The economics of movement

I have a family member currently visiting in Rotorua. His updates are interesting, including that their hotel room had not been cleaned when they arrived in the evening and that it’s a bit hard to get a meal. He’s staying in a pretty fancy hotel, so this must seem a bit weird.

Where are the staff?

Rotorua does tourism in bulk. Yes, the numbers of tourist have declined, but so too have the numbers of short term migrants to clean their rooms. To be clear, New Zealand’s economy loves visitors who spend money, especially if they bring other visitors who pay tax and work for very low wages, without the kind of protections we might think of as acceptable for domestic employees.

This happens everywhere, obviously. I’m sure there are people in NZ right now moaning about people ‘sitting on welfare’ or whatever the coronavirus support is called, rather than cleaning hotel rooms, as if they were cleaning hotel rooms right up till about April.

Well, someone was cleaning them, until they went back to the Phillipines.

There isn’t an army of hotel cleaners sitting at home in Rotorua.

I think if Covid19 has done anything, it’s made some of the most odious elements of economic rationalism visible in a ways we can’t ignore.

The same thing is taking place in Melbourne right now, with a developing scandal over hotel quarantine. It’s a perfect example of asymmetries in the state’s economy. Victoria has an incredible capacity for medical research, so the outbreak has been ‘mapped’ – the genomic sequencing of every positive case of the virus. And, shock horror, this extraordinarily expensive exercise has revealed that Victoria’s current outbreak disaster is directly attributable to quarantine failures. It turns out that the other end of Victoria’s economy, the poor, casualised labour end, is run by a loosely incorporated cabal of security sub-contractors otherwise known as ‘My Cousin’.

This end of the labour market is doing what all small businesses try to do – maximise profits, by employee the cheapest, most casual labour they can get their hands on. On its own, this may not have spelled disaster. Combined, however, with protocols that isolated Covid19 positive individuals instead of their entire households, it was an omni-shambles in the making. It’s worth remembering, for all the veiled, nasty suggestions that people who tested positive attended family events (and it seems they did), that the authorities did not suggest to these people that their children stop attending school, for instance. It’s pretty easy to see why you wouldn’t think it’s that serious if you’ve been told not to go out, but it’s OK to keep sending your three or four kids to high school.

Today’s Covid19 numbers suggest to me that the entire state will be in some kind of lockdown again, within a week. Simply, the numbers have reached the point at which test and isolate is no longer viable. I can imagine that NSW’s Dr Chant reached the same conclusion yesterday. As has been said multiple times, it’s primary school maths.


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