Gigi Foster: Did Our Pandemic Policies Kill More People Than They Saved?
“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 is a rush transcript of this American Thought Leaders episode from Jun 9, 2022. This transcript may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Jan Jekielek: Gigi Foster, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Gigi Foster: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thanks so much, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Gigi, as we speak the World Health Assembly is meeting and it seems like what we call lockdown policies, various measures are being kind of implemented into World Health Organization policy, into the international health regulations. It seems like that’s what’s actually going to happen. I wanted to see if you have any thoughts on this?
Ms. Foster: Yeah, this is a very disturbing idea that we would overwrite basically decades of epidemiological knowledge and public health protection wisdom with a justification for what’s happened over the last two years with this codification into guidelines that will presumably affect, basically countries all over the world. It is something that is not scientific, we don’t yet have proof that lockdowns have worked. There still hasn’t been that kind of evidence that’s been presented that I’ve seen anywhere in any country, because you basically can’t generate that evidence. 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.
So 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. And essentially what I think 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. And that’s an excuse, it’s not actually a proactive health guidance, which is what it’s been sold as.
So I do 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 are large swaths of people, of population, even in places which had quite a varied response. Let’s say like the US, where we had states that locked down extremely hard, you had states that almost did none of that.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? But still there’s large swathes of population in the US. And certainly in places like Canada and Australia and New Zealand, where there’s still, I think 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 basically, right? So 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, TM. And in fact, what’s happened is that the politicians have recognized the opportunity to depict themselves as the savior 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 kind of 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. And we’ve just had savior story after savior story. 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. I’m going to protect you because, right? 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 labeled an antisocial person. If you love your fellow man, you will do these things because it is about protecting people’s lives, right? 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, probably not in New Zealand, but who will tell me, “Jan, what are you talking about? This worked. Look how low the virus was in our countries.”
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: “And look at the mess that happened in the US and other places.”
Ms. Foster: Absolutely. And this is one of those interesting features of the COVID period that you can point to and say, well, look, Australia was lucky. Or you can say Australia actually got very unlucky and an island nation like Australia has the capacity to close its borders and seriously decrease the amount of virus that comes in, so does New Zealand. And that’s what we did. 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 sort of sitting back, it’s called free-riding in economics, right? And you’re allowing the people to believe that they’re protected in this little bubble rather than being part of the rest of humanity.
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 there were huge animal reservoirs. We knew that this was just something that was going to be with us forever. So zero COVID was a nonsense. So you knew you had to open the borders at some stage. And the longer you can delay that, the more you can continue to paint yourself in the short run as a politician, as the savior. Look, we have low counts. And of course you don’t have to kill your economy as much. Although in Australia, we had very, very severe lockdowns, including in Melbourne, which I think 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.
Now, this is the classic confusion of correlation and causation. So yes, it’s true that at the same time that we were having the lockdowns and doing the border closures in Australia, we also had reasonably low compared to the rest of the world effects in terms of COVID deaths and even infections. And also we had a reasonably good economic performance for a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean that the things we did were what caused those results necessarily to in the long run be something we’d be proud of. What we basically did was delay the wave of deaths that we could have had and gotten over with in 2020. And we kind of, 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 now experiencing.
So we had a couple of years of, “La la la la la.” Right? 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 even at the economic indicators like inflation, it does not look good at all. And that’s what we are in for unfortunately.
Mr. Jekielek: One thing you could argue perhaps, right? Is that the virus has changed from Alpha to, and then Delta and so forth.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: And Omicron is clearly, I think most people agree now a milder form.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? But spreads much quicker.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? And so you could say, well, we saved the Australian population from the really tough viruses early on and now it’s just Omicron. It’s almost like in Bill Gates own words and others, it’s like a kind of vaccine.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Right?
Ms. Foster: So this is an argument I’ve heard as well. And also you could just save the population until there is a vaccine and then you give them the vaccine. And in theory, you have fewer people dying, right? Although again, if you look at how many people are dying in Australia, there’s still quite a lot right now. The problem is that ignores the fact that all of these actions we take with the closing of the borders and the domestic lockdowns, in Australia we also had a huge amount of fiscal outlay to support people who were kicked out of their jobs. These actions have costs. They have costs, right? 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 because people directly die and they suffer so much that it’s, when you aggregate across the entire population, that’s equivalent to having death experienced when you take these very draconian actions. And so 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 sort of 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. Right? We have to have a concern. And 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.
So even if it were the Alpha wave, which it was supposedly super scary. But if you look at the data, again, it’s for people under 50 who are healthy, this is a flu virus, even Alpha, right? So it’s just this very disproportionate focus on how many people have we saved from COVID and oh, COVID is the big danger so it’s a good thing that is less virulent 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 situation like Australia.
Mr. Jekielek: And very briefly, right? Because you have actually been in the business of calculating said costs.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: 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. So…
Mr. Jekielek: Like in terms of human life?
Ms. Foster: In terms of human life.
Mr. Jekielek: 35 times?
Ms. Foster: Yes. 35 times, the number is actually 36 in the paper at the moment. But I say over 30, because of course estimates change. We take, when you do these things, you have to make best guesses about a whole range of different factors, right? You’re dealing with the data you have, which is imperfectly measured and never exactly what you would like. And 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 realizes 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: And I think when we were talking offline, you said something like even with Ebola?
Ms. Foster: Yes. Even with Ebola, some localized quarantines of sick people and people who have been exposed to sick people sometimes have been useful. Right? 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 an Ebola outbreak is there. No. That destroys your economy, it destroys your social relations, it breaks up families, it causes huge stress, it decreases your immunity. There’s all sorts of reasons why this is not a good idea. 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? Invest in your relationships?
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: As you’re talking right now, I can’t help, but think the safest place for an airborne virus would be to be outside. We had, there were all sorts of policies, right? Where I remember seeing like people being accosted while hanging out alone on the beach.
Ms. Foster: We had that in Australia, too.
Mr. Jekielek: And the flip side of it is that the policies were stay inside, stay separate. But of course, you can’t among family and so forth because you’re not in that kind of situation. It’s almost like these policies were kind of really in every way, 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. Right? And we can continue to go for our runs and we might break the rules occasionally and whatever, right? And we can afford to continue 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 and whatnot. 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 and 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 that they weren’t getting anymore, or weren’t getting as well from school, they’ll be better. It’d be okay relative to the kids who just had nothing when they went home.
Mr. Jekielek: Where both parents were working, or?
Ms. Foster: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.
Ms. Foster: Or they just didn’t have a desk and they don’t don’t have any support. And the structure of school was helping them. 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, that’s anti-humane, that’s anti love, anti joy, anti freedom, anti progress, and it breaks my heart. And when you finally see this…
Every day I have a serious emotional moment at some point, right? Where I either want to punch the wall or just break down in tears, because you recognize 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, right? 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. Well, but those resources to make up for it will come from someone else. So there’s pain there too, right? Whoever doesn’t get those resources.
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 and 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 we just, I can’t not study this now. And for a couple of decades, probably into the future, it’s going to be students and scholars really coming to understand 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. Right? And 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. So I think the counseling services are going to be needed for 20 years.
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. I just, I can’t. 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 recognize that? And I don’t think we’re anywhere near to the point of really recognizing 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. Right? 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 sort of 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. Right?
That’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 sort of herd mentality.
Mr. Jekielek: Ma mass formation is what Mattias Desmet calls it.
Ms. Foster: Mattias Desmet’s theory.
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?
And 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 rationalize something that somebody else says, but to actually think through a puzzle. And 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 rationalize almost anything with a really good story. Right? And that has been part of the problem as well. There have been ridiculous rationalizations of lockdowns and everything else. And the people who actually are making those rationalizations 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: It’s fascinating. So really, really enjoyed reading Laura Dodsworth’s book from the UK.
Ms. Foster: The State of Fear.
Mr. Jekielek: Where she examined, exactly, examined how fear was actually pushed into the population deliberately. And she makes a very convincing case. Even by government entities, like this Spy B unit and so forth.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe in the US too, we don’t have clear documentation how that played out, but certainly the media we’re pushing these kinds of things, many of these establishment media.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: 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: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: But at the same time I want to play my part.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And do good for society and so forth. Yeah.
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. Right? 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 a little bit, so it’s maybe 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. So, I do see that. Now this whole time, I’ve not worn a mask. I’ve only worn a pair of my own underwear on my face, or also a Guy Fox mask, a costume mask.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.
Ms. Foster: As a resistance.
Mr. Jekielek: I see where you’re I see where you’re going with this.
Ms. Foster: Yes, yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.
Ms. Foster: I could go on with that, but it is definitely this notion early on, I was called in the Australian media, a neoliberal, Trumpkanaut death cult warrior, and a granny killer. Right? The notion of granny killer was a very, very powerful one. Because as you said, people want to do the right thing for their society. Now it just happens to be that I think I’m doing the right thing for my society, right? In a different way, by resisting totalitarian impulses of the ruling class and saying, “This is not going to be okay.” And I hope I live in a democratic society where I have the right to say that, right? That is a service to society. Even just putting the alternative view, even if I’m wrong. Even if I’m wrong, right?
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, right?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 polarization, 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. But they have, and actually really having these discussions where you bring out the nuance and you seriously fearlessly weigh up the validity of different positions is almost a lost art. And so we need so much more of that, starting in education, starting in schools, and to take our egos out of it. 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.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah.
Ms. Foster: 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.” Yeah, yeah.
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, right? 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.
And that in fact, an individual person is not just a viral vector, right? He actually is your fellow man who can give you many positive things. Just sitting here, this is probably positive for our immune systems, right? We are having a conversation, it’s positive, we are thinking about issues, we’re connecting. That’s a good thing. And being exposed to all the many, many viruses and bacteria that are on each other all the time. That’s part of the human condition as well, right? We’re not perfect, pure, soaped up people, right? That that’s actually bad for us to be super, super sanitized, right? And never exposed to viruses. That’s bad for our immune systems, it’s bad for our health, and it’s not a natural state of humans. So we need to rediscover something about who we really are.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of things you’ve said, as we were been talking make it kind of… You mentioned the Matrix, you mentioned this very sanitized people, and you mentioned the way policy was implemented. And I can’t help, but thinking that a lot of the policy early on was based on models.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Based on things that were completely kind of separated out from reality. And of course it turns out that a lot of the suppositions, a lot of the sort of variables that were introduced into the models were just simply orders of magnitude wrong.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: But there’s this, I can’t help, but thinking that is there kind of an ascendancy of people who function using these types of methods instead of having to deal with reality?
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Right?
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And those people making decisions because they believe that those types of structures actually work better or just that’s their bias because they work in modeling and they believe that’s the way that you can come up with good answers.
Ms. Foster: So, yes, it’s a very good point and there are a few things to say. First, I think part of the draw of the model, the seduction of the model is that it seems to be a way to simplify what is an incredibly complex reality, particularly now when we have this bombardment constantly with information through the internet, social media, everything, right? And you need, again, heuristics as a human mind, you need heuristics to cope with all of this. And if someone comes and says, “Okay, here I’ve, I’ve reduced all of this complexity into this simple model, right?” It’s very seductive. And this is one of the reasons why not just politicians, but even scientists get sucked in to the idea that these very narrow, very heavily laden with assumptions, kinds of stylized versions of reality are just as good as actually coming to terms with all of reality.
And so most scientists these days, even in economics, but also in other fields will have a very narrow focus. They study one particular kind of event or phenomenon or feature in a particular kind of context. And they publish in that area. They’ve specialized there, they get their publications and that’s their job, to do that. Very narrow focus, the broadminded scientist, whether it’s in social science or in hard sciences is a rare species these days. Right? So that is just, and that is kind of the way I think of myself and a couple of others, certainly Paul Frijters and a couple of other people in this resistance mix are people who, we may have specialty areas, but we also are interested in and we want to think about the broader society.
And of course it takes a lot of effort in the brain, you’re constantly having to weigh up, okay, well, I have to, I have to somehow reduce this part, but I don’t want to reduce it too much because I want to keep some of the complexity. And you’re constantly going around with this model of the whole world in your head, but the simulations of how virus X, COVID or whatever else, and previously and with H1N1, and the other viruses, we’ve done the same thing, these models of how they would propagate throughout the species and this focus on our nots and all these other things, right? The first fallacy is there’s nothing else in that model except the viral transmission. Right? And all the outcomes from the virus. Forget about cost of lockdowns, right? Forget about cost of trying to mitigate the spread. There’s nothing in those models about costs. So it’s inherently an uneconomic exercise. That’s point one, right?
Secondly, yes. As you said, there are so many assumptions in there about the fraction that need to be immune in order to slow this to that, or how much are you going to have? And it’s just judgment calls all over the place. And they have been wrong in the past, right? Previous epidemiological simulations have been wildly off. And this time, not surprisingly, they were off again. Right? And even if you excuse it in the first few months, even if you excuse the reliance on these simulated models, right? After the data start coming in, after we had the princess, the diamond princess and the Ruby princess, we had these examples of what happens when a virus circulates in a closed environment, how many people actually die? How many people actually get sick? We could have learned so much from those, if we would just look at the data.
But there was not any updating right? During this process. And again, science is about updating, always. Here’s new information, does it fit with your theory? Does it fit with your predictions? If not, modify theory. Because data is data, like that’s what is happening in the real world. And this is how I came up with the counterfactuals and all of the other estimates for my cost benefit analysis. I was not relying on a simulated model, I was relying on what has happened in different places in the world with this virus. We have a saying and economics, all models are wrong and some are useful, right? All models are wrong, is the most important part of that phrase. And it’s because we just don’t know a huge amount about viruses and people’s resistance to them.
And there’s so much we don’t know that it is a fools errand to expect that building a simulated model is going to give you something that is superior to just looking at what’s happening in the world. Particularly after you’ve had a few months to look at what’s happening in the world and again, update your actions. But by that point, March, April, May, June of 2020, politicians were already on this line of, okay, we’ve got to go to the lockdowns and the control of the transmission and undoing that, right? Would basically would have for them been very politically difficult. And that’s why I then say, we have been seeing for two years now, politics, not public health. Maybe it was public health at the start a little bit, but…
Mr. Jekielek: But kind of a hyper politicization almost. Right?
Ms. Foster: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s what I’m thinking. But I want to talk about that a little more, but I’m just remembering listening to this, I think it was a UK modeler who was talking. And this was fascinating to me because it also spoke to something terribly wrong in the system.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: He said, this is extreme paraphrase. Okay? But roughly he said, “Yeah, I overestimated, but that’s okay somehow, but I definitely couldn’t have underestimated.” Roughly like that wouldn’t have been acceptable.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Right?
Ms. Foster: That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: He felt that was on… What is that? Right?
Ms. Foster: Well, That’s the same thing we have with meteorologists. Right? Where if they think there’s any chance of rain, maybe 10% or more they’ll put on the forecast rain. Right? Because they don’t want to be caught out having predicted that it’s going to be sunny and so people plan for picnics or time outdoors and then it rains. Right? Because then people blame them more. It’s the same thing with the modelers, I think, right? If they are found out afterwards to have underballed, right? Lowballed the estimates of people dying from a particular new threat, it makes them look casual and unconcerned about the most important thing, which is people dying, right? Because that’s the thing being looked at in those models. Rather than people dying from anything else, right? That we could invest in minimizing through other kinds of expenditures other than the lockdowns, the masks, the whatever we were doing about COVID. We could have expended money on trying to promote people’s health in other ways, right?
But we didn’t do that and we spent the money instead on this other stuff. And again, that economic trade off is just nowhere in any of these models. And it is nowhere in their incentives, in the incentives that are given to these simulated model runners. And so, yeah, I think that’s exactly right. They do have a tendency, an incentive to go for the more extreme estimates. Because also then yeah, they’re going to get more attention, right? Everybody at some level wants status, power, money, attention. And this is a good way to get it. If you can scream about, “Oh my God, there are going to be lots of people dying.” And look, my special, fancy, scientific model says so, right? A lot of people are going to be sucked in by that. A lot of people don’t understand it.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s folks that they like the idea of being able to see everything on a console and sort of nudge things in a particular, incredibly simplified society. I’m thinking about the push for digital, vaccine passports, for example, but, or…
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Sort of the logical conclusion of that would be like the social credit system that’s been implemented in China where there have been examples, right?
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Where if someone, for example, isn’t vaccinated, they’re prevented from traveling.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? In any way. And their phone lights up red, and that has actually been used against like lawyers working with dissidents. Suddenly these people happen to be vaccinated and so forth, but nope, they worked with the wrong person suddenly I can’t travel because I have a health issue now.
Ms. Foster: Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? So I’m thinking about these people that can sit in front of a console and say, okay, these are the right elements of society. These are the correct, righteous elements of society. These are the problematic elements of society. I’m going to sort of let these do what they want, these ones can’t because clearly they’re maybe spreading disinformation. Right?
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: We haven’t even talked about that yet. Right?
Ms. Foster: Yeah. Yep. Yep. Yep.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of concern that structures to be able for someone or some entity or maybe even an AI, which is the most disturbing to me to be able to kind of look at people and their sort of personal information and their status.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Whether it’s vaccination or political or something, and kind of make decisions on the fly using these supercharged information systems.
Ms. Foster: Yeah. It’s a serious issue. And certainly in China we have seen really negative outcomes from that kind of system. I’m a little less worried in a Western democracy that kind of dystopian vision will actually come to pass because I basically don’t think that people will accept it. If you were to go to the newspaper and say, “Because I was working with this guy, I got banned from such and such.” Right? That I think surely would make a splash. Even with the co-optation of the media during the COVID period. That’s a personal insult. It’s not about being pro-social towards your grandmother, that’s about just being able to live your life. And certainly in America, that is something that we still hold dear and we still think is important. And you see that in some of the states that are opening up, but this is not even about co this is about just generally being able to be free, right?
It’s the land of the free, supposedly. And I think if we push back enough, that sort of thing won’t happen. And the second thing I would say is this notion that there is a person up there or a group who can dictate, these people are good, these people are bad. That is a dystopian image and there’s nobody who actually in the bureaucracy of the United States could possibly do that. The bureaucracy is a massive behemoth of a thing. Right? And it is so disorganized. Most people who work for it are again, looking at some little tunnel vision area, right? They’re not looking at the big picture. So, yes, you’d have to get AI to intermediate. But then if you have that kind of mistake where somebody, or non mistake, which is someone isn’t able to do something. Because there’s going to be an outcry.
There was in Australia. So we had the robo debt scandal where this AI was mediating whether or not people were supposed to pay off some debt or whether they had paid it off or whether they were late. And this automated system sent messages to all of these poor people who are on Centerlink, our welfare system. And it caused enormous stress and it got into the papers and it was a huge scandal, right? How can we do this? Right? Some person needs to look at that. We can’t just punish people by machine. So that gives me hope, right? Even in Australia, one of the most docile, sheep-like countries in the COVID period that we’ve seen. Even there, we have seen a huge pushback against AI mediated punishment.
So as long as we continue to have a press that is able to stand out against that, which they don’t have in China, right? As long as we have the capacity to be free to actually say this is not okay. And we value the diversity of our people and our different choices are considered to be important rather than having everyone do the one thing. That’s how you get really dumb, really fast as a society. We should know, allow people to make different choices. Don’t monitor them, don’t say this is bad, this is good. Except for basic rules, right? Like don’t kill each other. I think that will protect us.
Mr. Jekielek: Gigi in America and in Canada, we don’t have that for COVID or many other, even social issues. We don’t have a press that will do this. This is something a lot of people are deeply concerned about because without the, let’s call it the legacy or establishment media basically validating all of the things that you’ve just been talking about, giving its stamp of approval, pushing, pushing the fear.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m not even sure any of this could have happened, actually.
Ms. Foster: Yes. I agree with the role of media being hugely important during this time, but I’m heartened again by another example from history. In the Napoleonic times, and this is something you can look up, I’m sure you’ve probably already seen it, right? When Napoleon was exiled to Elba and then he escaped, the initial reaction of the Parisian newspapers was to have a headline, “Monster escapes from Elba.” Or something, right? And as he got closer and closer and closer to Paris, the language changed, right? So it became, oh, not monster, but the previous emperor or whatever, or horrible person became oh, this guy. And then by the time he had arrived in Paris, it was Emperor Napoleon re takes up his rightful throne again, or something like this. Right? So the way the press can change with the winds of power is phenomenal. Right?
Right now, it is still to the advantage of the press to be running with the standard COVID story. Running with the story that lockdowns helped us and masks are a good thing, and vaccines are the silver bullet and all this other stuff. Right? But at some point when the power dynamics shift, when we finally recognize and come to terms with the fact that this was a massive mistake on almost every level, the press will read that writing on the wall. They will not go down with the politicians, right? They will turn against them because they want to be with power. And once the power is back with the people, with the human side of our existence, rather than the technocratic side or the bureaucratic side, then I think the press will look a lot freer. They will certainly be speaking all of these truths much more freely.
Again, I don’t expect it for a couple of years, but then also I would say your channel and so many of the other alternative channels have been incredibly important to the resistance around the world. So when you say there’s no freedom, well, we’re having this conversation, right? So, maybe it’s not in the New York Times, maybe it’s not in the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. Although I will say there have been some dissident pieces in some of those venues, but we are having this conversation. And the same thing is true in Australia, we have some dissident press. And this is a perfect opportunity for those journalists who really want to make a stamp and do something challenging and interesting in their life. Great, start a new network. That’s what I expect, not just in media, but in health, in the legal profession, in psychology.
And I’m starting to see it and we’re starting to see new networks for the provision of mental health support. For example, in Australia, our resistance group has somebody who has started up such a thing to help people who have been damaged by the COVID policies, because their standard therapists aren’t even going to admit that could possibly have been the case. So they can’t speak freely. Right? They’re not allowed to feel bad about the fact that they were withheld from school for two years or whatever, right? It has to be, oh, you were doing this for your grandmother. Let’s talk about the real problem. No, the real problem is I couldn’t go to school for two years. You took me out of my normal development enhancing experiences for two years, and now I’m depressed or anxious or suicidal, whatever it is.
So to be able to have those open discussions, you need a network of mental health professionals who allow you to speak freely. She is starting this network. And the same thing I expect that we had that in the UK as well, an alternative health network to the NHS, right? And that’s what people will do because we are incredibly creative. We’re incredibly innovative, we’re incredibly energetic, and we love each other. We want there to be services to help each other. And when the existing networks that are supposed to provide those services get too tainted, too corrupt, too distant from their actual mission, we’ve got to create another one.
Mr. Jekielek: Gigi, I’m a big optimist as well, right? And there’s a huge precedent for these types of parallel structures. This is what happened in my own sort of ancestral country of Poland, right? As these institutions were able to kind of build under communism and then as things changed, they were able to play a huge role in these sort of upgraded, updated freer functioning structures. So I guess the thing I want to end on, and of course, you’re talking about this resistance that’s out there, you just, you started talking about developing these parallel structures. Certainly these health systems, very much I know of several that are being created or already kind of exist loosely, but are being kind of more codified in America.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: And in other places. I guess the thing that I keep thinking about is there is going to be this reckoning. I believe that we’re going to get through this. I believe that. Right? But there is going to be this reckoning when all sorts of people are going to have to come to terms with the fact that they participated in something terrible.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Something that really hurt society, that hurt their children.
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: That they may have lost loved ones in the process. Right? It’s hard for me even to fathom how big that is. Right?
Ms. Foster: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: How do we help people go through that and society go through that? And frankly, just to realize first, because without that, right?
Ms. Foster: This is the biggest challenge that the resistance faces. How do we reach people who are still in the clutches of this crowd dynamic? Who still believe the political, the lies, right? All the craziness, and actually believe that if you don’t believe that, then you’re hurting people. And it’s so difficult because they’re spewing, insults and abuse, right? How do you come out and hug someone who’s spewing abuse at you, right? How do you do that? You have to reach into the deep recesses of your heart and say, “I love you anyway. I love you anyway.” Right? And really accept these people as part of humanity, they have shown us, they have given us a gift to be able to see what humanity can become if we are not more careful stewards of these social psychological processes, if we don’t keep better tabs, if we don’t have better institutions, if we’re not alert and aware and cognizant of our duty in our responsibility to protect the proper functioning of our societies and the humane functioning, this is what can happen. Right?
So thank you for showing me this, right? Try to find something in yourself that allows you to give, to still give to these people who really think you’re evil, right? That they really do right now. They really think you’re evil. And then continue to hug them and hold them as they recognize, “Oh my, it’s I, who was evil. It’s I who participated, who helped to support this.” Right? Think of what has happened to people who have lost a child because of a mistake they’ve made, for example. There are people who, I should have gone and seen him in the morning but I waited for 15 minutes. And then by the time I got there, he’d overdosed. Or something like this, right?
These parents will beat themselves up for a lifetime. So it’s that sort of thing, but for the whole society and at different levels, depending on what the person’s role was during the period. Right? But recognize that the pain is going to be acute if they recognize this themselves. And the only way to get through that is love, compassion, empathy, support, acceptance, and recognition that these people are just as human as you are. Right? We share humanity. Think about the things we share, do not think about the divisive aspects that have been shoved down our throat from the messaging as well. The vaxxed, the unvaxxed, the mask, the unmasked, the good, the bad, the clean, the ugly or dirty, right? No. The things we share are much bigger. And so focus on that, help them to focus on that. Help them to love you back is the only way we can get through this period.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Gigi Foster, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Ms. Foster: It’s my great pleasure to be here. Thanks, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Gigi Foster and me for this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
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