Podcast episode

Gigi Foster estimates COVID lockdowns cost young people 116x any benefits – EP205

Professor Gigi Foster talks about her paper “COVID’s Cohort of Losers” which argues that COVID lockdowns and other restrictions disproportionately imposed costs on young people with few offsetting benefits. Gigi is a Professor of Economics at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and was named the 2019 Young Economist of the Year by the Economic Society of Australia.
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About this episode’s guest: Gigi Foster

Gigi Foster is a Professor with the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales, having joined UNSW in 2009 after six years at the University of South Australia.  Formally educated at Yale University (BA in Ethics, Politics, and Economics) and the University of Maryland (PhD in Economics), she works in diverse fields including education, social influence, corruption, lab experiments, time use, behavioural economics, and Australian policy.  

Gigi’s research contributions regularly inform public debates and appear in both specialised and cross-disciplinary outlets (e.g., Quantitative Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Journal of Population Economics, Journal of Economic Psychology, Human Relations).  Her teaching, featuring strategic innovation and integration with research, was awarded a 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.  

Named 2019 Young Economist of the Year by the Economic Society of Australia, Gigi has filled numerous roles of service to the profession and engages heavily on economic matters with the Australian community.  As one of Australia’s leading economics communicators, her regular media appearances include co-hosting The Economists, a national economics talk-radio program and podcast series premiered in 2018, with Peter Martin AM on ABC Radio National.

What’s covered in EP205

  • Intro to the cost and benefits of lockdowns. (3:22)
  • Quality adjusted life year (QALY) and WELLBY. (8:07)
  • Fear and the crowd. (13:47)
  • The history of the cordon sanitaire. (16:58)
  • How many lives were saved? (22:14)
  • The cost and benefits of lock-downs. (27:25)
  • The economics of the lockdown. (34:24)
  • How do we determine the severity of pandemics? (36:25)
  • The difference between the 1918 flu and COVID-19. (41:18)
  • Citizen juries. (46:35)
  • New laws about misinformation and disinformation. (49:45)
  • Health and good nutrition. (56:01)

Links relevant to the conversation

Gigi’s paper for CIS:

Information on WELLBYs:

HM Treasury’s Wellbeing Guidance for Appraisal: Supplementary Green Book Guidance

Transcript: Gigi Foster estimates COVID lockdowns cost young people 116x any benefits – EP205

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application It was then looked over by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to pick up any clangers that otters sometimes miss in their rush to catch fish. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:06

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.

Hello, thanks for tuning into the show. In this episode, I catch up with Gigi Foster to talk about her thought-provoking new paper “COVID’s Cohort of Losers”, in which she argues that COVID policies massively disadvantaged young people with few offsetting benefits. My occasional co-host, Tim Hughes, took part in the conversation too. Gigi is Professor of Economics at the University of New South Wales. She was named 2019 Young Economist of the Year by the Economic Society of Australia. She has an undergraduate degree from Yale, and a PhD from the University of Maryland. Okay, let’s get into it. I hope you enjoy our conversation with Gigi Foster.

Professor Gigi Foster, welcome to the programme.

Gigi Foster  01:30

Thanks so much for having me, guys. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Gene Tunny  01:33

It’s terrific. Gigi. I’ve got Tim Hughes with me, Tim, good to have you in this conversation, too.

Tim Hughes 01:43

Yeah. Good to be here. Nice to meet you Gigi again.

Gene Tunny  01:47

Yeah. So I mean, both Tim and I saw Gigi at a event in Brisbane on First Tuesday Club when we, you presented on your book, The Great COVID Panic, Gigi so after that you’ve, well, among other things, you’ve produced a paper for a Centre for Independent Studies. So that’s an organisation I’ve got a connection with. I’m an adjunct fellow there. And you’ve written this great paper “COVID’s Cohort of Losers, the intergenerational burden of the government’s Coronavirus response”. So to start off with Gigi, I’d like to ask you about this estimate, you’ve got in your paper, you estimate that the COVID policies Australia pursued. So we’re talking about lockdowns, keeping kids home, keeping them away from school, those COVID policies have cost the nation’s youth at least 116 times the value of any benefit that they could have received from these policies. And you’re, you say that this is a conservative estimate? Could you tell us please? I mean, how do you broadly just broadly to begin with, how do you come up with a number like that 116 times the value of any benefit.

Gigi Foster  02:50

So basically, the approach I take in that CIS report, which came out a few months ago, is very similar to the approach I take in my cost benefit analysis of Australia’s Covid lockdowns, generally for the entire country, which was published by Connor Court in late 2022. That’s a book now that is co-authored with Sanjeev Sabhlok, who you may also know of through his anti-lockdown statements during the past few years, he used to be a Victorian Treasury economist. And then he parted ways with the Treasury in I think, September 2020. And fortunately, he was between jobs. So I was able to partner with him and producing this larger cost benefit analysis. And then CIS, well Matt Taylor at CIS asked me to produce a kind of focused report specifically on the cost to youth. So the mechanisms that caused damage during the COVID period, that were really the, the main ones I was worried about when we started with the lockdowns are the fact that when you lock people down you’re making them stressed and unhappy, right? So there’s that one immediate negative effect. And then also the fact that because we followed up lock downs with these large fiscal stimuli, the Jobkeeper programme in particular, that we were going to be racking up debt, we’re also creating inflationary conditions, which I mentioned at the time, but that seemed to be something nobody wanted to hear. But certainly the debt is basically signing us up to not be able to spend as much on other things in the future. And so for children or young people who are going to be around in the future, of course, that means that they’re going to have a less good life in the future, because we have accumulated this debt during this period, that three years ago, the COVID period were the two years really, which is what I’m analysing in the report and in the cost benefit analysis. So 2020 and 2021. And those two types of damage, those two mechanisms of damage are the major ones that are that are making up the large amount of costs, which is $116 billion. I believe that I estimate that the youth will have paid because of our COVID response. Now, of course, doing a cost benefit analysis, as the name suggests means that you also need to enumerate the benefits and so, of course the benefits that were touted when the lockdowns came in or that we would save people from COVID. Right? And as it turns out, and this was true in March 2020, if you actually looked at the data COVID is mostly dangerous to the elderly or people who are comorbid. So in fact, the average age of COVID death or death with COVID is basically the life expectancy in Australia right? And so, you know, really, if you’re thinking about the benefits to use of lockdowns, they’re not in the form of saving people from COVID deaths. They are actually more in the form of a few people not dying in traffic accidents or homicides who otherwise might have if we hadn’t had the lockdowns, those are benefits that were not sold as part of the marketing package for the lockdowns initially, but they are benefits. So there are fewer people go into pubs. And of course, the young people who go to pubs and sometimes get drunk and accidentally off each other. And then there were also fewer people driving cars. And so there were a few fewer deaths from that. So you know, those, those were the kinds of benefits that if you were looking for benefits to the young, it would count. Now, of course, the question then is, well, how do you compare these costs and benefits? Right? Because it sounds like you’re being more stressed when you’re sitting at home because of lockdowns is not really in the same category. It’s not in the same currency as a benefit. That means no, okay, I’m not gonna die from a homicide in a pub, right? So in order to do this, we have to choose and this is true for any cost benefit analysis that anyone has ever conducted, you have to choose a currency in which you are able to basically express or quantify the costs and the benefits of the policy or policies that you’re evaluating. And so for my cost benefit analysis of Australia, for Australia as a whole, and for the CIS report, what I choose to use is something we call the WELLBY or the well being year. And this is a new currency, reasonably new, we came on the scene in about 2018 or so it was the production of a bunch of researchers at the London School of Economics. And it’s built from a question that asks directly about life satisfaction. So there’s a there’s a question that appears on many life satisfaction surveys around the world across time that says overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? Now, you know, you can argue about whether that actually captures everything that is important, right. But I think in terms of the immediate effects of the lock downs, it’s not bad, it’s probably better than alternative statistics that we have access to, like, you know, how many people were thrown out of work? Or how much is GDP expected to decline because it is really directly about human welfare, human wellbeing. And that to me, certainly as an economist, that is the most defensible maximand of government policy. It’s the maximand that I try to go for when I’m when I’m making policy recommendations. I want to recommend policy that has that is going to maximise human wellbeing, human thriving from the scarce resources that we’ve got, right? So I like the currency for particularly for that purpose for figuring out how much people suffered during lockdowns directly. And so the WELLBY is built from this question, the question’s answered on a zero to 10 scale. So zero is not at all satisfied and 10 is, you know, completely satisfied. The average answer to that question of somebody in a place like Australia when they’re feeling pretty good and healthy is about an eight. And the average answer of somebody who is kind of indifferent between life and death, because their life is so difficult and painful, is around a two, though there is some disagreement about this, some people say one I use two, which means that eight minus two being six, WELLBYs, so each increment there on that scale is one WELLBY, so six WELLBYs enjoyed for one person for one year, is equivalent to basically enjoying one year of healthy life. And one year of healthy life enjoyed by one person is also expressible, as what many of your listeners may already know, as the quality adjusted life year, the QALY, this is a currency that’s used a lot in health policy research, right? And health economics and decisions about what drugs to buy and this kind of thing. So the TGA, our drugs administrator, they use this QALY measure in order to bargain with the drug companies, when drug companies have new things to offer. The TGA says, Well, how many QALYs will I get from this drug? And if the number of QALYs is you know, let’s say 10. Then the TGA says, Okay, well, we’ll buy that drug if the cost is no more than 10 times some threshold value that they’ll pay per QALY. And that threshold value tends to be somewhere between 50 and $100,000 per QALY. So that shows you right there what the sort of social willingness to pay for a healthy life year is in Australia. And that value, by the way is higher in higher GDP per capita countries of course, then in lower GDP per capita countries. So as we increase our GDP per capita, so too, does our willingness to pay for a socially for an additional life year increase. That’s why GDP per capita is something we sometimes target in economics, right? We want to be able to afford better and more and you know, we want to be able to pay more for the good things in life including more healthy life years for our citizens. So what that means is that you can basically translate from WELBYs to QALYs to dollars that enables me then to capture other costs, like the debt, for example, in its native currency like dollars and translate back to WELBYs if I want to translate forward, and you know, there are some caveats around that translation which of course, you know, I discussed but, but that’s basically the method and that’s the method that I use in both the report and the CBA for lockdowns and I find that lockdowns were, as everybody else who has done a serious cost benefit analysis around the world is bound lockdowns were enormously more expensive than they could possibly have delivered in benefits, particularly for our youth who really had nothing to gain from them.

Gene Tunny  10:43

Yeah, I mean, certainly, during some of the lockdowns we had, if I was asked zero to 10, yeah, it wouldn’t have been eight for sure. So, yeah, yeah. So yeah, I can understand how the logic. Tim, do you have any questions for Gigi at this stage?

Tim Hughes  10:58

A lot of my interests and I find fascinating using WELBYs and QALYs and referring those to dollar value. I think that’s really interesting and a good way of quantifying responses and how we might have a better response. My main interest Gigi is in using whatever we went through to sort of determine what might be the best way to respond to something like this, if and when it happens again, because so much has been said about the response. And everyone’s got an opinion, which I fully understand. I’ve got my own opinions as well. I think the best thing that can come out of it is well what should we be doing the next time this happens, like what protocol can we put in place? And also, for instance, like to compare it to bushfire protocol, most people are quite familiar with what we would do in a bushfire, it’s going to come around more regularly than a pandemic, but is there something that we can learn from all of this that we can put into place to put in a better response, especially in the early stages?

Gigi Foster  11:58

Well, I think that’s a very, very important question. And I certainly like to think that the answer is yes, we can learn. But I would say that the the lesson is not as much in the space of quantification of benefits and costs and the technical side, it’s much more in the space of politics and psychology. Because if I were going to put the finger on what were the aspects of the, of the crisis that really drove this destructive response, they were very much in the areas of politics and psychology. And I and you know, some people will say, Well, you’re an economist so don’t talk about that, right? Well, fair enough. I mean, I studied ethics, politics and economics in university, actually. So I have a bit of a broader perspective, I suppose on the discipline and on social science, generally, than a lot of my fellow economists and my mother was a psychologist, you know, I kind of know a little bit about psych, I took psych in school, too. So for me as a broad-minded social scientist, the COVID era has been the most amazing lesson, the most amazing time to live it through, right, because I have not only sort of honed my existing theories of human behaviour and group influence, which has basically been the driving curiosity of my life, but also learned new things like for example, the power of crowd psychology in a moment of crisis to drive destruction. And we saw that, of course, we’ve seen this, you know, in the history books, right. I mean, we saw it in the witch hunts in the US, for example. We’ve seen it in 1930s, Germany, but I had never lived through something like this the creation of a cult and creation of crowd thinking, such that you literally had people whose minds had been hijacked by the crowd narrative, which in this case, you know, it’s an obsession, a crowd obsesses. That’s kind of the defining feature, it obsesses about one thing, right, and you’d have a conversation with these people who had basically had their minds taken away. And their minds were simply then in service to the defence of the crowd logic. And you would try to tell them logical things, you know, sensible things about real facts and things, you know, and they were just, they just couldn’t hear it literally couldn’t hear it. It was like talking at complete cross purposes. This is why early in the crisis, all of us who thought we saw what was really going on what the data really showed, which was certainly not that this was the black death or the Spanish flu. And, you know, we should probably protect the old people and try to figure out ways to minimise their likelihood of catching it. But basically, let everybody else keep going and develop natural immunity so that we could more quickly get to a point where we could protect the older people through natural immunity. That’s what we were all thinking, or at least many of us. But, you know, we were looking at the rest of the world and you know, these other people in our lives and thinking, wow, I just don’t seem to be able to reach this person anymore. I mean, am I going crazy? Or is this person going crazy? So that was a really interesting lesson. So all of that is to say that the answers to how do we prevent this from happening again, are really about how to control that fear so that the crowd is less likely to form, so that you don’t have that kind of obsession that drowns out out everything else that matters in normal times, right, which is why we were able to do this destruction blindly. Because we literally were blind to the destruction that we were doing. And and also how can we make the people in authority at such times more accountable to what is actually good for the people as a whole. Now, that’s a, that’s a difficult area because of course, the people were clamouring for lockdowns. In fact, that’s why they were delivered. Right. I when I gave the seminar about this yesterday in Macquarie that was, that was one of the points raised and it’s a very valid point, it’s not that the politicians came up with this whole lockdown shenanigans on their own, you know, and then we’re like, oh, you’re you have to have this everybody we’re gonna have to, you know, sorry, it’s, it’s a tough pill to swallow. No, no, no, the populations of the West became incredibly frightened. And they were demanding protection from COVID. And the politicians who were in charge at the time, read the writing on the wall, and basically thought to themselves, well, if I don’t do something big, I’m gonna lose my seat. And I’m going to potentially be blamed for, you know, not saving the country from what is perceived to be a mortal threat. And, you know, in such times that the character of a person really comes out, you know, and, and there is, it’s not like, there’s an easy way to tether actions back to the true interest of the people in that time, because so many people are caught up in this fear, right, but job one should be to reduce the fear. That should job one. And that actually happened in some countries, right. Sweden did that. So they tried to tamp down the fear. And then another thing that’s very important, of course, and then I’ll be quiet, is to try to make sure you’ve got independent voices, voices that are alternative, dissident voices about what’s going on. So you actually have kind of a, you know, some kind of a check on this mono vision that’s that’s barreling through the policy fields, which is what was happening in March and April, everybody thought the same way. And anybody who would say anything different was pilloried or or denigrated. I mean, I was called a neoliberal Trump cannot death cult warrior and Granny killer and a piece of human excrement. I mean, so many, I have a whole jar full of these epithets. And, you know, it’s like, why, all I was saying, was that what we’re doing has costs. You know, that’s all I was saying. So it’s, it’s a complicated question, what to do next. And, and I think we need to really think about that as a society, but not just in the area of technical costs and benefits.

Gene Tunny  17:25

Yeah, Gigi, what I’m wondering is if you thought, I agree with you, by the way on lockdowns, and now I see that it was, the cost far exceeded the benefits for COVID. But could it be the case that for another virus or another, say if we had, you know, if we had the plague again, I mean thankfully we don’t, that’s not really a prospect, but if it was something worse than COVID could lockdowns make sense then?

Gigi Foster  17:50

So that’s also a really great question. I’m actually at the moment writing a paper together with Sanjeev Sabhlok and Paul Frijters who I’ve both written with before as you know, about the history of quarantines. The history of quarantine policy whether quarantines, lockdowns, basically, or you know, cordon sanitaire, as they’re called in French, whether they actually have a track record of working in response to other disease threats over the ages, including the Black Death, and many other diseases as well. Now, what we are discovering, and this is really down to Sanjeev’s amazing historical work is that, in fact, in the 1800s, there was a movement that developed based on the the scant evidence that quarantines did anything positive and a huge amount of evidence that they were very destructive, there was a movement of the developed called the sanitarians movement, which aimed to basically beat quarantine as an idea out of the public health system and replace it with the idea that what we need to aim for in public health is clean water, clean streets, clean air, sanitary living conditions, basically, because in such conditions, of course, as we now know, germs are less likely to thrive, you have lower viral loads, you’d have more health for you know, individual people, it’s just more immune-supportive, if you can breathe free, you know, freely and fresh air and all this and drink clean water. So it’s really about supporting the immunity of the people and reducing the load of the infectious agents, rather than separating people according to whether you think they’ve, you know, been exposed or not, or certainly in the case of COVID, even people you don’t think have necessarily been exposed just whole healthy populations, locking them down, that that just you know that that’s not nearly as effective as the as sanitary measures. So there was a figure called Charles McLean, who was an advocate of the, in the sanitarian movement, and basically did a lot of the research showing that quarantines basically fail, and that really what they are. And this was the interesting, particularly interesting part of his work, that what they are is a tool for control that is often pressed upon populations by public health bureaucracies. So it’s much more about, here is something we can do. And we can justify our jobs by having this thing in place. Because I mean, my goodness, the bureaucracy and you know, COVIDeaucracy, that grew up during the COVID era was pretty large, you know, you had to hire more people and, you know, get them to help you enforce these various policies on the population. But in terms of actual effect on disease is pretty minimal. In my cost benefit analysis, I estimate that maybe we extended the lives of maybe 10,000, mostly elderly and comorbid people for a few years. That’s what we got out of lockdowns. And what we paid for that was way more than the roughly 6 million sorry, $6 billion, that in normal times we’d be willing to pay for that amount of of benefit, that is to save a few live years of about 10,000 people. So you know, so basically, the quarantine, so lockdowns, do not have a good track record. And that was already embodied in the pre 2020 pandemic management plans in place, not only in Australia, but around the world in the West, that said, look, locking down whole populations is just very, very costly, unlikely to be beneficial. And so we should avoid it. And we should target protection measures instead. So So basically, I like to tell people who say, Well, you know, what else were we supposed to do? You know? Well, the question is, you know that lockdowns don’t work. So what are you going to do? Right? Everybody’s scared. You need to find something to do, so that you don’t run headlong into a into a speeding truck, which is what lockdowns are. That’s what you don’t do. But of course, you have to take some action. Now, if you ask me, Is there any disease that one could potentially create or imagine in one’s head for which lockdowns might have more benefit than cost? I mean, even for the Black Death it’s questionable, compared to the other things that could be done, sanitary measures, right, compared to everything else we could do. It’s not like we have to let it rip versus lockdown. There’s a whole spectrum of possible response. And we really didn’t investigate that spectrum at all during COVID. So I think the answer is really usually it’s nuanced. It’s customised to the disease in play, it should be updated as we learn more information about that disease, and it should be targeted to the people who are truly vulnerable.

Gene Tunny  22:13

Yeah. Gigi. Can I ask you about that? Those numbers you cited regarding how many lives? Or how many years of life were potentially saved? Did you do that modelling? Or did you rely on modelling by epidemiologists? And how did you do that? Because I mean, you’re an economist rather than an epidemiologist, I don’t mean to be critical at all. But have you had pushback on that? Have people said, Oh, well, you have a model that why should we believe those estimates? I mean, because you you’re criticising this estimate from the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed, while campaigning before the May 2022 election, his regime of COVID policies had saved 40,000 lives, you’re, in my analysis, so your analysis shows this figure to be a significant overestimate, even being generous to lockdowns, potential deliver benefits, how confident are you in that assessment, Gigi?

Gigi Foster  23:08

I mean, I’m as confident as one could be based on the data that we used, I very expressly did not use model simulations. And by the way, that was one of the big errors of this time. In mid March, you may even recall Neil Ferguson’s ICL modelling came out saying that, you know, 60 million people around the world were going to die or something. And of course, as we know, the COVID death count, even now is, you know, an order of magnitude less than that. And, and by the way, Neil Ferguson had been wrong in the past, right? These epidemiological models that are run in a simulated environment in a computer that necessarily do not include all the real world variables that are actually relevant to whether people die or suffer from diseases are notoriously exaggerative of the bad outcomes that may occur from the new disease threat. Right, that has happened again and again and again. We’ve had SARS and the swine flu and the you know, all these different flus that have been modelled and they’ve basically always, there has been some coterie of doomsaying epidemiology people who have said “based on my model, everybody’s gonna die.” Right? That’s just a common thing it happens, right? And you know why? Because the, you know, the media loves that stuff. It’s, you know, if they get ahold of a guy like that, who will, you know, put on a bleeding headline, that’ll get eyeballs, right, and they get status, and they get to be the person who really cares about people, because if you care about people, then you know, don’t you care that they’re all going to die, or I mean, that becomes this whole narrative. And it really crowds out actual science. Actual science is based, at best on real data, real data, right? Of course, we have theories about what happens and we need to use those to structure our understanding of our world but our world is so incredibly complex and dynamic and there are endogenous factors that are happening and shocks that we can’t predict. There’s just so much going on, that all models are wrong, as somebody said in my discipline, but some are useful, that’s how you should see a model. So what I did in order to produce that estimate of how many people in a counterfactual non lockdown Australia would have succumbed to COVID is I looked with Sanjeev, we looked at the countries in the world that had low restriction levels. So obviously Sweden is one. But we also used another counterfactual, which was about six I think other countries, with populations over a million that had low restrictions, mostly in Europe, I think that oh, Taiwan might have been in there as well. And we basically took, you know, the average deaths from COVID. This is real data, real data, what they actually experienced, not something that comes out of a computer generated simulation, but actual data, because we just believe that much more. And then we of course, adjusted for population and then applied it to Australia. And we say, well, this is our best guess right? Now, even if you think that I’m under balling that low balling that, in fact, even if you think the Prime Minister’s estimate of 40,000, people who would have died is correct. If you look at the cost of lockdowns, they still weren’t worth it. Right. So even if I’m totally wrong, the Prime Minister’s right, the lockdown still shouldn’t have been pursued. Right? But I also think that the Prime Minister is using these simulation models, these SIR models or something like this, you know, from the Doherty Institute, or some other kind of, you know, institute that was supporting the narrative and coming out with these doomsday scenarios, to come up with that figure and make himself look like a saviour.

Gene Tunny  26:26

That’s fair enough. I was just just wondering what you did that seems to make sense to me. What did you find about the deaths of young people? So if we go back to the study “COVID’s cohort of losers”. How are we defining young people? And how do you recall how many young people did end up dying of COVID in Australia,

Gigi Foster  26:46

So young people are 25 and under, that’s the estimate. And look, there will have been a few that were 25 and under who died of COVID, but it’s going to be very, very small. And they they may have died of something else anyway, because these people almost to a man or to a woman or child will have been already sick with something else, you know, diabetes or a bad illness of some sort. So I think it’s very debatable whether there was any direct COVID related benefit to these younger people, from the lockdowns as I say they, you know, people in their young 20s and late teens are exactly the ones who may get into car crashes, and they get into bar fights. So really, if I’m looking for benefits from lockdowns, that’s where I’m gonna look for the on not not in terms of COVID deaths,

Gene Tunny  27:31

Right, and just wanting to just check this Gigi, you’ve got these figures in your paper somewhere, have you where, because the calculation you’ve done is this, you’ve got this 116 times the value of any benefits. So you’ve got an estimate in wellbeing of what the cost was to young people. And then you divide that by the benefits to young people to get that 116 times and that’s also in WELLBYs. So is, that’s in one of these tables is it?

Gigi Foster  28:03

So I mean, I don’t have the report up at the moment. But yeah, there’s a table of all of the costs. And then we also tabulate the benefits and then you simply take the ratio of one to the other, obviously, you want to make sure you’re using the same currency. So whether you’re using WELLBYs or dollars to get that ratio in the cost benefit analysis for Australia as a whole, I know the ratio was 68 times, as I recall, it was a bit higher. I, as I say don’t have the report open, but I think it was a bit higher for the young. But basically, the benefit just wasn’t as high. But there was some benefit. So you know that this as I say I keep saying that the traffic accidents was (inaudible)….

Gene Tunny  28:39

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  28:45

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Gene Tunny  29:14

Now back to the show.

Yeah, so you’ve got estimated cost to the Australian Young of the 2020/21 COVID lockdowns and you end up with an estimate in WELLBYs of looks like it’s over 7 million, over 7 million WELLBYs so that’s saying that the costs imposed on the young, so there are 7 million years of poor wellbeing for young people.

Gigi Foster  29:45

Not exactly so a WELLBY is one increment on that satisfaction scale, right? So your probably thinking of a QALY, so if you divide that number of WELLBYs by six, then you get to the QALYs and that’s the the currency you’re thinking of, which is the number of healthy years. Okay? And but you’re right in terms of that, that is that does roughly the, you know, the way to think about it is that this is the amount that was deducted from the well being of the young, okay? And that’s in terms of number of years but also the health of those years. And again as I mentioned at the start, the two main components of that are one, the direct life satisfaction damage done during lockdowns because people reported less satisfaction. And by the way, we see that in the data for Australia. So these this question about life satisfaction was asked during lockdowns by the ANUPoll survey people. So we literally use that, their findings to calibrate how much we think there was as a detriment to life satisfaction during the COVID period. And then the second big element of that cost is the debt, which will crowd out future expenditure which would have otherwise made the lives of our young people much better in the future. Now, you may ask, you know, what about the school closures? You know, wouldn’t you think that would be a big thing? And, and it is a thing, but it’s interesting, a bit of a complication here. So I was seriously disturbed at the the degree to which school closures were just immediately adopted. And everybody thought, oh, yeah, this will be fine, we’ll just have everybody working from home, you know, doing the, you know, classes from home and all this. I mean, it obviously was not the same. And it put our teachers under an enormous amount of pressure, by the way, as well. And, of course, I mean, I would have naturally expected that, in that situation, those kids who are already initially before COVID, in a disadvantaged or stress situation are going to be seriously left behind, right? Now the more advantaged kids, you know, kids of mine, for example, if I had had small kids at the time, they would have been fine. And I had young, young adult kids at the time, and they were fine. Because, you know, we have the resources to be able to support them and help to mitigate the damage that otherwise would have happened. But it’s the people already at the bottom of the food chain who suffer the most right? Which, which really makes me angry, because that’s, you know, that’s the last thing we need. Inequality is so unhelpful. And and it’s just a horrible thing, when you know, these, these people in cushy government jobs and bureaucracies, who don’t have any problem with job security are pushing this on people who then suffer and they’re, you know, they’re already suffering. So it’s just really heartless. Anyway, so you might think, well, that’s going to, of course, limit the degree to which these kids are going to be able to learn whatever it is that they’re learning, whether they’re what we call in economics, their human capital, you know, what’s in their brains from their years and years of schooling and experience will be necessarily less and that is true. But what we have to do then to figure out the the sort of cost that has been eventually imposed upon them in terms of their WELLBYs or their QALYs is work out, well, how much is that productivity loss going to be reflected in lower wages when they get to be adults, and of those wages, how much is actually likely to then be spent on things that would have otherwise made them healthier, better off, you know, more satisfied, et cetera, but that we are not going to be able to spend now because of the fact that they don’t have as high wages? Well, it’s, you know, it’s not just the full wage of those kids that you want to count. Because as it happens, when we spend privately, we’re often spending on things like status goods, you know, we’re not always but particularly in a country like Australia, we’re spending to keep up with other people. So it’s not that every extra dollar that these kids would have earned would have actually led to increases in life satisfaction, you know, you you spend in order to keep up with the Joneses that doesn’t make you more satisfied, it just keeps you at the same level sort of thing. So what really you want to count is the fraction of those extra wages, counterfactual wages that would have been accumulated by the society as a whole and spent on public goods, like more health, better education, better infrastructure, and that sort of thing. So that’s basically the tax take. So that’s what we do to estimate the negative, the damage from the loss of schooling, the disruption to schooling, in terms of WELLBYs in the future for these kids. And as it turns out, that amount tends to be you know, it turns out to be much less than it would be if we counted that whole forgone wage. And so you know, that that’s a bit of a surprise, perhaps, to some people, but it’s just because of this interesting feature of the way in which our private spending is or isn’t related to creating more life satisfaction for us.

Gene Tunny  34:24

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Tim Hughes 34:26

With the whole economics of it, which, of course, is what you two are trained in and experienced in. And so yeah, the figures are pretty damning for any of the responses around the world, apart from those who took a lighter, a view of it like Sweden, for instance. And I think it was really good that different responses were taken around the world so that they could be compared and whatever would come from that, like I said at the beginning, my main interest in all of these conversations, really is to see what could we do better next time, in view of what happened? And that’s still largely the case because clearly, I mean, I’m a lay person, that’s my role in this scenario, you guys are economists. Clearly, we would all listen to epidemiologists, medical people who would have their views on this too, because, for instance, in the early days of COVID-19, from the pictures that were being seen from North Italy, for instance, the, you know, the scenes from the hospitals there, it seemed extremely dire. And I didn’t feel for instance, everyone’s got a unique perspective of the lockdown and what happened. I didn’t see or feel any great fear in Australia, we were a long way from it. So geographically, we’re a long way from that kind of action. But (cough) sorry, long COVID, bad joke. So, yeah, my feeling would be that one of the first things with this, because I saw not panic or fear, especially over here in Australia, but people just complying and sort of concerned but just going along with what appeared to be the best decisions at the time. You know what can we do to protect the hospitals and the doctors, nurses from being overwhelmed was one of the driving forces, and some of the logic that a layperson, like myself might see in a lockdown. So for instance, and if that turns out to be not the best response, then I’m really open to see what would be the best response because everything done and said, What are we going to do next time when this comes around? And there seems to be at an early stage of any of these pandemics? We mentioned SARS and MERS, Ebola, for instance, they all have different CFRs, so the case fatality rate, and how likely to die are you if you contract this? And they have different R naught scores, which is something I learned about as we did some background for this, the transmissibility of it how easily transmissible is it? And so there must be at some point, an area in early days of any of these viruses where we’re not sure, we don’t know. And so the first thing would be, I would have thought to say, Okay, well, how soon can we have any kind of certainty as to what we’re dealing with? How? What was the case fatality rate? How easily transmissible is it? That would be, I would imagine one of the first things we can do, and then let it unfold from there. Like I mentioned before, like if some sort of protocol that we can have in place that we’re not, I mean, everyone, all of us now have some experience with this, from what we’ve gone through for good or bad or whatever. And I don’t think, I think it was a one trick pony, for the amount of lockdowns that happened. Even the most patient person would be less compliant if this was to happen fairly soon. And so the next one will be different straightaway, you know, so what is it we can put in place that everyone can be generally okay with, that would be a good response? But like I said, sorry, going back to an initial point, how do we determine, you know, what would be that, that first response of like, just how bad is this? What are we dealing with?

Gigi Foster  37:56

Yeah, so I mean, it’s, it’s interesting to hear you talk about and having in place protocol, you know, so that we know what the steps are, everybody can agree to them. That is kind of what the pandemic management policies that we already had before COVID, which…

Tim Hughes  38:09

Which nobody had known about. And like, that didn’t seem to be any, it seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

Gigi Foster  38:14

Well, I mean, I think that people who, whose job it was to know about them knew about them, you know, the department’s of health in the various different states and the Commonwealth, I mean, that they would, of course, know about their own pandemic management policies, right? People, as all might not have known about them. But that’s because, you know, we don’t know a lot about a lot of things that go on in the back rooms of government that are just handling stuff, like, you know, do we know, how many steam rollers are purchased every year for the infrastructure projects? No, you know, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know. And they’ve came to the fore that these pandemic management policies existed really, quite a long time after the lock downs were implemented, right? Nobody was talking at the time about, Hey, why are we doing this? Look, it says in the plan, we’re not supposed to. Nobody was saying that, right. So your your desire for a protocol, which everyone can agree, I mean, we had that and it failed. Unfortunately, that’s from my perspective. That’s why I say the key things here are politics and psychology. Those are the two things that we need to focus on if we want to get a better solution going forward. And, you know, on the point of the overcrowded hospitals and overworked nursing and Doctor staffs, I mean, yes, it is true that in times of great disease, and you know, the the influx of a new bug, hospitals sometimes become very crowded, and the workers in health care systems sometimes become very overworked. This is something that they deal with on a semi regular basis. There’s surge, capacity protocols that these hospitals have and that the staff have as well. And you know, that you can bring in more people. It’s like, if it’s like, if you have a war, you know, and you and you have to mobilise, right. There are ways we do this. And as an economist, I might make a dry observation that if you never have your hospitals overcrowded then you’ve got too many hospitals. Right? If you always have a spare bed and some spare hands hanging around, then you should redeploy the money that you’ve spent to hire those beds and that those workers to some other area that can support human wellbeing and thriving, right, because we only have so many dollars, right. And so you don’t want to have spare capacity underutilised. So there is just this natural ebb and flow of sickness and illness that and you know, and injury as well that hospitals have to manage they manage this in maternity wards, for example, right? A lot of women give birth, when it’s raining outside, you know, I’d have particular pressure or whatever causes people to go into labour. And that means that you sometimes have to, you know, basically employ a lot more people, doctors and nursing staff or whatever, at a particular moment. And then there’s less demand later. I mean, hospitals know how to handle this. So that’s, that’s point one about the hospital overcrowding. Point two, we’ve been through this exact kind of problem before the 1957 flu was very similar. We didn’t lock down whole healthy populations for that thing, right? We didn’t have the media that we have today, we didn’t have the global media spreading all of these scary stories about Italy, as you mentioned, or China, you know, people falling over in the streets or in New York City with the mass graves and all that. So we didn’t have the fear generation mechanism that we have today. But we did have a virus that was pretty similar in terms of its virulence.

Tim Hughes  41:22

I hadn’t heard of that one actually, the 1957 one, yeah okay…

Gigi Foster  41:24

Just another flu. Yeah, no another flu. And the thing about COVID, that really was different than some of the analogues that were being used was not only that it was less lethal, but it was also just not killing kids. Right? 1918 flu was scary, because it was killing everybody. Alright, kids as well, that’s really scary, right? Like, one of the worst things gonna happen to you as a human being is you lose your child, right? So that’s very bad. That was just not really happening during COVID. Except for children who are already seriously ill. And even then, you know, less likely. And even for some people, I mean, people were the exact risk baskets, they were still surviving with more than, you know, 50% likelihood but it wasn’t like it was a complete death sentence. So. So anyway, the second point on the hospitals thing is just that you’re presuming that going to the hospital is the thing that you have to do when you have COVID. That’s the only way we can treat it or the best way we can treat it. As it turned out, going to hospital was kind of a mixed bag, in a lot of cases with COVID, right. And if you put people on ventilators, Mechanical ventilators, they often have worse outcomes. Not always but frequently enough, it wasn’t a panacea by going to hospital didn’t mean that you’d be cured. In fact, it was, you know, kind of much of a muchness in a lot of cases. And sometimes so as the, as the panic wore on, and the protocols became more entrenched about, you know, how are we going to count COVID, and how much money goes to hospitals that have COVID cases, it became financially advantageous for hospitals to label somebody a COVID case, and then follow a particular protocol to treat that person which really might not have the best outcome for him or her. Right, so hospitals were a real mixed bag. And what we weren’t told was all of the other myriad things that one can do if one wants to: A, avoid getting ill, and B, if one is ill, to limit the the probability that you’re going to progress to a disease stage where you really will need to go to hospital. So there were plenty of things we could have done, you know, including all the stuff we already knew before COVID, about how to fight respiratory illnesses, you know, take lots of vitamin C, go outside, get your Vitamin D, have, you know, fresh drinking water and have lots of sleep and eat fruits and vegetables. And as it turned out, over time, we were learning about more things, the important role of zinc, and the important role of, you know, sort of other prophylactic measures, which were just suppressed. And in fact, you know, the crowning achievement of that suppression was the TGA, blocking ivermectin, which has been proven to be a useful prophylactic, and very useful in the early stages. But why did we block it? I ask you, that’s not public health. That’s not protocols. That’s politics, right there, that’s power politics. And so if we want to fix this, if you want a plan going forward, I think what we need to do is work on our political system, we need to revive the accountability of the people making decisions at times of crisis to the people as a whole and a representative bunch of people that need to be sort of responsible in some way for those who are in authority or the decisions or overseeing those decisions. So I’ve suggested a number of different avenues forward in both “The Great COVID Panic” and on some blogs that have come afterwards on Brownstone Institute sites, Brownstone is my publisher for The Great COVID Panic. So, you can see those blogs. One of them I’ll mention here is the citizen juries idea. So at the time of COVID, we saw a lot of bureaucrats who were unelected and completely unaccountable, who were basically driving policy. So you know, health health ministers, for example, around the around the country, right? Remember, Brett Sutton, who basically became a sex symbol. Yeah. And Brad Hazzard and a few other ones. And you know, these people were doing things and advocating for policies that never went through Parliament. They never they never got the tick expressly from the people, now the politicians will say, well, but the people were clamouring for more and more protection. And you know, that is true to a certain extent. But these guys were appointed by politicians. So there was also this element to which they were all kind of playing into each other’s game, right? Everybody was following a playbook, rather than really having anyone looking out for what was really in the long term interests of the people. So I, with my co authors, Paul Frijters and Michael Baker, we’ve proposed that instead of having those positions, like the head of the Ministry of Health, be political appointments, we have them instead be appointments by citizen juries. So we already use the jury system in the criminal justice system, right? The idea would be that everybody in Australia, every citizen gets put on a jury role and an expectation once in your life, you have to spend two to three months working with 20 to 30 of your peers. And your sole job is to appoint the next Minister of Health or Minister of the Environment, or Minister of Immigration or whatever it is right on top of the public service. And if we did this over a few years, and you know, kept replacing all of the various heads who needed to be replaced at the state level and the Commonwealth level, with people appointed by the people as a whole rather than politicians, we’d end up with a burgeoning cadre of people making, you know, in positions of authority, able to make decisions, and hopefully more responsive to what is actually good for the people, because it’s the people who would have appointed them, right, rather than the politicians. So that’s one suggestion to try to hack away at the bad politics of this whole situation. So that maybe the next time those people would feel a bit more of a duty to be responsive to what was actually good for Australia.

Gene Tunny  46:35

Yeah, very good. Gigi. I’ve had Nicholas Gruen on the show and we’ve talked about citizens juries in the past. So yeah, absolutely. Think I think they’re a great idea. Did you have a follow up Tim?

Tim Hughes  46:46

I heard that episode, that conversation you had with Nick, Nick Gruen, and yeah, the idea of citizens juries I find really interesting. It’s along the lines of what Warren Hatch, from Good Judgement is talking about with super forecasters to have skilled generalists, as opposed to experts. I mean, obviously, we need to listen to everybody. I think listening to different perspectives and different opinions is really important with all of this. And that that feeds in with the citizens juries is to have that diversity of opinion in these areas of selection. So I think that’s a really, really interesting point.

Gene Tunny  47:19

Just one more Gigi, Yeah, this is great. I’ve really enjoyed this and learning a bit, there’s, learning a lot. So particularly about your methodology, I find this whole WELLBY methodology fascinating, because it’s not something I’ve used myself. And it’s something that’s different from standard cost benefit analysis. So I’d just like to ask, I mean how has it been received worldwide, this WELLBY methodology, is it being applied for, what policy issues is it been applied to?

Gigi Foster  47:47

Yeah, it’s a really good question. And the one of the reasons I use it is because it is actually getting some traction. So right now in the UK Green Book, which is the kind of , I don’t know, guide for how to judge, how to evaluate policies or you know, what we should be going for, as a government. They talk about WELLBYs, they talk about how to produce WELLBYs through government spending. Government programmes have been evaluated against the metric of how many WELLBYs on net are we getting from this programme, and that programme can be something like, you know, mental health provision, mental health service provision, which by the way, has a very, in, at least in the UK studies I’ve seen, has a very high benefit to cost ratio. So you should do that, if you’re a government mental health support is very important thing. And you can also evaluate anything else that the government might do, like, bussing old people up to Stonehenge to have a look, you know, or taking people out, you know, disabled people out to lunch every week, or whatever the thing is that you’re hoping that that might help people. And you kind of want a measure of that, you know, are we really delivering higher quality of life to our people with this policy? So it’s being accepted, I think, more broadly as a reasonable and defensible metric, to which governments can be tethered there, they can be held accountable. There have been a number of cost benefit analyses, actually of COVID policy that have been conducted in WELLBY terms. So not only in Australia, but I think in about six other countries around the world, there have been these CBAs that have used WELLBYs, but of course, there have also been a lot of other CBAs that have US Dollars or QALYs, and we all come to the same conclusion, you know, broadly qualitatively, but it’s really lovely to see that diversity you know, as you’re saying before, you know, diversity is an incredibly important strength of our, of our modern societies, if we could only harness it, right? And what we did in COVID, of course, was we suppressed it you know, we kind of killed that that golden goose whereas another thing we really need to focus on is how to not move in the direction of suppression and censorship. So for example, these new laws about misinformation and disinformation I think these things are toxic. That’s awful, you know, because who is going to decide what is disinformation and misinformation? I mean, my gosh, it’s puerile right, and just the idea the conceit you know, the hubris, that somehow the government knows what the truth is. I mean, when has that ever been true? Right? Like nobody has has a monopoly on the truth. I don’t have a monopoly on the truth. You know, I, I would love to be proven wrong on some of these things during lockdowns, I was thinking to myself, My God, I hope I’m wrong, like God, I hope I’m wrong, right? Because if I’m not, we’re killing people, you know, these policies are killing 1000s of people. And and it’s just it’s too too horrific to imagine. So, you know, I, I would like to have more discussion of these if these issues are crossed aisles of belief and perspective and experience. So we need to relearn how to have tolerance for that, you know, this, this cancel culture dynamic we’ve got going on today, is extremely toxic. It suppresses one of the greatest strengths of our civilised post enlightenment societies. And, and it basically just means that you have a lack of innovation, right? Innovation comes from somebody in a minority, at that time, having a new idea, right? And saying, Hey, guys, why don’t we try this? That’s That’s what innovation is. And if you if you quash alternative voices, you’re quashing innovation and innovation as a source as you know, of all growth. So, right, that’s the wrong direction to go. If we want to build healthy, vibrant societies with gains in human life quality, which is what I’m going for,

Tim Hughes  51:22

Completely agree, I think, you know, healthy debate and having those guidelines around what healthy debate is, and the ability to listen to different perspectives, and avoiding the echo chambers, which I agree, I think that’s what the cancel culture encourages, is to people to go to their little sort of support groups and say their things amongst each other without any serious sort of challenges to their ideas or hearing new ideas. So I fully, I fully agree with that Gigi.

Gene Tunny  51:50

And I think, I think certainly young people, if you look at the cost versus any benefit that they obtained, yeah, it’s going to far exceed that, that benefit, I agree with that. You’ve come up with seven new, over 7 million WELLBYs as a cost, and around 60,000 WELLBYs as a benefit. Now, it’s going to be some multiple, large multiple of, of any benefits I agree with that? Have you thought about whether, you know, young people may have been willing to pay that? Because they thought they were protecting their grandparents or elderly people? Have you thought about that Gigi and how you might incorporate that in your analysis?

Gigi Foster  52:27

Yeah. So I mean, the the question there is, would the government in a counterfactual world have been able to take policies that would have readjusted people’s expectations towards the truth in the moment of crisis, because the truth was that it was not going to be protective of their grandparents to do all of this stuff. In fact, it would be more protective, if they went out, licked a lot of lamppost tried to get COVID got immunity, and then we’re on, you know, not dangerous to their grandparents anymore, right. That’s what we were doing. I mean, in my family, we were trying to get COVID every which way. And we didn’t manage to until finally last year, I got it. But you know, it was sort of the young, healthy people, you know, on paper, they just wanted to get immunity as quickly as possible. That’s what that’s what would have best protected their grandparents. So the reason why people believed that was the misinformation promulgated by the government. Right. So if you ask me, Well, you know, should we just have gone along with that? Well, no, you know, I like to think that we can have a society where the government isn’t pushing propaganda. You know, that’s, that’s, that’s not what in a democratic society, I look to the government to do, the government is our servant. It’s our servant. And it should not be stuffing our throats with, you know, wrong think., and calling it right think and calling everybody else who disagrees the people who are the wrong thinkers, right? I mean, it’s 1984. So, you know, you get no, it’s ugly, I think. And now, now, the issue of however, is that because we have now lived through this, many people have become psychologically tethered to the narrative, they have been themselves in part of the agent of a lot of this destruction, right. And in their own mind, their identity is swept up with this. And they took actions against their own family, often, that they thought at the time were protective, because of course, most people act, you know, in a way that that upholds their self image as being a good person, of course, right. But now that that’s being revealed not to have been true, we have got a massive psychological problem on our hands, massive. People are unable to talk about this in an unemotive way. They’re scarred psychologically, they are, the the actual realities are so shocking, that if they were to face them, I think many people would would just fall into a really deep hole, psychologically, and so that is, in my mind, one of the big problems that we have to deal with now, in the post COVID, you know, period, is to reconcile across the aisles. And it’s not the people like me, who were pilloried at the time, who took the most psychological damage. Like I can handle it, it’s fine, right? Whatever. I knew I was doing the right thing I sleep well at night, no problem. But for the people who were part of the damaging structure, including those who were, you know, calling each other out about the masking, you know, you don’t have enough mask on or, you know, dobbing people in for going to school when they had a sneeze and or whatever it was, you know, they were being the agents of this distruction. You know, they’ve now learned Oh, okay, the 1930s, I would have been part of the regime, right? That’s the scary realisation, and for them to really face that is just going to cause a huge psychological shock. So that, for me is is one of the big things we have to work out. How are we going to help those people going forward? And because history will eventually put this period down as one of the most tragic in history because of the mismanagement of the crisis by the government, and all the people who went right along with it, will have to, you know, read that in the history books. And that’s going to be really difficult for them. So yeah, I have a lot of compassion for those people.

Gene Tunny  55:55

Very good. Tim, your, well, we might end on your intelligent observation, assuming it is intelligent.

Tim Hughes  56:01

Well, thanks. I shouldn’t talk it up too much. It was more of along the lines, actually of a couple of things you said earlier, Gigi, about health and good nutrition, being able to go out in the sunlight and everything which of course, was restricted at times with some of the lockdowns of course. And something that we can do straightaway, to help us through any future pandemics is to become healthier, improve our immune systems naturally, which has all these multiple benefits as well. So going along with any psychological issues that we may be facing as a result of the pandemic, then to eat well, and exercise well and sleep well would go along with that fabulously and what I was going to put forward do you guys being economists, see what you think about subsidising the cost of vegetables and whole foods, so fruit, veg and meat in their natural state, so without being processed, and put a tax on ultra processed food to be able to pay for that subsidy. So instead of Pringles being whatever they are double the price of that and use that money to subsidise. So people can be encouraged to eat more healthily.

Gigi Foster  57:12

Yeah, I mean, this is a typical kind of economist response. Right. So it’s a sin tax basically, you know, we have at the moment as you know, a GST which applies to you know, a lot of goods and services but not the food’s you know, foodstuffs of various sorts, you could you could have, you could have exclusions for you know, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, whatever, and then have a GST in place for anything processed. There’s all sorts of things you could do, if you wished. My reading of the closest thing to that, that I’ve seen elsewhere, which is the tax on sugary drinks experiments, right, that’s been run elsewhere, is that it does collect money. Yeah, you do collect money and it does reduce the purchasing of those beverages, those sugary drinks, but it usually doesn’t actually change the underlying issue, which in those cases is obesity. Right? It doesn’t really have a measurable impact on the amount of people who are obese the fraction of people who are obese, how obese they are or whatever because what happens is people switch to other things. They may not buy the coke but they instead buy the muffins and then you know they’re getting just as bad so in the case of the the taxation on you know, different goods, I just don’t know really. Partly it’s because I think that some of the reason if not the bulk of the reason why some people are not as healthy don’t choose as healthy habits as others is psychological. Okay, it’s not just about the resources that are literally available to you like do you have enough money to buy the fruits and vegetables? It’s a bit of that perhaps and certainly in some food desert areas it will be that and there’s a cultural element of course which is you know, if your family doesn’t eat this way how can you do that but then that’s is that really going to be that affected by you know, taxes? Probably not. So my my sense I mean, obesity is a mental health problem from my perspective. And I think that low immunity is also to an extent that as well. If I think about myself for example, I have this incredible luxury of you know, being able to have a nice good job, well paying job I, mean they haven’t fired me yet thank goodness, knock on wood, for saying all the things I’ve said during this period, I love my job. I love teaching, I love doing research, I love doing these conversations. I have the luxury of being able to afford kitchen appliances which let me make beautiful smoothies every day from fresh fruits and vegetables I buy from the store. I have great sleep every night, I you know I can run, I can exercise, I got sex every day I want and all these things that are obviously promotive of immunity. But I also have something that people don’t mention a lot which is huge amount of mental resources. Why? Because I am loved. I am supported. I was, I feel accepted. I feel I’m making a contribution to my world. I’m also healthy, naturally. So you know, because I’ve been investing in my health I can use that health surfeit to put more effort into being healthier right? A lot of people who are in places of disadvantage or not looking after their health do not have those kinds of advantages. They’re in dysfunctional families. So we’ve got multiple overlapping problems, you know, substance abuse and domestic violence. They’ve got unclean, you know, living environments that you know, hail the sanitation people again. So you know, those people, are they really going to respond to having to pay 10 cents less for a, you know, a carrot, or something? I don’t know, I think the problems are bigger than that. So I’m not saying don’t try it. But I think that the problems are, again, wider than just, here’s a protocol, you know, in terms of the COVID stuff. Similarly, with being healthy, it’s not just the costs, it’s also other entrenched problems, which have to do with psychology and culture.

Tim Hughes  1:00:39

No, fair enough and, and yeah like anything, it’s not straightforward. But for most of us, it is something within our control that we can sort of focus on and do better on. So it’s certainly something I think can be emphasised by governments and whoever is looking to improve responses and everything. It’s the foundation of our natural immune systems, which isn’t impervious to all of these viruses, of course, but certainly gives us a fighting chance.

Gigi Foster  1:01:00

Yeah. Totally agree

Gene Tunny  1:01:04

Absolutely. Okay, Professor Gigi Foster. It’s been terrific. Thanks so much for your time. I really enjoyed chatting with you. And yeah, it was great and thanks for answering our questions. And yeah, I really look forward to your future work. So thanks so much, Gigi.

Gigi Foster  1:01:20

Thanks so much for having me on. It’s a, it’s a great pleasure to speak with you.

Tim Hughes  1:00:23

Thanks Gigi.

Gene Tunny  1:01:24

Righto, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting app lets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.


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