Who needs a COVID misery index, now that things are improving?
What do you do with a misery index when people no longer feel miserable?
This is the dilemma facing the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which concocted a global COVID misery index four months ago to track Canada’s performance in the fight against COVID-19, compared to 14 others. advanced economies.
The results were bad. Canada placed 11e out of the 15 in total, and the institute was able to state that “Canada’s performance was far below average”. Norway was # 1 and New Zealand # 2.
Yet the institute, which leans to the right despite its name (Sir Wilfrid Laurier is about as liberal as it gets), is of little use to the current government and its center-left policies. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the promised weekly Misery Index updates are gone, now that Canada posts vaccination rates that are beating the world as COVID cases plummet and the economy is recovering.
The index was last updated on June 17, and the institute says it could do another update very soon, but then just forget about it and move on to other priorities. “There seemed to be a decline in interest in weekly updates,” says Richard Audas, a Canadian scholar living in New Zealand who designed the index.
It was not the atmosphere of winter when the institute breathlessly launched its poverty index, calling it “the only tool to comprehensively measure and compare the short and long term consequences on human well-being during this difficult time “. Brian Lee Crowley, CEO of the Institute, called the index data “compelling.”
In May, Crowley and Audas co-wrote an op-ed in The Spectator, a conservative American publication, using the index to explain how Canada had failed in its response to the pandemic and apologized to the Americans for our “blissful complacency. In light of America’s brilliant response. to the pandemic. They said “the pandemic nightmare will end sooner in the United States than in any other country on our index and well ahead of Canada.”
Too bad for the forecasts.
The index also received praise from usual suspects at the National Post, the Toronto Sun and Conservative MPs.
If you remember, when the index was launched in March, Canada was still struggling with a slow rollout of immunization, especially compared to the US and UK. The reason was clear – a lack of supply from vaccine manufacturers – but it caused no end to the attacks on the Trudeau government and the self-flagellation of Canadians. The vaccine shortage and a slight increase in cases have led to public health measures like store closings, school cancellations and a curfew in Quebec. Yet the Poverty Index, whether by design or by chance, has shown that Canada is performing worse than expected.
It is because of the way the Macdonald-Laurier Institute chose to measure misery, reflecting its own prejudices. When it comes to the actual impact of the disease, Canada has done relatively well, scoring a B rating on the index and placing sixth overall. Our case rate was a quarter of that of the United States. Mortality, hospitalization and intensive care rates were also much better.
But the institute added two other measures of poverty. One was called the “poverty response,” which included vaccination rates but also the severity of blockages. True to its libertarian leanings, the Institute considered these public health measures “a loss of freedom”.
So Canada was penalized for its poor vaccine performance, which makes sense, but also for taking steps to actually stop the spread of the disease, such as closing bars and restaurants and telling us to work from home.
In other words, if Canada had decided to act like Texas and Florida, ignore the virus and let the good times roll, we would have gotten a higher score. Canada ended up getting a D grade for its response to misery, ranking 14 out of 15 in the rankings.
Canada also came out on top in economic response and again scored a D, ranking 13 out of 15, and the highest weighting in its overall score. Canada got bad marks because of the pandemic’s heavy impact on GDP and unemployment, but also because the Trudeau government decided to spend heavily to subsidize laid-off workers and help businesses, offsetting the worst economic impacts. of the pandemic.
In May, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development commended governments for taking such steps, noting that “discretionary budget support was needed given the unprecedented scale and nature of the shock. Without such a decisive fiscal response, the loss of income and jobs would have been greater and the associated increase in income inequality greater. “
But the Macdonald Laurier Institute doesn’t give much importance to government spending. He might have preferred Canada to follow the lead of Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected deficit spending to support the economy, and poverty rates soared as the pandemic ravaged the country.
Yes, higher deficits and debt will eventually lead to higher interest payments and possibly even higher taxes for Canadians. Yet I think most people would take this long term cost anytime to prevent millions of Canadians and Canadian businesses from losing their livelihood if the government had decided to keep the purse strings tight. It would have been a real misery.
Audas, the architect of the index, agrees that additional spending was needed, but adds: “It comes at a cost and this public debt will have to be paid off. Paying back that means less money to spend on other government services or higher taxes, which will increase our misery in the future. ”
We did a lot of harm early in the pandemic, by keeping the borders open for too long and failing to protect the elderly, but, in the end, Canada’s smart vaccine supply and vaccine delivery strategy. , its adherence to strict public health measures, and generous mitigation spending may have served us well.
But the Macdonald-Laurier Institute isn’t interested in that kind of image, so it stopped counting. It already made the headlines months ago.
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