, and the fearful and compliant public — has developed an unhealthy obsession with top-line case numbers at the expense of everything else.
Hospitalizations, deaths, long-term harm, mental health, loneliness, domestic abuse, relationship degradation, economic security, business solvency, job security, childhood development, suffering immune systems as a result of lockdown, and so many more factors don’t appear to register in the national consciousness.
When they do, they do in private.
Countries worldwide are learning to ‘live with the virus’, whereas, in Australia, the proverbial baby is being thrown at with the bathwater.
Rules taken too far do more harm than good and end up a net bad for society. If ever there was a case for rules being taken too far, this is it.
Rules Are Making Australians Dumber
Australians, already a compliant bunch owing to the nation’s convict foundations and the rule-based society this gave birth to — something I wrote about previously, are becoming dumber.
Indeed, Canadian journalist Tyler Brûlé said Australia was on the verge of becoming the world’s dumbest nation due to all of these rules, when visiting the country in 2015.
He lamented Sydney’s nightclub lockout laws, which had decimated the nightclub industry, and other over-the-top laws. “I need to be able to open a pop-up shop in Surry Hills and walk on the pavement with my wine glass. To me, that’s actually important. It is not going to bring about the collapse of society because you do that.”
The Real Cost of Cancel Culture
So why are some Australians turning to the privacy of WhatsApp and Facebook groups to speak the unspeakable?
Well, if you’re lucky, when you turn to public forums, you’ll get a strawman argument in response from people.
“Our low case numbers prove the lockdowns are working”, they’ll tell you.
Working at what exactly? Keeping case numbers low while sacrificing everything else?
When you have a flat tire, you don’t trade in your entire car.
And if you’re unlucky, you’ll be branded a ‘Covidiot’, a condescending term that often trends on Twitter, rendering most people unwilling to publicly question the narrative and hardening divisions in an already splintered community.
Speaking out can subjectively put one’s reputation and livelihood at risk. This byproduct of ‘cancel culture’ is preventing critically important conversations from taking place, and it’s giving the powers that be the freedom to essentially roll out all manner of draconian rules without any serious objection from the public.
There are other indications of Australia becoming a nation of mindless subservient compliers.
On the Global Innovation Index, Australia ranks 23rd, behind the likes of Iceland, Luxembourg, and China. Australia has been sliding down the ranking with each passing year, despite an influx of capital invested into its fledgling venture capital ecosystem. In 2015, Australia was 17th on the list and has been slipping since.
As the iconic Hunter S Thompson noted on the proliferation of rules and laws in American society in the United States in the mid-80s, “[today’s college graduates] seem to have no confidence or willingness to extend their knowledge. They are bored by almost everything, and they are also boring people. More than any other generation, they are dogmatic, uncreative, and motivated more by a desire for good grades than excitement for winning.”
One can only hope that sanity prevails and that COVID-Zero is dropped in favor of metrics and controls that are commensurate with the risks.
Australia is already at the precipice of becoming a nation of dogmatic and uncreative people, and unless something changes, when borders finally do open, you can bet that it will lose many of its most creative and lateral thinkers to societies abroad that still value personal freedoms and liberties.