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Notes from a Covid Victim's Diary

And we're all victims of this virus, infected or not...
 
PAUL TUSTAIN is founder and Chairman of BullionVault. The company has seen a boost to business, as people all over the world exit the major currencies, seeking out a store of value that isn't being corrupted by unmanageable debt. He tested positive for coronavirus in November 2020.
 
8th March 2020
Why is it that Rishi Sunak fills me with such a sense of foreboding? Have I become cruel, or is it simply that I see in his magic money tree a cataclysmic financial disaster unfolding in 2021 and beyond? God spare me, please, a smiling and popular Chancellor of the Exchequer; he serves only those who will be gone within the year. The rest of us will pick up one hell of a bill.
 
20th March 2020
Boris, if you ask a scientist the stupid question "is it safe?" you will assuredly get a stupid answer. Not necessarily a wrong answer, but a stupid one, because the truthful answer is, of course, "No". 
 
But had you asked the same scientist the same question before Covid ever appeared, the equally correct and equally stupid answer would again have been "No". Trust the science, and you should have locked us all down long before the pandemic, if, that is, we are to be kept safe.
 
You need to stop asking scientists the answers to political questions. Life isn't safe. Go hide away if you must, but as leadership goes it makes a pretty unedifying spectacle.
 
16th May 2020
I really thought Boris would understand how freedom insists that government stands back. It's the same as free markets, which surely he broadly understands. 
 
Let people – within reason – choose a course of action which works for them, and the world will automatically find a balanced solution to a difficult problem. Students will party because they know they are almost 100% safe. Let them, and their partying will accelerate their herd immunity and make society in general safer for everyone else. 
 
Old people will be particularly cautious for the time being – but with the students partying the old won't need to isolate themselves for so long. 
 
The rest of us will find our own balance. In our own interest we will eliminate the silly things we routinely do which give unnecessary opportunities for transmission. We will carry on, balancing the risks and rewards of death and life in the way which our interpretation of speculative science seems to justify. 
 
We really don't need you – Boris – telling us that one size fits all when it's manifestly untrue. That dim-witted, socialistic philosophy doesn't apply now any more than it did as we navigated, in freedom, the risks of being alive before all this nonsense started.
 
2nd June 2020
I am still trying to work out why people on full pay would return to work for a government which was scaring the living daylights out of them. 
 
15th June 2020
Will there be a second wave? I expect so. I remembered this morning the stream at the end of my childhood home's garden. With annual regularity each autumn, until I was about 9, I used to decide to dam it. I would start with the largest available rock, which I would 'lockdown' in the centre of the stream. Then, stone by stone, I would try to stem the diverted flow, with progressively smaller pebbles strategically placed wherever the water seemed to be running fastest.
 
My dams never once stopped the flow of water. Sometimes I could slow it temporarily – creating a satisfying, knee-deep pool on the dam's upside. But given one more minute the individual rivulets between all the stones on the downside aggregated to the sum of the original torrent. Annually repeating my efforts was part of childhood, and finally abandoning the whole pointless project, aged 10, was part of rural growing up. By then I had learned how futile it is to try to stop nature's determination to have her water run downhill.
 
18th June 2020
You know, we're all the same. Cummings, Ferguson, you, me and now – possibly the most militant lockdowner of them all – my son. The rules simply stop applying to us when they become intolerably inconvenient. And so they should, because we are mostly capable of weighing up for ourselves the risks and rewards of the decisions we take on our journey through life. A free society is built on that assumption.
 
No-one I know has informed themselves better than my son about the quantitative risks of Covid. But in the end, the superficially unnecessary journey he recently made might (or might not) have long-term beneficial repercussions for his mental health, and might (or might not) even help reverse the effects of Covid mortality. It's for him to evaluate and choose, not government. Militant he most certainly has been, but I won't be the one to accuse him of hypocrisy for going on a date.
 
16th July 2020
As a troglodyte 'gold bug' (as they love to call people like me) I read that sophisticated economists are largely agreed that all this money printing will not result in hyperinflation. Well that's a mighty relief! I wonder which other of my Neolithic opinions about our financial future I could safely discard now that sophisticated economists are on the case?
 
30th July 2020
At least Covid has taught me never again to trust journalists' use of statistics. Nick Squires, of The Telegraph, nearly had even me cowering behind this nanny government's pleats. In June he revisited Nembro, the epicentre of northern Italy's February/March outbreak, where just about everybody got a good drenching of the coronavirus. Here's what he wrote:
"In the first 21 days of March, the town recorded 1,000 per cent more deaths than in the whole of 2019."
Phew – that's 10 years' worth of deaths in three weeks; that's truly scary.
 
Yet shortly after, in the same article, and written about the same place, he tells of a funeral director explaining the vast death toll which had happened by June. In the past, his company handled around 120 funerals a month.
"Would you like to know how many we handled so far in 2020? 1,090," he said. 
Er, normal would have been 720. That's hardly the 1,000 per cent increase you just mentioned. Mr.Squires clearly doesn't check his working. Or if he does, he prefers sensation to accuracy.
 
Generally speaking Covid causes 5 to 10 months' worth of expected deaths to be brought forward, which the second of the above statistics partially validates. Shortly after its impact the wider death rate falls. Last week in the UK the overall death rate was reported 4% lower than usual, which is a hugely significant number for such a large sample. This is happening because older people regularly die from minor infections. Fewer of them are dying now because some have already died from Covid, and because lockdown also reduces the transmission of other, tolerated, and anonymous minor infections. 
 
Covid has the curious distinction of being the only named minor infection among the many which cause the death of older people. Yes, it is worse than the others, but not by an enormous degree. The rest is hysteria, which incompetent use of numbers by widely read journalists in the serious press doesn't really help.
 
5th August 2020
Boris, you are letting this virus hold you hostage. Do you think it would have held Churchill, or Thatcher hostage? I doubt it. Great leaders are forgiven when they recognise that the big decisions of state always cost lives. Hell, if they did not, then they were not big decisions. Are you worthy of being spoken of in the same breath as Churchill or Thatcher? Certainly not yet; and you are letting that possibility slip away, which makes me sad.
 
14th September 2020
Boris, I voted for you. I seriously thought some of Churchill's strength and willingness to pay a price for what matters ran through your writing and your spirit. Faced with something like this virus I would have backed you to make a speech along the lines of Churchill's "I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears..."
 
Instead you opt out – by "following the science". You offload on mere support staff who are approximately as uncertain regarding the future as the rest of us.
 
The decisions about this virus are for private people, to be made using the imprecise information available to them, and according to the circumstances of their own lives. 
 
Personally I want to get the virus. I am very unlikely to die, and soon afterwards – having isolated to protect people as best I could – I would very likely be reasonably immune from re-infection by it. This would make me sooner a lesser risk to other people, including my 88 year old mother, who I have not seen for many months. Also, I would like to be completely productive again, as quickly as possible. 
 
But of course I do not demand that other people should be forced into the same choices as me. My choice – for example – would be spectacularly ill-suited to my mother, even though the choice I make now for myself, is in her best long term interest if, in fact, she still likes to see me occasionally and isn't just pretending, which she might be!
 
Am I really so dreadful that I must be made an outlaw if I continue to socialise in groups of more than 6? I do not believe so. This is responsible freedom, which is what past Conservatives made sacrifices for.
 
19th September 2020
Churchill's great crisis speech, edited for Boris.
"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat some data from epidemiological models.'
 
"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war be safe, by sea in shops, land restaurants and air buses, with all our might precautions and with all the strength fear that God government can give us; to wage war against hide from a monstrous tyranny modest risk, never surpassed previously a concern in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime nanny statism.
 
"That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory safety, victory safety at all costs, victory safety in spite of all terror the economic destruction, victory safety, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory safety, there is no survival justification for bossing everyone about. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire NHS, no survival for all that the British Empire Health and Safety Executive has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal to report our neighbours to the authorities.
 
"But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope ebbing confidence. I feel sure that our cause app will not be suffered to fail among men work very well. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all benefits, and I say, 'Come then, let us go forward together nowhere with without our united strength face masks.'"
17th October 2020
Government's chums working in the Bank of England are – I read – about to improve our economic prospects by taking rates negative. Oh dear, was there ever such a one trick pony? 
 
I feel I must note for posterity the difference between stable and unstable economic equilibrium.
 
Imagine the economy as a golf ball balanced precariously on the top of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. One nudge from a puff of wind, and 100 traumatised civil servants rush down the road from Bank to catch it, and re-position it delicately on the top. They will have to do the same tomorrow, and the next day. That is an unstable equilibrium. 
 
Now turn the dome upside down and put the same golf ball in the resulting bowl. Suddenly it doesn't matter how hard the wind blows, the ball finds its own way back. At the very least a stable equilibrium means we can fire 100 traumatised civil servants, and their counsellors, and get all of them to do something more productive than propping up dead bodies all day.
 
Our monetary system – substantially unmanipulated, save for a strong government edict on the definition of 'a pound' – used to enjoy a state of stable equilibrium, controlled by free market forces, which included the possibility of bankruptcy for organisations which ran in to hard times on reserves which were too light. What 90 years of monetary fiddling and cheating has done is create a world full of organisations which have no reserves, because nanny will prop them up. We now have a monetary system in a state of spectacularly unstable equilibrium. Worse still, we have a government which is by far and away our biggest borrower setting the level of interest rates; it's as if alcoholics were setting the price of beer. 
 
I realise that no-one from a junior clerk at the busted Bank of England upwards understands how this works, but a monetary system can only support a free society if it is dominated not by government, but by market forces. Alas, we have lost the will. We will soon lose a functioning currency (in a hyper-inflation) and the last vestiges of our liberty too. I no longer believe we will find the way back.
 
3rd November 2020
Good. At last I have got this wretched virus. I will be able to see Mum before Christmas.
 
I thought I'd better have a test as I was a bit coldy and I couldn't taste my morning boiled egg. I was due to deliver the eulogy at a funeral next Wednesday and I didn't think they would be too pleased if I turned up coughing a little, and sniffing. I took the test on Saturday. It came back positive.
 
Thank you Charlotte for dropping in a few days ago! I mean that.
 
5th November 2020
Yes – they're right about the loss of taste. I have a headache (less bad than flu) and a very modest cough. I am more tired than flu, but less miserable. A hot bath makes me feel a little better, and helps me sleep through the afternoons. My weird symptom is a feeling of two day old sunburn all over my torso. But I'm up most of the day and I don't have the slightest concern that this will be it for me! 
 
Our NHS thinks otherwise. It insists, on the basis of an ineradicable record of a 10 year old prescription that I'm 'high risk' (you wonder how many millions of us it is overcounting) and it patronises me with a stream of texts for which – so far as I understand – there is absolutely no basis for assuming any health benefit. Well, it keeps them busy, and I think I can safely ignore them. On balance I'm reasonably fit, and 399 people out of 400 with my profile will recover. I've taken bigger risks.
 
7th November 2020.
We continue to self isolate. Obviously it wouldn't have occurred to us to quarantine ourselves without all this government instruction! My wife beat me to getting the disease by a week or so, and she is already fine. I take paracetamol for the headache, and if we play canasta I have to quit after an hour or two and go to bed. My daughters – 25 and 27 – are here too, working on-line during the day. They keep winning canasta. But then they are not the slightest bit ill.
 
8th November 2020
It's day 11 from my first symptoms, and the recovery is suddenly very rapid. I'm 95%. I expect I may need a brief doze in the armchair this afternoon, though whether that will be Covid- or lunch-related I'm not quite sure. According to the rules I could have gone back to the office this morning. I prefer to be extra-cautious, aware of the health and concerns of the people I might see. Of course I would not have been able to make that decision responsibly, and for myself, without the government intervention which has trashed our economy. Well done nanny!
 
13th November 2020
So – the end is in sight. There is a vaccine, possibly, and several other candidates. Meanwhile, having grinned his generous way to universal popularity, Rishi Sunak is finally wondering how to pay the bill. The horrible truth dawns that there is no way out.
 
Sunak comes at the end of a long line of chancellors who have failed to balance the books. To pay off in one year an inconsequential 0.5% (£10.1bn) of the governments excessive historic borrowing (£2.024trn) would require taxation running at £3,360 per UK household more than it was before the pandemic. It would suck out all demand from the economy and it will never happen.
 

Total government debt (Aug 2020)

2,023,900,000,000

Annual deficit (10 year average, excluding 2020)

-82,630,000,000

Number of UK Households

27,600,000

Annual deficit per household (10 year average)

-2,994

Percentage reduction in national debt sought

0.50%

Gross budget surplus required to achieve that reduction

10,119,500,000

Household net contribution to achieve that reduction

367

Necessary increase in annual taxation per household

+3,360

 
All data sourced at the Office for National Statistics
 
The old solution – paying off debt with economic expansion – has now been tried with fiscal and monetary stimulation pushed so hard for so long that we average, over 10 years, deficits of £2,994 per year per household. So now we are to have negative interest rates. 
 
The geniuses who brought this upon us can scratch their chins all they like; there is no solution. Sterling as a vehicle for saving is irretrievably broken. People who sit on large balances of it will end up looking and feeling as stupid as people who sold their farms to become – briefly – Weimar millionaires. Sadly, most of the losers will be trusting pensioners, whose 2050 monthly cheque will buy them a sandwich (rather like a Russian babushka [war widow] in 1980). They are the ones who, by and large, are sitting on the creditor side of our £2trn national debt.
 
Oh well. Back to the BullionVault office on Monday. There's work to be done.

Paul Tustain is the founder and chairman of BullionVault.

See the full archive of Paul Tustain articles.
 

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