• rmacculloch

My country's better than yours on Covid!? The 'health experts' attempts to rank us are plain wrong.

Newshub ran as their leading headline yesterday, "Epidemiologist Rod Jackson says New Zealand's Omicron response is set to be 'better than anybody else'. I think we're going to do better than anybody else, just as we've done better than anybody else to date with all the previous variants," Jackson is reported as saying.

The pandemic has led to frequent comparisons between NZ’s approach versus others, with many asserting ours is superior. That idea runs counter to contemporary economics which takes the view that different countries place different weights on different objectives, like high GDP, low inequality, rewards for hard work, good health outcomes, ensuring freedoms of citizens, honoring rights of return to the homeland, and so on. This understanding makes comparing responses across nations and ranking them - as if there is an "optimal" approach which dominates others - wrong. Rankings imply superiority - the notion that Kiwis know better than others. That the leaders and folks living in other countries are, by comparison, incompetent, stupid or lack our understanding.

To the extent a country can have a "best policy", it can only be defined as one consistent with the beliefs and values of the citizens of that country. For example, some authoritarian countries may place a low weight on personal freedoms and so be more prepared to engage in stringent lockdowns & travel restrictions. For others, not allowing vast numbers of its own citizens to enter due to quarantine rules - as NZ has done - is an intolerable price to pay.

Yes, the Kiwi approach to dealing with Covid is in no way superior, nor in any way inferior, to the approaches adopted by a host of other countries. It is simply a statement of what Kiwis care about - which is different from others. Americans, for example, care a lot about innovation, materialism, the "American Dream" of success, technological prowess. Those fundamental ideals helped them to create the Pfizer vaccine. The freedom ideals of Americans have also meant that, despite inventing the vaccine, over one-third of them don't wish to take it. Should they be attacked for holding such beliefs and values and "ranked" as inferior? Who are we to judge the beliefs and values of others?