Interview with Gigi Foster: Co-Author of The Great Covid Panic
How many people would you be willing to kill in order to save one from COVID? That is essentially the trade-off. That’s the kind of question we should have been asking.”
As any economist will tell you: with every action, there is a cost. Yet few seemed to think about the fact that COVID policies could be more deadly than the virus itself, says Gigi Foster, a professor at the University of New South Wales’ School of Economics and co-author of The Great Covid Panic: What Happened, Why, and What To Do Next.
From skipped cancer screenings to impeded speech development in toddlers to growing social inequality, when we add it all up, what price did we pay?
Below are extracts from her interview with American Thought Leaders, conducted under the auspices of The Epoch Times.
Jan Jekielek: Gigi, as we speak the World Health Assembly is meeting and it seems like what we call lockdown policies, various measures are being implemented into World Health Organization policy, into the international health regulations. Any thoughts?
Gigi Foster: This is a very disturbing idea, that we would overwrite decades of epidemiological knowledge and public health protection wisdom with a justification for what’s happened over the last two years. It is something that is not scientific, we don’t yet have proof that lockdowns have worked.
There is no evidence that these lockdowns are actually a good idea. There is simply this facile notion that keeping people away from each other somehow will slow the spread of viral transmission and that’s a good thing always, right? And that’s simply not true, epidemiologically speaking.
I think it will take a while for this to be beaten out of the system. And what is required is for people to speak up and say, this wasn’t working and good epidemiologists and caring doctors and people who see what’s happening to make petitions. And those petitions are happening all over the world now to be sent to the World Health Assembly and say, look, this is nonsense, we don’t want to sign up to this.
It is a political move as so much has been in the last couple of years, being basically put in the clothing of a public health move. But it’s a political move because it essentially justifies what politicians and health bureaucrats around the world have done to us over the last two years.
I expect that as the world wakes up to the tragedy of what’s happened over the last two years, that sort of initiative will fade away because the politicians will simply not be able to contend anymore that what they did was a good thing.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s large swathes of population in the US. And certainly in places like Canada and Australia and New Zealand, where there’s still some level of lockdown and the population seemed to think that this actually was a good idea.
Ms. Foster: Yes, absolutely. In Australia we had the amazing outcomes that some of the politicians that issued the worst and most ridiculous, extreme measures were supported the most. We had a landslide victory for someone in Western Australia who had basically kept that whole state cut off from the rest of the country on the basis of maybe one or two or three cases, it was just fanatically ridiculous.
And the people did want very much to have a solution to what they feared, through this threat that they feared. And that’s what they were being played on.
A lot of the Australian people, as well as a lot of the people of other countries have simply been had during this period. They have been sold a lie by politicians, again, cloaked in the clothing of public health protection and science. Politicians recognised the opportunity to depict themselves as the saviour of the people from this perceived threat, COVID.
So the fear that started in 2020, in March 2020, grew and grew and grew and became this force in people’s lives to where they forgot about a lot of other things that matter. And they focused on it so much and they wanted, they pressured the politicians to save them.
First, it was I’ll protect you because you’re locked down and then it was I’ll protect you because I’m going to force you to wear masks. I’m going to protect you because I’ve got a vaccine. It’s always the same thing and it’s always sold in the language of public health protection.
Together with this language of, if you don’t follow, watch out, because you are going to be labelled an antisocial person. If you love your fellow man, you will do these things because it is about protecting people’s lives?
How offensive is that? You hijack this wonderful love that we have for each other and use it to support what is basically a political initiative.
It’s just, ugh, it’s one of these things that makes your stomach turn.
Mr. Jekielek: I have friends in Canada, in Australia, who tell me, “Jan, what are you talking about? This worked. Look how low the virus was in our countries.” And look at the mess that happened in the US and other places.”
Ms. Foster: Once you start on that path as a politician, you’re essentially starting on the path of withholding yourself from the rest of the world and letting the rest of the world pay the price of developing herd immunity, doing the technological innovations and whatnot that can help us to fight the virus better, waiting until the less virulent variants arise.
You’re sitting back, it’s called free-riding in economics.
Because eventually when you open your borders, COVID going away completely was never on the cards. From at least April or May of 2020, we knew that this was just something that was going to be with us forever. So zero COVID was a nonsense. You had to open the borders at some stage.
The longer you can delay that, the more you can continue to paint yourself in the short run as a politician, as the saviour. In Australia, we had very, very severe lockdowns, including in Melbourne, which was about the most locked down city in the world during the COVID period. But you can say, oh, well, we didn’t have as many economic effects and the virus didn’t take as many people. And therefore I’m doing a great job.
What we basically did was delay the wave of deaths that we could have had and gotten over with in 2020. Because of our putting ourselves in our bubble, we were able to not seem as though we were having any serious economic effects for a couple of years. And now we’re going right back into the same kind of economic distress that the rest of the world is experiencing.
So we had a couple of years of, “La la la la la.” Of just pretending that we were going to somehow be magically immune from both the viral effects and the economic effects. But now it’s coming, if you look right now at infections and deaths in Australia, and at the economic indicators like inflation, it does not look good at all.
These actions have costs. And nowhere was that actually factored in to the policy making in Australia. Even now, a week ago I was on one of our national TV programs and still the focus was on how many people have been saved from COVID deaths rather than how many people have we killed with our policy response?
And that is the question. How many people would you be willing to kill in order to save one from COVID? That is essentially the trade off. That’s the kind of question we should have been asking.
You have people who should have gone to hospital to get care for their strokes or their heart attacks, who had the cancer screenings that were missed. We know all of these stories about crowded out healthcare. And people just wave their hands, but that means deaths, right? That means deaths. So you are killing some people in order to save others, supposedly. And what, do they not count because they’re not COVID deaths?
So public health should be about all of public health for all different dimensions of health. If we don’t, we are being heartless. We are ignoring suffering in our midst and that’s what’s happened. So yes, we may have in fact delayed the onset of COVID and thereby enabled the Australian population to be exposed only to mainly to a milder variant when they’re more vaccinated, sure.
It is possible we could have lost an extra few hundred people if we had that wave come through first. But again, if we had taken an optimal policy response where we protected the people who were actually vulnerable to this virus, significantly vulnerable. So the older people, the people with comorbidities, which was clearly the right thing to do. Even in March 2020, that was clearly the right thing to do. Then we would’ve had far fewer deaths than we’ve had now.
Well the virulence has decreased a little bit, but there’s this staggering amount of costs that we have imposed on populations that really has not yet been reckoned with. And this is why we are seeing this World Health Assembly move towards codification of lockdowns. There is still not an acknowledgement of the human costs of lockdowns, which are gargantuan and relative to the benefits that they could possibly deliver, even in an island nation like Australia.
Mr. Jekielek: And very briefly, how does this come out?
Ms. Foster: So for Australia, I’ve done a cost benefit analysis of lockdowns with the help of Sanjeev Sabhlok, who was a Victorian treasury economist before he left because they wouldn’t let him speak freely about this. And we’ve produced it, we’ve got the executive summary on the web, and it’s 145 pages. And what we find after tabulating and calculating, trying to quantify all of the various dimensions of costs that lockdowns policies actually cause people to pay, we calculate that lockdowns are about 30 or 35 times more costly than what they could possibly have delivered in benefits.
Mr. Jekielek: Like in terms of human life?
Ms. Foster: In terms of human life.
Mr. Jekielek: 35 times?
Ms. Foster: Yes. 35 times. We do the best that we can as economists do in bureaucracies around the world to try to evaluate a policy. This is the standard approach. Cost benefit analysis is the standard way in which policies that are implemented by governments get evaluated and then defended. We never saw it for lockdowns. I’ve still not seen it, not in the US, not in Australia. And the reason is because anyone, anybody with an ounce of economics training who starts to go on the path of doing a cost benefit analysis of lockdowns realises very quickly, as I did in August, 2020, when I did a very brief one for the Victorian parliament, that there’s no way lockdowns can pass the cost benefit test. There’s no way. They are just too costly.
And that’s what we knew before 2020. That was why in our pandemic management plans before 2020, lockdowns of healthy populations were just not even on the table. No way, way too costly.
Mr. Jekielek: Even with something like Ebola?
Ms. Foster: Yes. Even with Ebola, some localised quarantines of sick people and people who have been exposed to sick people sometimes have been useful. But even then there are serious costs and you have to weigh them up and you certainly would never be locking down the entire healthy population in a country because of an Ebola outbreak.
If people would like to protect themselves from COVID, a better way to go is, think about, hmm, how do I take care of my health? What are you eating every day? Are you going out in the sun? Are you exercising? Are you sleeping well? Are you drinking a lot of water? Making sure that you have healthy relations and you’re feeling positive about your friends and family?
These are the things that promote our immunity and are therefore our ability personally, to throw off infections. That’s what we should do instead of this process of let me rope myself off from the rest of my species and protect myself with masks and vaccines and a face shield and all of these other inhumane things, that makes us inhuman. We worry about AI, but I worry about that sort of thing. That destroys our humanity.
Mr. Jekielek: I remember seeing like people being accosted while hanging out alone on the beach.
Ms. Foster: We had that in Australia, too.
Mr. Jekielek: These policies were the opposite of what you should be doing.
Ms. Foster: Exactly, exactly. And particularly for people in multi-generational households or poorer families where the children were exposed to the elder people and the children maybe were out of school as well and didn’t have a computer to be on.
So you’re also holding people back in the longer run. It’s not just the short term costs, which are gargantuan, but it’s also you’re exacerbating the existing inequality in a society because people like you and me who have functional families and comfortable homes and plenty of money to buy laptops, to Zoom in on everything, we’re fine. And we can continue to go for our runs and we can afford to buy good food, but the family that was already struggling in early 2020, because of any number of things, difficult relationships, substance use, unskilled and difficult to find a job, kids who don’t have enough space in the home to just have their study. They were the ones who felt the impact of this stuff the most.
And so it’s this incredibly regressive policy, as well as being just inhumane. It’s regressive in the sense of increasing inequality on everything going forward. So the kids who were taken out of school who had nice, comfortable places to continue to learn and had parents who would supplement all of the instruction, they’ll be okay relative to the kids who just had nothing when they went home.
Sometimes a lot of kids in the US particularly get their best meal at school. So, what are we doing? We’re taking kids out of a protective environment and we’re exposing them to something that is much worse for them. And we know this, we know schooling helps children. Of course it does. So these basic facts of basic realities, we’ve just forgotten. And again, with the bludgeoning of people, if you don’t follow the rules you’re antisocial. No, if you go along with this inhumane policy combination, that’s antisocial, anti love, anti joy, anti freedom, anti progress, and it breaks my heart.
Every day I have a serious emotional moment at some point. Where I either want to punch the wall or just break down in tears, because you recognise the pain that we have created. And not only that, but we’re going to be dealing with it for so many years in the future, these kids who have had the disrupted schooling, they’re forever going to be behind, the babies and the toddlers who were being taken care of by carers, with masks and missed out on language acquisition opportunities, the normal interaction between mother and child which teaches about empathy.
Are these kids going to grow up to be sociopathic, or at least delayed in their development?
We’re going to have to somehow try to make up for that.
It’s a zero sum game. We only have so much in this world, so many resources to allocate and we can’t make up all of the costs that we have paid during this period without a reckoning, without feeling the pain. So it’s a tragic, tragic thing. And I think it’s going to be an area of research for those of us who have seen this.
And in psychology as well, there’s a huge amount of work to be done because so many people during this period have been either part of the policy setting apparatus or in their local level, vigilantes telling people you better mask up, you better do this, you better stay in your home. Antisocial, inhumane, and failing to resist this totalitarian slide in their own society.
And if you really understand that you’ve been part of that problem, that’s going to be a shock psychologically. So we’re going to have people waking up and being, I imagine Matrix movie sort of wake up. Oh my God, this is what’s been going on. That’s a very sobering thing. And I think a lot of strength is needed to get through that and not come away with a sense that I’m a bad person.
Mr. Jekielek: I can’t help think about the fact that in New York City, toddlers are still required to wear masks in school in kindergarten. And of course there will be the people who will have to realize, oh my God, I did this.
Ms. Foster: Yes. There’s mass social complicity here and personal complicity. And I’ve never seen, and we’ve not seen what happens in that scenario, in our lifetimes. What happens when people recognise that? And I don’t think we’re anywhere near to the point of really recognising it.
For the World Health Assembly discussions about lockdowns are just one signal. But also again, in Australia, the rhetoric simply is not coming to terms with all of these costs yet. We’re still stuck accepting the narrative that’s been promulgated by politicians. And so it will take another, I think probably a couple of years until we really understand this, but then it’s going to be a very, very big psychological weight.
And of course, psychology was important at the start as well. The fear we all felt in March and April, having seen all these videos, the people falling over in China and in Milan and then New York City, having all these cases and all these deaths and people get very, very scared. And then that changes the way we think. It literally changes how we process information. And that was the beginning of this zooming narrow tunnel vision focus on just COVID. With everything else left to do its own thing.
And then we entered this fantasy world in which yes, we thought we could simply press pause on an economy. And then when we took our finger off, it would all be back to normal.
hat’s nuts, right? That’s not consistent with the way that the economic system actually works. You press pause, people are not in some state of suspended animation. They continue to have to make choices, they have to compensate for what’s been done to them. And so they start changing the way they allocate their resources and changing the people they interact with in the marketplace, maybe changing jobs. And that then means when you take your finger off the button, it’s not the same place that it was. You’ve broken links, you’ve changed around people’s lives. And it doesn’t just go back to how it was. So that fiction and many other fictions were able to be supported because we had such fear that was driving us. And that fear then also led into this crowd creation, this herd mentality.
Mr. Jekielek: Mass formation is what Mattias Desmet calls it.
Ms. Foster: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.
Ms. Foster: Exactly. But it’s been thought of many, many times by previous thinkers as well. The sociology of crowds, right? Men go mad in crowds and then they wake up slowly, one by one, that’s one of the previous sociologists sayings. And that is just what you’ve seen during this period. There’s this whole group, and then occasionally you’ll have a conversation with one or two people, one on one, and they recognize, oh, I see. And you can’t see it when you’re inside, but once you’re outside of it, that gives you the perspective to look and see, oh my gosh, those people literally can’t think, they have literally outsourced their notion of what is true, what is moral to a group. And they look to the group to dictate with every new day, what is today’s truth? What is today’s moral action? Oh, now we need to use two masks. Okay well, let me get on the horse and I’ll make sure I am always wearing two masks and telling everybody else they need to too. Oh, now we have to all get vaccines? Okay, well, let’s do that now. Right?They are led by whatever the truth of the crowd is. They’re not using their brains for their own independent thought. They’re using their brains to rationalize the truth that the crowd gives them. And that’s the scary part. Because in this period, it hasn’t been IQ or education, or any kind of soft skill intelligence that has determined whether people have been sucked up into the crowd. It’s just, were you actually thinking independently? Were you somehow able to separate yourself from this mass movement, right? And those of us who are in the resistance, I think a lot of us are kind of weird humans. We sort of, I had a very lonely childhood. I was always kind of on the outs and never in the in group. And so I learned to examine my fellow man from afar. That really helped during this period because it meant that I just wasn’t swept up with this stuff. I saw it as if through a microscope, here in the Petri dish, look at all my fellow humans going mad, right?
This is a very common theme amongst those in the resistance I’ve spoken to, right? Somehow they were just resisting this sweeping up into the crowd and they held tightly to their own sense of morality, their own sense. They have a personal sense of what is true and they’re used to using their brains, not to rationalise something that somebody else says, but to actually think through a puzzle.
In fact, the people who are most educated and most intelligent and some of the tops of our best institutions, they have such big brains that they can rationalise almost anything with a really good story. That has been part of the problem as well. There have been ridiculous rationalisations of lockdowns and everything else. And the people who actually are making those rationalisations are the product of our best universities. These are really, really smart people. You’d like to be able to trust them, but it’s not about that. It’s not about intelligence, it’s this social, psychological dynamic.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe in the US too, we don’t have clear documentation how that played out, but certainly the media were pushing these kinds of things, many of these establishment media.
So and then you have someone like myself, who’s thinking to themselves, well, okay. I’m not personally worried about it. I’m very healthy. I have some rough idea of the data. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be okay.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: At the same time, I do want to do my part for society. Right? I’ll throw on a mask. Maybe that’ll help people. I heard different stories about masks, but in this case, why not? Right? Because if it can help somebody I’ll do it. Right? Especially the older people. So there’s, I imagine there’s a lot of people like me, who I think I was similar to you where I was looking at it a bit from the outside already.
Ms. Foster: So my co-author Paul Frijters also early on was wearing masks around the place because he basically wanted people to feel more comfortable around him. And he thought, well, there’s not much of a cost. Now, of course, if you think about what the costs are of masks, maybe for wearing it for one day is not a big deal.
If you wear it for a reasonable amount of time, you are exposed to whatever’s in the mask. And of course you’re using masks every single day, you’re creating a huge mountain of environmental waste. You’re also preventing people who may be deaf or hard of hearing from using your lips as a signal of what you’re saying. And you are impeding the language acquisition of small children. You’re also essentially breathing your own CO2 so it’s not as healthy, particularly if you’re running or doing some kind of activity.
So there are costs, but it seems in the short term that, oh yeah, I can just do that and it’s no big deal.
Putting the alternative viewpoint out there in public so that we can discuss these things. We can discuss the most draconian, liberty destroying policies that have been implemented in our generation. Healthfully, as a population should be able to do. That’s the signal of a healthy society, right? Is a prosocial thing. Taking the alternative position, it is a prosocial thing. As soon as we stop talking about stuff, whether it’s COVID or gun policy or abortion policy or anything else, any kind of big issue, right? As soon as we stop talking about it, we start to die as a society. A healthy society invites and encourages discussion across the aisles of all the big issues. Right? And we need so much more of that in our society today, because what has happened during this period is a regression in that sphere, as much as a regression in terms of inequality, we’ve regressed in terms of our ability to speak to each other.
We’ve had this polarisation, and this is another psychological component. Obviously, we now categorize people into the black and the white, the right and the wrong, the good and the bad. And it’s encouraged by social media. There’s all sorts of reasons you can think of for why people have fallen into that kind of a heuristic. It’s not about an individual person being blamed as a granny killer. That’s going to silence dissent, that is bullying you. You’re basically calling people a name just like we would in a school playground, right? The bully in the playground.
That’s not the kind of person that we want to aim for, to be like.
We want to be understanding and empathic and fearless, right? The only thing you have to fear is fear itself. Well, that was not followed as a prescript right? Early on, particularly in Australia as well. We had the behavioral economics units helping governments to essentially nudge their people into accepting that this was a significant threat when it really wasn’t. And we’ve had admissions of that from people who are working in those units. We’ve had them say, look, “Yeah, this wasn’t as serious as we were…”
Mr. Jekielek: “We pushed the fear of it was a little bit too far, perhaps.”
Ms. Foster: Well, just that it was definitely out of proportion to what the actual threat was. And that was decided to be a good thing because that way we could get more compliance. Good Lord, right? As if compliance had no cost again, right? There’s no cost to the lockdowns and the masks and all the other stuff, right? It’s just this, this one sided non unbalanced tunnel vision focus on one thing. And we went right along with it. So it’s a tragedy. We need to recover so much now in our societies, from the ability to think, to the ability to actually do science and understand what science is, which is not a fixed thing. It’s a constantly moving, dynamic target. You’re always searching for truth and never arriving there. We need to rediscover joy and freedom and how great it is to kiss and hug each other.
using these supercharged information systems.
how big that is. Right?
Ms. Foster: Yeah.