Author: Matthew Lesh

Australia’s COVID Catch-22

Last year Australia was a COVID-19 success story. Just 30,274 cases and 910 deaths in 26 million people was something to celebrate. But now America and Europe are getting on with vaccinations and learning how to live with the virus. Australia is faltering with embarrassingly few vaccinations and new lockdowns. It’s become like a Groundhog Day, set in late March 2020. In recent weeks community transmission has returned after leaks from hotel quarantine. This has led risk-averse state governments to reintroduce stay-at-home orders: first in Melbourne, and now in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Townsville, and the Gold Coast. Australia’s vaccination rate is at the bottom of the OECD’s 38 advanced economies. Fewer than five percent of Aussies have been fully vaccinated—12 times fewer than Israel, nine times fewer than the United States and the United Kingdom. Australia has experienced the archetypical story of hubris. Aussies genuinely felt superior watching the rest of the world last year: we beat the virus, you got millions of deaths. The early success, however, bred arrogance and complacency. Now the …

The End of Pestilence

Humanity had a vaccine that prevented COVID-19 in January last year. What we did not have was a regulatory system to facilitate rapid assessment of its safety and efficacy or the capacity to manufacture and inoculate at scale. COVID-19 subsequently caused immense human suffering: over 2.5 million deaths and lockdowns upending the lives of billions. It will be years before most of the world is vaccinated and the global economy recovers. It need not be this way in future. Humanity is on the cusp of overcoming one of our oldest foes: pestilence. But to achieve this ambitious task it will take a new way of thinking about vaccine development. Last year there were many who warned of the “risks” of accelerating vaccine development. The Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed was criticised for the “potential to cause harm” by loosening safeguards and inciting an antivaxx backlash. If these “go slow” advocates were successful we would still be waiting for vaccines, rather than inoculating millions, saving lives, and on our way to ending this dreadful pandemic. “It’s …

The Father of Capitalism and the Abolition of Slavery

It has become a common trope that slavery and the slave trade is responsible for the industrial revolution, if not our entire modern prosperity. Slavery is often called capitalism’s “dark side.” A recent column in the Guardian claimed the slave trade “heralded the age of capitalism” and Guardian columnist George Monbiot said on Twitter: “The more we discover about our own history, the less the ‘trade’ on which Britain built its wealth looks like exchange, and the more it looks like looting. It meant extracting stolen resources and the products of slavery, debt bondage and land theft from other nations.” The same line has been taken by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who tweeted: “It’s a sad truth that much of our wealth was derived from the slave trade.” But what did the “father of modern economics,” Adam Smith, actually think about slavery? And is it responsible for our modern prosperity? Adam Smith argued not only that slavery was morally reprehensible, but that it causes economic self-harm. He provided economic and moral ammunition for the abolitionist …

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented. Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the …

Politics and the Practice of Warm-Heartedness

A review of Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks. Broadside e-books (March 2019). “While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate,” Arthur Brooks explains. “However, even a climate scientist has to think about the weather when a hurricane comes ashore… Political differences are ripping our country apart, rendering my big, fancy policy ideas largely superfluous.” Brooks, outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of a shopping list of bestselling books, is now taking on the challenging question of how to bring together a divided country. In his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, he makes the case that Americans are sick of bitter, personal fighting and want a more united nation. The challenge is to work out how to get there. Brooks blames America’s bitter politics on the “outrage industrial complex”: the media, politicians and commentators who entice voters, attract television viewers, and sell books and event tickets …

Is Safetyism Destroying a Generation?

A review of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Penguin Press (September 4, 2018) 352 pages. In recent years behaviours on university campuses have created widespread unease. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, and speech codes. Demands for speakers to be disinvited. Words construed as violence and liberalism described as ‘white supremacy’. Students walking on eggshells, too scared to speak their minds. Controversial speakers violently rebuked – from conservative provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos to serious sociologists such as Charles Murray, to left-leaning academics such as Bret Weinstein. Historically, campus censorship was enacted by zealous university administrators. Students were radicals who pushed the boundaries of acceptability, like during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. Today, however, students work in tandem with administrators to make their campus ‘safe’ from threatening ideas. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for …