Saturday 27 June 2020

With leadership like this. . .

For most of my teaching career, when most young people were reasonably biddable, behaved themselves and did as they were told unless given psoitive reasons not to, if a class were unruly it was usually because the teacher was not very capable. If a whole school had a discipline problem it was usually because the head was weak

Much the same appears to apply to countries. 

 New Zealanders follow their government's instructions because their prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has led them well: acted quickly, treated them as adults,  given full and honest explanations, and followed her own rules. Their deaths attributed to the virus are  I believe still under 30, in spite of a recent new outbreak

Of course, New Zealand has only a small population. 

Germany has a population bigger than ours.  They have so far experienced  8 955 death, or 108 per million population.  Their Chancellor, Angela  Merkel,is reported to have led then with honesty and integrity.

The UK's record to date is a total of 43 232 deaths attributable to coronavirus, or 650 per million, six times greater than Germany.

The pictures which have appeared in the papers and on TV over the past two days, of thousands ignoring the physical distancing rules on of crowded beaches and at unauthorised musical concerts are frightening, especially to someone in my age group (more of that later.)

In response  Prime Minister Johnson has called on us "not to take liberties" and "to be responsible."

This from the man who set the example by attending a crowded rugby match  a the beginning of the outbreak, not only shook hands with people likely to have been in contact with the virus, but openly boasted about it, and gives enthusiastic support to his chief advisor Dominic Cummings who ignored the official government guidance by, among other things, going on a sixty-mile drive to a beauty spot with the excuse that he deeded to test his eyesight.

A letter in today's Guardian  suggests we describe  failure to respect government guidance as "the Cummings effect."  We call vacuum cleaners Hoovers and ballpoint pens Biros so why not? 

It is a truism that good leadership is by example.  

"Do as I say, not as I do," is rarely if ever effective.

If there is a further serious coronavirus outbreak the government  will doubtless try to blame it on the failure of the people to observed their rules, and will probably get support from the sycophantic press.  But part of the responsibility will remain with their inept leadership.

There is a very real sense that most of the people on the crowded beaches, at the unauthorised concerts , and celebrating Liverpool's success in the football league,are behaving rationally according to Tory mores:  put self- interest first and "there is no such thing as society.  ( "There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, " to give the complete quote)

"Why shouldn't I put the interests of myself and my family first? If Cummings can do it why not me?"  is a logical  position to take.

Most of them will be under 40, probably much younger.  If they catch the virus they are very unlikely to suffer much and have only a very small chance of dying from it.  Many who do catch it will be unaware they have it - asymptomatic in the jargon.

But that doesn't  mean that they can't pass it on to those of us in society who are far more vulnerable.

A graphic in the July edition of Prospect Magazine shows that if some one of my generation, 80+, catches it we have a 500 times greater chance of dying from it than someone under 40.

So I for one will be avoiding crowds and continuing as far as possible with self-isolation, and would appreciate it if the less vulnerable would follow the guidance scrupulously.


  1. Or maybe they've noticed all the other times there were pictures of huge crowds on the television with people assuring us that it would lead to an increase in infections (VE Day; the bank holiday after lockdown easing; the Black Lives Matter protests), and noticed that no such increase subsequently happened. As someone on the Tweeter pointed out people seem to pay no reputational costs for predicting apocalypses and turning out to be mistaken, which just encourages them to keep on predicting the worst and keep on being wrong.

    "There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, " to give the complete quot

    That is not the complete quote; either you know that and are being dishonest, or you don't and should not speak of things about which you are so ignorant.

    1. OK a more complete quote. I suppose to be totally complete you'd have to quote the entire speech. The above is enough to get the idea.

    2. The above is enough to get the idea

      Ah, so you are being dishonest.

      Here's the full quotation:

      'They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.'

      As you can see when put it its proper context, it is clear that rather than — as you are trying to claim — carrying the anti-social message of 'get as much as you can for yourself and don't think of anyone else', Mrs Thatcher was actually making the pro-social point that it is everyone's first duty to carry their own weight, and not to make themselves a burden on others.

      As an economist you should realise the real target of Mrs Thatcher's ire here: it's against free-riders, those who expect 'society' to take care of them.

      The point of saying 'there's no such thing as society [just] just individual men and women' is to remind people that if they don't bother to take care of themselves, but instead expect to get hand-outs from 'society' then it's not some faceless blob that they are expecting to cover for their laziness but, because 'society' really means 'other people', it is individual other people that they are burdening because they can't be bothered to make themselves useful.

      It's the rhetorical equivalent of pointing out to someone who tries to justify their shoplifting by saying that it's a victimless crime because the supermarket chain can afford it, that actually the people who end up having to pay for the goods they steal are all the law-abiding customers, in the form of higher prices.

      And once you have fulfilled your first duty of not being a burden on others, your next duty — according to Mrs Thatcher — is to 'look after our neighbours'.

      It's hard to imagine a less anti-social message than that.

      But then I guess dishonest selective quotation is so tempting.

  2. Did you purposely miss out the Black Lives Matter protests from the list of irresponsible gatherings?

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