Fasten your wits | Daily FT

So, we need “stability” ‘and’ “breakthrough.” And we need a scorecard for the first, and a blueprint for the other, and we must “fasten our wits” and let sustainable growth out of this largely self-created morass, be minted from the creative energies of a nation truly galvanised and genuinely focused to help us create worthier chapters in Sri Lanka’s national biography 

So, eventually even the bastions of “witlessness” relent. The US CDC has issued fresh COVID-19 guidance based on, get this, “individual decisions”. What a novel concept. And these are, and I quote:

  • Those exposed to the virus are no longer required to quarantine
  • Unvaccinated people now have the same guidance as vaccinated people
  • Students can stay in class, after having been exposed to the virus.
  • It’s no longer recommended to screen those without symptoms.

Well, well…

The Danes have said “vaccinations” will only be for those above 18, voluntary, not inflicted, and that they intend to treat COVID like influenza or seasonal flu, particularly for the healthy and those without comorbidities. 

Remember, the Danes came fastest out of lockdowns, removed restrictions while “cases” (positive PCR tests) were skyrocketing and have shown other compounding signs of sanity.

Hence, the Lanka press saying “COVID deaths are rising” on a day that the “ascribed” deaths moved from 8 to 9, for above 60-year-olds, is playing a sad, silly game, and you wonder what the desperate fact free medical hypochondria is now for.

A detour

Germany has an understandable historical sensitivity to stigmatising and humiliating members of the population (1941 and “the Jewish Badge” comes tragically to mind). Today’s “New Normal” you have fascist fanatics rewriting the “Infection Protection Act” by which under the evident onus of “public health” the German Constitution can be repeatedly bypassed.

This “Act” has allowed for the doling out of lockdowns, curfews, outlawing of protests and mandatory wearing of “medical” looking face nappies. And if you want “not” to wear a mask you will (from October to Easter) have to show proof of “recent vaccination.” 

To those infatuated with their mindless conformity to the new ideology, this will be painful, as they may be misconstrued. And other states will demand “vaccination” or “recovery” papers to go to a restaurant, adding to the creepy fascistic overtones. After all, without showing “papers” to some befuddled goon for a cup of coffee, life would lose so much of its zest surely!

The imposition of an official ideology no longer even vaguely underwritten by facts, demanded by force is eerie. Remember, this has now nothing to do with respiratory viruses or public health. The majority of countries have mercifully rescinded the “emergency measures” (including Lanka), and those many who were demonised and censored are now suddenly “mainstream.”

While the Danish peer reviewed mask study showed how spurious and silly the face coverings are, the Germans are still fetishistically clinging to the “The Golden Syrian Hamster Model” (truly not a joke, or actually it is a joke, but also a highly suspect publication).

Governments around the world, the UK and Germany among them, now concede the “vaccinations” have killed or seriously injured tens of thousands of people. Current UK numbers (published) confirm that the “vaccines” have killed as many as allegedly have been “saved” by them from COVID (how many actually saved remains controversial due to the death certificate fudging and the “with” and “from” confusion). 

The new ideology is now largely confined to Germany, China, Canada, Australia, New York, California and a few more outliers and outposts. More and more people are clearly horrified by what is happening but stay mum…families to support, careers to protect.

But surely many, many thresholds have been breached, and eventually personal and professional consequences have to take a back seat to protecting our shared social fabric, and everything we will bequeath to those who follow us.

Mask-ocracy

One of the silliest leftovers of this period, where critical faculties were suspended and personal will immobilised is relative to residual masking. 

Zacharias Fogen’s study on masks has finally appeared in the prestigious journal “Medicine”. It looks at the increase or decrease of “case fatality”. You would think “decrease” due to the alleged reduction in viral material being transmitted. However, it’s not straightforward, as you may be infected at various times and breathing your own viruses back in.

This study based in the US State of Kansas showed case mortality being significantly “lower” ‘without’ mandatory masking. Mandatory masking increased case mortality by 85%!

Even after factoring in the reduced number of “cases” (positive tests), the numbers were still 52% higher. Over 95% of the effect can only be attributed to C-19 so it isn’t even the CO2, bacteria or fungi under the mask.

The “Foegen effect” is essentially deep inhalation of condensed droplets or pure virions, trapped in the mask. Animal models confirm it. Further human studies do too. A peer reviewed study in the European journal “Cureus” shows no association between mask compliance and case numbers in Europe, but a statistically positive association between mask compliance and death. In essence, more masks, same number of cases, more deaths!

A subsequent peer reviewed study by Adjodah et al, shows on a pre-post basis, that after lifting mask mandates, “cases” rise but mortality does not. Therefore, lifting mask mandates actually lowers case fatality rates! The study is open access and can be readily accessed in “Medicine” under “The Foegen Effect.”

The lure of laziness

As Sri Lanka faces a deluge of challenges, hopefully skirting the “non-science” of the COVID era, and the “voodoo economics” practiced by its own leaders and global monetarists, there is yet another appellation of collateral damage to contend with: namely, sloth.

While the US convulses over Trump’s home invasion by the FBI and Sri Lanka convulses over GSP+/IMF/UNHRC (or should be) and the price of fuel and how to restart tourism amidst lunatic advisories, we might take a look at a recent report on labour productivity in the US.

Across all indicators, taking hours over output, productivity per hour has collapsed. Part of the rationale could be we’ve been “vaccinated” with laziness, Zoom lifestyles and feigning work. A subculture hanging out on apps, Tweeting moral outrage, faking out bosses who can’t afford to fire them. 

In Sri Lanka, the reason for every business meltdown is, “It’s the country’s situation you know.” Expanded enough, it perpetuates mediocrity and blames it on the fates.

When workers are barraged with “lockdowns” and shutdowns at the drop of a hat, successive assertions of “states of emergency,” vaccines mandate demoralisation, inflation eroding real wages, a present or approaching recession, and voila! A nation detached! “Goofing off” becomes a national diversion.

Back to the US, that lightning rod of global trends. The -4.7% coming on top of the -7.7% in Q1, constitute the worst back-to-back productivity declines ever posted. 

The complacency virus has afflicted more than one culture. One of the key ways out is tourism for Sri Lanka. Yet the same tired prescriptions seem to circulate. Everyone seems to think getting “x number” of tourists without assessing what slice of the tourist pie they represent, their average spend, and whether they represent niches seeking experiences or just people bargain hunting for commodity getaways, is all we need to consider. Again, look at the tourism numbers of Asia Pacific, as I said Morocco for that matter, and you can see we have quite a few things to learn. 

And for a country with such exquisite ingredients and cuisine, and chefs who can also channel the genius of other cuisines when really introduced to them (amply demonstrated both locally and worldwide), the bog standard F&B offerings in too many of our Sri Lankan tourist hotels is really dispiriting, and comes back to the “complacency virus.” 

The fertiliser fall

Reeling from the “COVIDian” cuckoo prescriptions, spending far too much, borrowing far too much, mismanaging the currency, spending far too much on a dysfunctional government, Sri Lanka was not a poster child for effective economic vitality anyway, it could be argued. Bewitching always, yet also beleaguered. 

But the great unravelling, via a leader who capitulated to the global nostrums and played to our complacency demons with madcap money printing, came through this “fertiliser” route.

Sri Lanka hosted the UNEP Conference which resulted in 2019 in a “road map” to cut nitrogen pollution in half. And then followed the Gota election, with his now much pilloried talking points about “synthetic fertilisers causing kidney diseases.” By April 2021, he banned fertiliser imports. 

However, the Netherlands had proven that nations could slash nitrogen pollution from livestock by 70% while increasing meat production! Same for crops. Since the 1960s, the Netherlands has doubled its yields using the same amount of fertiliser. Rich nations produce 70% higher yields than poorer ones but use only 54% more nitrogen.

President Rajapaksa stayed at the global forefront of this polemic, blaming farmer’s “mindsets” for difficulties. In point of fact, the fertiliser ban caused a crash in food and tea production, 85% of Sri Lankan farmers experienced crop losses. Rice production fell 20%, prices surged 50%, and $ 450 million worth of grain had to be imported. This was a “debacle” writ large. 

So, while other factors contributed to the national meltdown, COVID measures, tourism, borrowing, rise of oil prices, what was truly decisive was the body blow from the fertiliser follies. 

Hardest hit was tea, which generated $ 1.3 billion exports and provided for 71% of the nation’s food imports before 2021. Tea production plummeted 18%, a 23 year low. And this destroyed the ability of Sri Lanka to pay for food, fuel, and service its debt. Especially, in collaboration with all the other economic “magical thinking.”

Speaking of magical thinking the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization advocates “agro-ecology” claiming it addresses poverty, hunger and climate change. However, evidence clearly argues otherwise.

The Bangladesh experience

I congratulate Michael Shellenberger for so astutely detailing all of this for us. In 1976, a white South African, John Briscoe, travelled to Bangladesh, armed with a degree in “environmental engineering” from Harvard, radicalised by racial segregation in his country. 

He encountered a village flooded by several meters of water for a third of the year, locals were rife with disease and malnutrition, life expectancy was below fifty. 

Briscoe learned there was a plan to build an embankment around the village to protect it from annual flooding and offer irrigation. He opposed it, sure it was a means of further concentrating wealth in the hands of the rich. 

Twenty-two years later, Briscoe returned to the Bangladeshi village, shocked. The villagers were healthy, schools were full, clothes rather than rags were in everyday evidence. Life expectancy was now in the 70s, women were increasingly independent, and there were vibrant markets for food.

What did it mean? The embankment! No more floods and the controlled use of water for irrigation. Then, bridges were built, reducing the time to market. The infrastructure projects, in this case, targeted and deployed for their original purpose, delivered real prosperity.

Briscoe was converted and has since pointed out, “Every presently rich country has developed more than 70% of its economically viable hydroelectric potential. Africa has developed a mere 3% of its potential.

The post WWII model was World Bank financing to build the basic infrastructure of developed societies: dams, roads, electricity grids. These are low risk and they generate revenue sales, securing the loans. Much of Brazil’s electricity grid is the result of the World Bank, which financed twelve hydroelectric projects there.

But an ideological sea change in the 90s capsized all this, with poor and developing nations now being pushed to use small-scale renewable energy, disastrously. Rich countries, who already have infrastructure, have swept aside, for example, water infrastructure as an instrument and precondition for growth. 

The leadership of Western NGOs and UN agencies have participated in efforts to redirect public and private money away from cheap energy and towards unreliable and expensive renewables. As Briscoe writes, “Time and again I have seen NGOs and politicians in rich countries advocate that the poor follow a path that they, the rich, have never followed, nor are willing to follow.”

The advocated “path” was now to be small and organic and fall back on local agriculture. However, Brazil, zealously taking “the wrong path” had become an agricultural superpower, producing three times the output they produced thirty years ago, with 90% coming from productivity gains! 

To punish them, the World Bank had already cut 90% of its development aid for Brazil’s agricultural research efforts because they were growing food as richer countries do. Brazil happily managed via its own resources. Now in the midst of the food crisis, NGOs won’t confess to their roles in precipitating any of this. 

Lending for agriculture had declined from 20% of official development assistance in 1980 to 3% in 2005 when the earlier food crisis hit. 10 years later, farmers, scientists and citizens are pushing back against the anti-fertiliser mavens. The Dutch farmer protests, under-reported as they are, have captivated global support, with similar protests being spurred elsewhere, including resistance from Canadian provincial agricultural ministers. And the catastrophe in Sri Lanka is a global portent.  

The fallacious “earth was in balance” theology which has no results to show for it must be ditched. Rising per hectare productivity is what drives economic growth, particularly in poorer nations, and allows for an evolution beyond traditional farming. Those “natural” days had populations yoked to farming, hierarchically organised, labor intensive, with few avenues for women and children and palpably higher child mortality. 

Again, time to “fasten our wits” and stop being seduced by the next agency with multiple letters rattling the saber of some global “solution” that has simply been asserted and never practically demonstrated.

The nature of our failures: Argumentum hystericum

For all the ills and shortcomings of the previous government, we must beware making them bogeymen. The “Lanka crisis” has been a long time in the making. Economic growth dipped precipitously already during the prior government that Gota electorally routed. Our “produce little, borrow and import a lot” model had already by then seen foreign debt multiply from 70% of GDP to 96%. On top of that, the Rajapaksa government sweeping in and doing tax cuts shows a dizzying indifference to reality (“unfastened wits”), but they added insult to injury.

And the corporates looked on, luxury consumables on borrowed money was the ruling dictum. State enterprises bled money. And when COVID came calling, our faculties were so numbed we could mutely (if not merrily) envisage multiple months of complete shutdown over a middling viral pathogen and were ready to assert more “curfews” at every whisper of medical quackery draped in WHO regalia. 

The phrase “Argumentum Hystericum” has been coined to indicate the stating of issues as false dichotomies. The first statement is meant to be so compelling; the second must be calamitously wrong.

“If you oppose invading Iraq you are cheering for Saddam’s inhuman policies.” We can see there are many shades of nuance between the options.

“Are you for lives or the economy?” The COVID nonsense, as if economy is not itself “lives” and given that poverty will kill you more decisively than a virus with an over 99% recovery rate.

“Should we listen to the voice of the people or accept a non-representative government?” Since many elections globally give you a very limited choice (candidates are thrown up by political parties in thrall to vested interests and donors), the “representative options” are very limited, and therefore in many countries, very few bother to vote. And whatever else President Rajapaksa was, you could hardly say he wasn’t elected by a “representative process.” He violated the social contract between leader and led is the claim and brought the country to an impasse so desperate that in outrage and horror a people’s movement gave voice to the need to transcend his toxic brew of non-leadership. But going forward there must be a balancing act between public sentiment and legal or constitutional guard rails. If majority outrage over-rules all of that, then we have mob rule. 

So we need to wage a campaign of public discourse, of “wit filled” leadership that eschews the “argumentum hystericum”. Here’s Greta: “If you do not reduce carbon emissions you are stealing my dreams.” There is a vast chasm between those options. Fauci: “If you oppose the CDC and NIH and my own proclamations, you are anti-science.” You can continue to do this with the tosh spouted by Johnson, the muesli read spuriously from Biden’s teleprompter, and the confused formulations we are hearing from our government about how we are still “planning” to have a “plan.” The appointing of committees though seems to continue as a great national skill here. The quality of execution or plans that are bold enough, audacious enough, explicit and time-bound enough, to have the urgency and potency to rally a revival – those continue to be in shorter supply. 

So, we need “stability” ‘and’ “breakthrough.” And we need a scorecard for the first, and a blueprint for the other, and we must “fasten our wits” and let sustainable growth out of this largely self-created morass, be minted from the creative energies of a nation truly galvanised and genuinely focused to help us create worthier chapters in Sri Lanka’s national biography. 


(The writer is the founder and CEO of EPL Global and founder of Sensei Lanka, a global consultant with over 30 years strategic leadership experience and now, since March 2020, a globally recognised COVID researcher and commentator.)