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?
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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. Lockdown policies and various measures are being considered for World Health Organization policy and the international health regulations. It seems like this is actually going to happen. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Ms. Foster: Yes, this is a very disturbing idea that we would basically overwrite 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 countries all over the world. It is something that is not scientific, and we don’t yet have proof that lockdowns have worked. I have not seen that kind of evidence presented 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 always a good thing. That is simply not true, epidemiologically speaking.
It will take a while for this to be beaten out of the system. What is required is for people to speak up and say, “This wasn’t working,” and for good epidemiologists and caring doctors and people who know what’s happening to make petitions—and those petitions are happening all over the world now—to be sent to the World Health Assembly saying, “Look, this is nonsense, we don’t want to sign up for this.” Essentially it is a political move, as so much has been in the last couple of years, being put into 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. That’s an excuse. It’s not actually proactive health guidance, which is what it is being sold as.
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 places that had quite a varied response, let’s say like the U.S., where we had states that locked down extremely hard, yet you had states that almost did none of that.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: There are still large parts of the population in the U.S., and certainly in places like Canada and Australia and New Zealand, where there is still some level of lockdown and the population seems to think that this actually was a good idea.
Ms. Foster: Yes, absolutely. In Australia we had the amazing outcomes where some of the politicians that issued the worst and most ridiculous, extreme measures were supported by the majority of the people. We had a landslide victory in Western Australia for someone 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. The people did want very much to have a solution to what they feared, to this threat that they feared. That’s what they were basically being played on. 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. (Science Translational Medicine) 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.
The fear that started in March 2020 grew and grew and grew and became this force in people’s lives to the point where they kind of forgot about a lot of other things that matter. They focused on it so much and they pressured the politicians to save them, and then 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…” It’s always the same thing and it’s always sold in the language of public health protection. This also comes with all this language , “If you love your fellow man, you will do these things because it is about protecting people’s lives.” And if you don’t follow along, watch out, because you are going to be labeled an antisocial person. 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 is one of these things that makes your stomach turn.
Mr. Jekielek: I have friends in Canada and in Australia who will tell me, “Jan, what are you talking about? This worked. Look how low the virus was in our countries.”
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: “And look at the mess that happened in the U.S. and other places.”
Ms. Foster: Absolutely. 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.” An island nation like Australia has the capacity to close its borders and seriously decrease the amount of virus that comes in, and so does New Zealand. 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, and doing the technological innovations that can help us fight the virus better, and wait until the less virulent variants arise. You’re sort of sitting back, and it’s called free-riding in economics. 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 finally open your borders, COVID going away completely was never in the cards. From at least April or May of 2020, we knew there were huge animal reservoirs. We knew that this was something that was going to be with us forever. So zero-COVID was nonsense. You knew you had to open the borders at some stage. In the short run, the longer you can delay that, the more you can continue to paint yourself, the politician, as a savior. “Look, we have low counts.” But of course you don’t have to kill your economy as much. 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, “We didn’t have as many economic effects and the virus didn’t take as many people. 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 numbers, compared to the rest of the world, in terms of COVID deaths and even infections. We also had reasonably good economic performance for a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean that the things we did caused those results, and in the long run something we should be proud of. What we basically did was delay the wave of deaths that we could have had gotten over with in 2020. And 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. Now we’re going right back into the same kind of economic distress that the rest of the world is now experiencing.
We had a couple of years of just pretending that we were somehow going to be magically immune from both the viral effects and the economic effects. But now it’s coming. Right now, if you look at infections and deaths in Australia, and even at the economic indicators like inflation, it does not look good at all. That’s what we are in for, unfortunately.
Mr. Jekielek: One thing you could argue is that the virus changed from Alpha, and then to Delta and so forth.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And most people agree Omicron is now a milder form.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: But it spreads much quicker.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And so they could say, “We saved the Australian population from the really tough viruses early on and now it’s just Omicron.” According to Bill Gates, it’s like a kind of vaccine.
Ms. Foster: Yes. I’ve heard this is an argument as well. You could also just save the population until there is a vaccine and then you give them the vaccine. In theory, you have fewer people dying. Although, if you look at how many people are dying in Australia, there’s still quite a lot right now. This ignores the fact that with all of these actions taken in Australia with the closing of the borders and the domestic lockdowns, we also had a huge amount of fiscal outlay to support people who were kicked out of their jobs. These actions have costs. Nowhere was that actually factored in to the policymaking in Australia. Even 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?
That is the question. How many people would you be willing to kill in order to save one from COVID? Essentially, that is the trade-off. That’s the kind of question we should have been asking. Because some people die directly, and others suffer so much when you take these very draconian actions, when you aggregate that across the entire population, it is equivalent to having experienced death. So you have people who should have gone to hospital to get care for their strokes or their heart attacks, or who had cancer screenings that were missed. We know all of these stories about crowded-out healthcare. People sort of just wave their hands in the air, but that actually means people dying. That means deaths. You are killing some people in order to save others, supposedly. And do they not count, because they’re not COVID deaths?
So public health should be about public health for all, and for all the different dimensions of health. We have to have a concern. If we don’t, we are being heartless. We are ignoring the suffering in our midst, and that is what has happened. So yes, we may have in fact delayed the onset of COVID and thereby enabled the Australian population to be exposed only to a milder variant when they’re more vaccinated. It is possible we could have lost an extra few hundred people in that first wave coming through. But again, we should have taken an optimal policy response where we protected the people who were actually vulnerable to this virus, the significantly vulnerable, the older people, the people with comorbidities. That was clearly the right thing to do. Even in March 2020, that was clearly the right thing to do. Then we would have had far fewer deaths.
We would have had fewer deaths even if it were the Alpha wave, which supposedly was super-scary. Again, if you look at the data, it’s for the people under 50 who are healthy. Even Alpha is a flu virus, correct? It is just a very disproportionate focus on, “How many people have we saved from COVID? 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 the costs imposed on the population have really not yet been reckoned with yet. 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 relative to any benefit that they could possibly deliver, even in an island nation situation like Australia.
Mr. Jekielek: And very briefly, because you have actually been in the business of calculating said costs, how does this come out?
Ms. Foster: For Australia, I have done a cost-benefit analysis of the lockdowns with the help of Sanjeev Sabhlok, who was a treasury economist for the State of Victoria. He left his position, because they wouldn’t let him speak freely about this. We have completed the analysis, and we have a 145 page executive summary on the web. After tabulating, calculating, and quantifying all of the various dimensions of the costs of the lockdown policies, we found that lockdowns are about 30 to 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. At the moment, the number is actually 36 in the paper. But I say over 30, because of course estimates change. When you do these things, you have to make best guesses about a whole range of different factors. You’re dealing with the data you have, which is imperfectly measured and never exactly as accurate as you would like. We do the best that we can, as economists do in bureaucracies around the world, 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 done for lockdowns. I have still not seen it, not in the U.S., and not in Australia. The reason is because anyone 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 is no way lockdowns can pass the cost-benefit test. There’s no way. They are just too costly.
That is 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, it was just way too costly.
Mr. Jekielek: When we were talking offline, you said even with something like Ebola?
Ms. Foster: Yes. Even with Ebola. Some localized quarantines of sick people and people who have been exposed to sick people have sometimes been useful. But even then there are serious costs and you have to weigh them, and you would certainly never be locking down the entire healthy population in a country because of an Ebola outbreak there. No. That destroys your economy, it destroys your social relations, it breaks up families, it causes huge stress, and it decreases your immunity. There are all sorts of reasons why this is not a good idea. If people would like to protect themselves from COVID, it is better to think about how you take care of your 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? Are you making sure that you have healthy relationships? Are you feeling positive about your friends and family, and invested in your relationships?
These are the things that promote our immunity, and therefore create our ability 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. Some people worry about AI, but I worry about this sort of thing. It destroys our humanity.
Mr. Jekielek: As you’re talking right now, I can’t help but think the place to stay safe from an airborne virus would be outdoors. There were all sorts of policies where people were 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 to stay inside, and to stay separate. But of course, you can’t do that among family, because you’re not in that kind of situation. It’s almost like these policies were really in every way, the opposite of what you should be doing.
Ms. Foster: Exactly, exactly. This was particularly true 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 and to Zoom-in on everything, we’re fine. We can continue to go jogging and we might break the rules occasionally and whatever. 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 abuse, being unskilled, difficulty in finding a job, kids who don’t have enough space in the home to study, they were the ones who felt the impact of these lockdowns the most.
It is this incredibly regressive policy, as well as just being inhumane. It’s regressive in the sense of increasing inequality on everything and then 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 would be better off. They would be okay, relative to the kids who just had nothing when they went home.
Mr. Jekielek: Or where both parents were working?
Ms. Foster: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Foster: Or they just didn’t have a desk, r they didn’t have any support, or the structure of school had been helping them. Sometimes a lot of kids, in the U.S. 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. We know that schooling helps children. Of course it does. We’ve just forgotten these basic facts, these basic realities. Again, there is this bludgeoning of people where if you don’t follow the rules you’re antisocial. No, actually, 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.
Every day, at some point, I have a serious emotional moment where I either want to punch the wall or just break down in tears, because I recognize the pain that we have created. Not only that, but we’re going to be dealing with this for so many years into the future. These kids who have had the disrupted schooling, they’re going to be behind forever. The babies and the toddlers who were being taken care of by carers with masks on missed out on language acquisition opportunities. They missed out on 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 have to somehow try to make up for that. But those resources to make up for it will come from someone else. So there’s more pain there for whoever doesn’t get those resources.
It’s a zero-sum game. We only have so much in this world, and so many resources to allocate. We can’t have all of the costs that we have incurred during this period without a reckoning, without feeling the pain. So it’s a tragic, tragic thing. For those of us who have seen this, it’s going to be an area of research. We just can’t not study this now. For a couple of decades, probably into the future, it’s really going to be the students and scholars coming to understand this. In psychology as well, there is a huge amount of work to be done. So many people during this period have either been part of the policy-setting apparatus, or being vigilantes at the local level telling people you better mask up, you better do this, or you better stay in your home. They were antisocial, inhumane, and failing to resist this totalitarian slide in their own society.
If you really understand that you’ve been part of this problem, it’s going to be a shock psychologically. We are going to have people waking up and I imagine being in a Matrix-movie sort of wake up. “Oh my God, this is what’s been going on.” That’s a very sobering thing. A lot of strength is needed to get through that and not come away with a sense of being bad person. The counseling services are going to be needed for 20 years.
Mr. Jekielek: I can’t help but think about the New York City, toddlers who are still required to wear masks in preschool. 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, as well as personal complicity. In our lifetime, we have not seen what happens in that scenario. What happens when people recognize that? We are not anywhere near the point of really recognizing it. The World Health Assembly discussions about lockdowns are just one signal. In Australia, the rhetoric is simply not coming to terms with all of these costs yet. We’re still stuck hearing the narrative that’s been promulgated by the politicians all along. It will take a couple of years until we really understand this, but by then it’s going to be a very, very big psychological weight.
And of course, psychology was important at the start of this as well, with the fear we all felt in March and April, having seen all these videos of the people falling over in China and in Milan. Then in New York City, having all these cases and all these deaths got people very, very scared. That changes the way we think. It literally changes how we process information. That was the beginning of this narrow tunnel vision focus on just COVID, with everything else left to do its own thing. We entered this fantasy world in which, yes, we thought we could simply press pause on an entire economy. And then when we took our finger off, it would all be back to normal.
That’s crazy, right? That’s not consistent with the way an economic system actually works. When 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. So they start changing the way they allocate their resources and changing the people they interact with in the marketplace, maybe even changing jobs. Then that means when you take your finger off the button, it’s not the same place that it was. You have broken vital links, and you have changed people’s lives around . It doesn’t just go back to how it was. So that fiction and many other fictions were supported, because we had such a fear driving us. And that fear also led into this crowd creation, this sort of herd mentality.
Mr. Jekielek: Mass formation is what Mattias Desmet calls it.
Ms. Foster: Yes, Mattias Desmet’s theory.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Foster: Exactly. But it has been thought of many, many times before by previous thinkers as well. It’s the sociology of crowds. “Men go mad in crowds and then they wake up slowly, one by one,” said one sociologist. That is just what you’ve seen during this period. There is this whole group. Then occasionally, you’ll have a conversation with one or two people, one on one, and they recognize, “Oh, I see.” You can’t see it when you’re inside the group, but once you’re outside of it, that gives you the perspective to look and say, “Oh my gosh, those people literally can’t think.” They have literally outsourced their notion of what is true and what is moral to the group.” 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.”
They are led by whatever is the current truth of the crowd. They’re not using their minds for their own independent thought. They’re using their minds to rationalize the truth that the crowd gives them. That is the scary part. Because in this period, it hasn’t been IQ, education, or any kind of soft-skill intelligence that has determined whether people have been sucked up into the crowd. It’s just if you were you actually thinking independently and you were somehow able to separate yourself from this mass movement. Those of us who are in the resistance are kind of weird humans. I had a very lonely childhood. I was always kind of on the outs and never with the in-crowd. 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 in all this stuff. I saw it as if through a microscope, right there in the Petri dish, looking at all my fellow humans going mad.
This is a very common theme amongst those I have spoken to in the resistance. Somehow they were just resisting this sweeping up into the crowd, and they held tightly to their own sense of morality. They have a personal sense of what is true, and they are accustomed to using their minds, and not to rationalize something that somebody else says, but to actually think through a puzzle. In fact, the people who are most educated and most intelligent and at the top of our best institutions, they have such big brains that they can rationalize almost anything with a really good story. That has been part of the problem as well. There have been ridiculous rationalizations of lockdowns and everything else. The people who actually are making those rationalizations are the product of our best universities. These are really, really smart people. You would like to be able to trust them, but that is not what it’s about. It’s not about intelligence, it’s this social, psychological dynamic.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating. So I really enjoyed reading Laura Dodsworth’s book, who is from the UK.
Ms. Foster: The State of Fear.
Mr. Jekielek: In her book she examines how fear was deliberately pushed onto the population, even by government entities. She makes a very convincing case.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe in the U.S. too. We don’t have clear documentation how that played out, but certainly many of the establishment media were pushing these kinds of things.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Then you have someone like myself who is thinking, “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: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: “At the same time, I do want to do my part for society. I’ll throw on a mask. Maybe that will help people. I have heard different stories about masks, but in this case, why not? Because if it can help somebody, especially the older people I’ll do it.” I imagine there’s a lot of people like me, similar to you, where they are already looking at it from the outside.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
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.
Ms. Foster: My co-author Paul Frijters, early on was also wearing masks around the place, because he basically wanted people to feel more comfortable around him. He thought, “Well, there’s not much of a cost.” Now, of course, if you think about what the cost of masks are, 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. Of course, when 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. You are impeding the language acquisition of small children. You’re also essentially breathing your own CO2 a little bit, so maybe 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 I will just do it 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 a Guy Fawkes mask, a costume mask.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Foster: As a resistance.
Mr. Jekielek: I see where you are going with this.
Ms. Foster: Yes. I could go on with that. Early on, I was called in the Australian media, a neoliberal, Trumpkanaut death-cult warrior, and a granny killer. 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. I am doing it in a different way, by resisting the totalitarian impulses of the ruling class and saying, “This is not going to be okay.” I hope I live in a democratic society where I have the right to say that. That is a service to society, even by just putting out the alternative view, even if I’m wrong.
I am 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. That’s the signal of a healthy society. It is a prosocial thing. Taking the alternative position is a prosocial thing. As soon as we stop talking about any kind of big issue like COVID, gun policy, abortion policy, or anything else, we start to die as a society. A healthy society invites and encourages discussion across the aisle on all the big issues. We need so much more of that in our society today, because what has happened during this period is a regression in terms of inequality, and in terms of our ability to speak to each other.
We have 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, and the good and the bad. It is 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. 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 is going to silence dissent, and that is bullying. You’re basically calling people a name, just like we would in a school playground. The bully in the playground.
That’s not the kind of person that we want to be like.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Foster: We want to be understanding and empathic and fearless. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself. Well, that was not followed as a prescript early on, particularly in Australia. 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. We have had admissions of that from people who are working in those units. We’ve had them say, “Look, this wasn’t as serious as we were pushing it to be.”
Mr. Jekielek: “We pushed the fear, and it was a bit too far, perhaps.”
Ms. Foster: It was definitely out of proportion to what the actual threat was. It was decided to be a good thing, because that way we could get more compliance. Good Lord, as if compliance had no cost again? There’s no cost to the lockdowns and the masks and all the other stuff? It’s just this one-sided, unbalanced tunnel vision that focuses 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 dynamic, constantly moving target. You’re always searching for the 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. He actually is your fellow man who can give you many positive things. Just sitting here is probably positive for our immune systems. We are having a conversation. It’s positive. We are thinking about issues, and we’re connecting. That’s a good thing. 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. We’re not pure, perfect, soaped-up people. It is actually bad for us to be super-sanitized, and never exposed to viruses. That’s bad for our immune systems, and it’s bad for our health. It is not a natural state for humans. So we need to rediscover something about who we really are.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned the Matrix, you mentioned these very sanitized people, and you mentioned the way policy was implemented. I can’t help but think that early on a lot of the policy was based on models.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: It was based on things that were completely separate from reality. It turns out that a lot of the suppositions, and a lot of the variables that were introduced into the models were orders of magnitude wrong.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: 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: Those people are making decisions because they believe that those types of structures actually work better. Or that’s just their bias, because they work in modeling. They believe that’s the way that you can come up with good answers.
Ms. Foster: Yes, it’s a very good point and there are a few things to say about this. 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 constant bombardment of information through the internet and social media. Again, you need heuristics for the human mind, you need heuristics to cope with all of this. If someone comes along and says, “Okay, here I have reduced all of this complexity into this simple model,” it is very seductive. This is one of the reasons why not just politicians, but even scientists get sucked into the idea that these very narrow, stylized versions of reality, heavily laden with assumptions, are just as good as actually coming to terms with all of reality.
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 then they publish in that area. They have specialized there, they make their publications, and that’s their job to do that very narrow focus. The broad minded scientist, whether they are in social science or hard sciences, is a rare species these days. 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. We may have specialty areas, but we are also interested in and want to think about the broader society.
It takes a lot of effort in the brain. You’re constantly having to weigh up, “Okay, 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.” You’re constantly going around with this model of the whole world in your head. We’ve done the same thing, the simulations of how COVID, H1N1, or other viruses would propagate throughout the species and this focus on R-naughts and all these other things. The first fallacy is that there is nothing else in that model except the viral transmission and all the outcomes from the virus. Forget about the cost of lockdowns. Forget about the cost of trying to mitigate the spread. There’s nothing in those models about costs. So inherently it’s an uneconomic exercise. That’s point one.
Secondly, 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. It’s just judgment calls all over the place, and they have been wrong in the past. Previous epidemiological simulations have been wildly off. And this time, not surprisingly, they were off again, even if you excuse it in the first few months, and even if you excuse the reliance on these simulated models. The data started coming in, after we had 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 during this process. And again, science is always about updating. Here’s some new information, does it fit with your theory? Does it fit with your predictions? If not, modify the theory. Because data is data, that’s what is happening in the real world. 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 in economics, all models are wrong and some are useful. All models are wrong is the most important part of that phrase. That is because we just don’t know a huge amount about viruses and people’s resistance to them.
There is so much we don’t know that it is a fool’s errand to expect that building a simulated model will 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 update your data. But by that point, March, April, May, June of 2020, politicians already had this line, “Okay, we’ve got to go to the lockdowns and the control of the transmission.” Undoing that basically would have been very politically difficult for them. Then that’s why I say, and we have been seeing this for two years now, it is politics, not public health. Maybe it was public health at the start, just a little bit.
Mr. Jekielek: But it’s almost a kind of a hyper-politicization.
Ms. Foster: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s what I’m thinking. I want to talk about that a little more. I remember listening to a UK modeler talking, and it spoke to something terribly wrong in the system.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: He said, and this is extreme paraphrasing. Roughly, he said, “Yes, I overestimated,” like that was okay somehow, “but I definitely couldn’t have underestimated,” like that wouldn’t have been acceptable.
Ms. Foster: Yes. That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: What is that?
Ms. Foster: That’s the same thing we have with meteorologists, where if they think there’s any chance of rain, maybe 10% or more, they’ll put rain on the forecast. They don’t want to be caught having predicted that it’s going to be sunny and people plan for picnics or time outdoors and then it rains, because then people blame them more. It’s the same thing with the modelers. If they are found out afterwards to have 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. That’s the thing being looked at in those models, rather than people dying from anything else. We could have invested in minimizing through expenditures other than the lockdowns and masks and whatever we were doing about COVID. We could have spent money on trying to promote people’s health in other ways.
But we didn’t do that and we spent the money this other stuff instead. Again, that economic trade-off is just nowhere in any of these models. It is nowhere in the incentives that are given to these simulation model runners. So, yes, that’s exactly right. They do have a tendency, and an incentive to go for the more extreme estimates. Because then they are going to get more attention. At some level, everybody wants status, power, money, and attention. And this is a good way to get it. If you can scream, “Oh my God, there are going to be lots of people dying. Look, my special, fancy, scientific model says so.” A lot of people are going to be sucked in by that, and a lot of people don’t even understand it.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s folks that like the idea of being able to see everything on a console and sort of nudge things in a particular direction, it’s an incredibly simplified society. I’m thinking about the push for digital, vaccine passports, for example.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: The logical conclusion of that would be like the social credit system that has been implemented in China.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Where if someone isn’t vaccinated, they are prevented from traveling.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: If they have not been vaccinated, their phone lights up red. This has actually been used against lawyers working with dissidents. These lawyers are actually vaccinated, but they have worked with the wrong person. Suddenly their phone lights up red, and they can’t travel. Because they have worked with the “wrong” person, they now have a so-called “health” issue.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: These people can sit in front of a console and say, “Okay, these are the correct elements of society. And these over here are the problematic elements of society. I’m going to let these correct elements do what they want, but these problematic ones are spreading disinformation.”
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: We haven’t even talked about that yet.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of concern that some entity or maybe even AI, which is the most disturbing to me, will be able to look at people and their personal information and their status.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Whether it’s vaccination a political issue, they can make decisions on the fly using these supercharged information systems.
Ms. Foster: Yes. It’s a serious issue. 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.” That I would 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 prosocial towards your grandmother, it’s about just being able to live your life. Certainly in America, that is something that we still hold dear, and we still think is important. You can see that in some of the states that are opening up. But this is not even about COVID, this is about just generally being able to be free.
It’s the land of the free, supposedly. If we push back enough, that sort of thing won’t happen. The second thing is there is this notion that there is a person up there or a group who can dictate, “These people are good, and these people are bad.” That is a dystopian image and there’s nobody in the bureaucracy of the United States who could possibly do that. The bureaucracy is a massive behemoth of a thing, and it is so disorganized. Most people who work for it are, again, looking at some little tunnel vision area. They’re not looking at the big picture. So, yes, you would have to get AI to intermediate. But then if you have any kind of mistake, 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. This automated system sent messages to all of these poor people who are on Centerlink, our welfare system. It caused enormous stress and it got into the papers and it was a huge scandal. How can we do this? Some person needs to look at this. We can’t just punish people by machine. So that gives me hope, 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, as long as we have the capacity to be free, we can say this is not okay. 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 allow people to make different choices. Don’t monitor them. Don’t say this is bad, and this is good, except for basic rules, 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 social issues. We don’t have a press that will do this. This is something a lot of people are deeply concerned about. The legacy or establishment media is basically validating all of the things that you’ve just been talking about, and giving its stamp of approval. They are pushing the fear.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m not even sure any of this could have happened, actually.
Ms. Foster: Yes. I agree that the role of media is hugely important during this time. But I’m heartened again by another example from history. In the Napoleonic times, and you can look it up, I’m sure you’ve probably already seen it. When Napoleon was exiled to Elba and then he escaped, the initial reaction of the Parisian newspapers was was headline, “Monster escapes from Elba,” or something similar. As he got closer and closer and closer to Paris, the language changed. It became the previous emperor. Then by the time he had arrived in Paris, it was Emperor Napoleon takes up his rightful throne again. So the way the press can change according to the winds of power is phenomenal.
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. 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. They will turn against them because they want to be with power. 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 the press will look a lot freer. They will certainly be speaking all of these truths much more freely.
I don’t expect it for a couple of years. Then I would also 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. 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 at least we are having this conversation. The same thing is true in Australia, we have some dissident press. 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, then they can start a new network. That’s what I expect, not just in media, but in health, in the legal profession, and in psychology.
We are 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, and they can’t speak freely. Their clients are not allowed to feel bad about the fact that they were withheld from school for two years.
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, anxious, and suicidal.”
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 I expect that we will have the same thing in the UK as well, an alternative health network to the NHS. 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. When the existing networks that are supposed to provide those services get too tainted, too corrupt, and too distant from their actual mission, we’ve got to create another one.
Mr. Jekielek: Gigi, I’m a big optimist as well. There is a huge precedent for these types of parallel structures. This is what happened in my own ancestral country of Poland. These institutions were able to build under communism and then as things changed, they were able to play a huge role in these upgraded, updated, more free structures. The thing I want to end on, you’re talking about this resistance that’s out there. You started talking about developing parallel structures to these health systems. I know of several that are being created, or already exist loosely, but are they are now being more codified in America, and in other places.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: There is going to be a reckoning. I believe that we’re going to get through this. I believe that. But there is going to be a 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: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: They participated in something that really hurt society and hurt their children.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: They may have lost loved ones in the process. It’s hard for me even to fathom how big that is.
Ms. Foster: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: First of all, how do we help people just to realize that? Then how do we help people go through that?
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 lies, the craziness, and actually believe that if you don’t believe all that, then you’re hurting people. It’s so difficult because they’re spewing insults and abuse. How do you come out and hug someone who’s spewing abuse at you. 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.” You really have to accept these people as part of humanity. They have shown us 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 responsibility to protect the proper and humane functioning of our society. This is what can happen.
So thank them for showing this to us. Try to find something in yourself that allows you to still give to these people who really think you’re evil. They really do right now, they really think you are evil. Then continue to hug them and hold them as they recognize, “Oh my, it’s I who was evil. It’s I who participated, and who helped to support this.” Think of what has happened to people who have lost a child because of a mistake they have made, for example. “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 had overdosed.”
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, it depends on what the person’s role was during this period. The pain is going to be acute if they recognize this themselves. 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. 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—the vaxxed, the unvaxxed, the masked, the unmasked, the good, the bad, the clean, the dirty. No. The things we share are much bigger. So focus on that. Help them to focus on that, and help them to love you back. It is the only way we can get through this period.
Mr. Jekielek: 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 I for this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.
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