Oz for Dummies: Week 47, 2021

Andreas Ortmann
6 min readNov 27, 2021

(November 21–28) Pandemic normality in the land of Oz / The fourth wave is coming. Or is it? Ignore the notorious alarmists … / More learning by experience / New German government about to take over from Merkel

Last week’s Oz for Dummies drew the ire of at least one reader. Paul Frijters suggested I would be quite ashamed of it six months from now. He refused to specify what part exactly he thought was offensive. But I happily accepted the bet he proposed.

/Pandemic normality in the land of Oz

The key numbers in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria have not changed much for the last week. A couple of hundred new cases in the former and stubbornly four-digit numbers in the latter. The latter is particularly surprising — the numbers move sideways at a much higher level than in NSW. It is not clear to me why that is. The differential protest activity could be a reason although, since the protests happen outside, transmission risks are low.

The pattern is surprising given that Victoria is now only a couple of percentage points behind in its vaccination rates (e.g., 90% vs 92% of those above 15 fully vaxxed), and way ahead of the laggards like Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland (all about 75%), and South Australia (almost 80%). How these states want to transition into “living with covid” is as unclear as the modelling their decisions are allegedly based on. There a certainly humongous costs associated with the cynical posturing of, say McGowan and Palaszczuk.

Pandemic normality means also that foodbanks are in ever increasing demand. Many Australians go hungry these days.

/ The fourth wave is coming. Or is it? Ignore the notorious alarmists …

Notwithstanding the fact that life in NSW and Victoria is normalizing at a pleasing pace, there is always something somewhere that the resident OzRagers can use to drum up more hysteria. Predictably, one of their prominent (and often wrong) megaphones took the opportunity of the fourth wave in Europe to do some more scare-mongering. Expect more of the same from the same crowd now that a new virus of concern has been identified in South Africa. No one knows yet whether B.1.1.529 has higher transmissibility and more lethal potential but travel restrictions have been imposed in many places already. Chise — someone worth following — got it about right (and Drosten, Lauterbach, and other experts in Germany and Fauci in the USA have currently a similar stance):

Since we are at it, let us note for the record that Michael S Fuhrer has started to track the predictions of OzRagers who were not happy about it apparently. So much for accountability and peer review. (Global Biosecurity has since blocked me, too. Not sure why. But I take it as a badge of honour to be in Michael’s company.)

/ More learning by experience

The last couple of weeks I have commented on the case of German soccer star Josh Kimmich, one of the 8.6% German soccer players in the top two German leagues currently unvaxxed. Of course, Kimmich is not just your average player — he is widely considered a key player both for Bayern Munich and the national team. His hesitation to get vaxxed previously sent several of his team mates on both teams into quarantine and had him miss games by both teams. Last week his case got even more interesting when it was reported that Kimmich, and an unvaccinated colleague, have contracted the virus (see here for the news in English). Kimmich now has 14 days (at least) to ponder the trade-off between (the consequences of) being vaccinated and not being vaccinated. And he doesn’t even to have to factor in public-health externalities for the assessment.

Frankly it puzzles me that at this stage of the game people like him have trouble understanding that vaccines are protective along pretty much every dimension. For a good primer, including some excellent visualizations, see here. “The simple message is: vaccines work really well against transmission and severe disease.”

The already mentioned Chise offered the following illustration:

Vaccination ratest to the left, deaths per million to the right (14 day period)

As with all cross-sectional data, this illustration (worth indeed a few thousand words) misses important dynamic aspects such as the waning efficacy of vaccines but it is suggestive. Not getting vaxxed is a stupid idea. And that is before you factor in the public-health consequences of not being vaxxed.

Yes, bodily autonomy is an important right that should not easily be given up. But since SARS-CoV-2 produces considerable externalities (or, spillover effects) bodily autonomy cannot possibly be an untouchable absolute. Say it as it is, Jacqui!

My patience is wearing thin, too.

/ New German government about to take over from Merkel

Labor, Greens, and Free Democrats have have hammered out a coalition agreement. Here is a summary of the key points (in German unfortunately), with a link to the agreement. Social Democrat Olaf Scholz (the current deputy chancellor under Merkel) will become the new chancellor and successor of Angela Merkel. Greens co-leader Robert Habeck will become deputy chancellor and minister for climate, energy, and the economy, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock will become Germany’s first female minister for foreign affairs, and leader of the Free Democrats Christian Lindner will become the finance minister. Social Democrats have secured six ministeries (including labor, interior, and defense) and Greens and Free Democrats, five and four respectively. CDU and CSU will have time to reconsider in opposition what they stand for.

I think that this is the best configuration Germany could have hoped for. Social Democrats and Greens have previously formed a coalition (the Schroeder — Fischer government that preceded Merkel’s four governments) and that coalition tried to implement ambitious labor markets and social-security reforms known as agenda 2010 that, while controversial and leading to a lost confidence vote and the begin of the Merkel reign, are credited by many for having modernized Germany. The new coalition of Social Democrats and Greens will focus — will have to focus because of its voters— on the environment but it has plenty of other issues to deal with: intergenerational equity (with Germany’s Supreme Courts recently having ruled that some provisions of the 2019 climate change act were in violation of the rights of future generations, an issue which was recently addressed by an amendment to the act), the national debt (having been, and being, increased during the pandemic in unsustainable ways as recently noted by Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof [General Accounting Office]), equality (with Germany having one of Europe’s largest gender pay gaps, for example), the shift of power during the pandemic away from the legislative to the executive, and relatedly the erosion of civil rights. Most urgently of course is the worsening pandemic situation, to which the Omicron variant was just added as a wildcard .

Any coalition is potentially a fragile thing. So this, too. There is concern that Habeck and Lindner won’t be able to resist the temptation to enhance their profile at the expense of the other. Time will tell. Having Scholz in the chancellor position is a good thing for that reason alone. He is, and apparently has shown himself as that during the coalition negotiations, the grown-up in the room. I am guardedly optimistic that this coalition will be — on balance and within the fiscal constraints that they face — a good thing for Germany.

And that’s the wrap for week 47 of 2021. Feel free to share and consider following me here,

on twitter [@aortmannphd], or

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Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …