The Lie of the Booming Economy and “Operation Fear”

This Spring The Economist published various stories about the impending economic boom and I immediately wanted to know what planet (or drugs) these forecasters were on. Headlines of positive after-effects abound but read through to the end of some of these stories and the economic windfall is not all that the headlines have foretold: “Enjoy the coming boom while it lasts. Before long, there may be a twist in the tale.” Other media outlets have been spinning a similar story with CNBC telling its readers, “The economy is just starting a boom period, where second-quarter growth could top 10%, and 2021 could be the strongest year since 1984” and The New York Times relating that economists are predicting “a supercharged rebound that brings down unemployment, drives up wages and may foster years of stronger growth.”

This is economic astrology where if you are a Libra you could read the impending economic situation as going either way as if American psychic Jeane Dixon were back amongst the living telling us: “You are going to receive some unexpected news.” Back on planet earth, the economy is not only far from booming but even the Financial Times is cogently relating that businesses are about to face even more serious issues of financial pain: “Almost a third of global restructuring experts said that more than half of their clients that needed financing during the pandemic in 2020 would find themselves in financial distress again…”

In England, 11% of pubs are predicting business failure if the restrictions are not lifted next week and last week Andrew Lloyd Weber announced he would open his six theatres “come hell or high water” after having to spend £1 million a month to keep in with lockdown measures. Even if one might lose sympathy for someone in Lloyd-Webber’s position having to remortgage his home in Belgravia, to think that smaller theatres are shutting their doors permanently due to lockdown. Already Waitress on West End and Frozen on Broadway announced last year that they are closed permanently. Nightclubs in the UK are to remain closed and musical events are also being threatened as the current rules allow for capacity limits of 50% (or 1,000 maximum) indoors. It is clear that for many in the arts and entertainment industries the economic future boom is but a dream.

Despite the need for lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19, there are serious questions that are being asked by many of the British vaccinated business owners who don’t see that the lockdown measures are sending a clear message with many claiming that the government is contradicting the message of vaccination as allowing for an opening of the economy.

I recently interviewed journalist Laura Dodsworth whose book, A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic, addresses how SPI-B (the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour), a team of behavioural scientists working inside Whitehall that advise SAGE and ministers, has worked to create a climate of fear amongst the British population to encourage compliance with lockdown. Criticising the totalitarian tactics of terror that suppress rational thinking across the population, Dodsworth’s book details the government’s use of behavioural psychology and the weaponisation of fear in order to treat people as if we were systems to “manage” underscoring how this form of fear-mongering has raised serious questions about the society being created and the government that thinks using fear as a form of social control is acceptable. Giving copious examples as to how the British government has used the pandemic to divide society along the lines of compliance where masks are used to signal obedience, Dodsworth notes the misleading use of statistics, bad science and the media complicity in spreading misinformation.

Dodsworth is not alone in noting the contradictions between government messages and the weaponising of fear. Behavioural scientists like Patrick Fagan have come out swinging over how the British government weaponised fear while causing what Fagan contends as even greater damage in what he calls “Operation Fear” writing, “With our decision-making outsourced, we can now all relax into our Netflix, Deliveroo and PornHub, and leave it to the state to do all that hard thinking stuff for us (phew).” Despite Fagan being on the right of centre, the voices from across the political spectrum questioning the state of economic and psychological wellness during lockdown for the poor and struggling have been mounting as have the criticism of mainstream media that has recently redacted its own stories about the laboratory hypothesis.

We have seen Hollywood stars singing to us, the many videos of people serenading their compatriots from their balconies and myriad advice columns like “Bored at home? 36 fun & productive things to keep you entertained.” But what about the many who haven’t the time or money to afford Netflix or online language courses? Or the fact that businesses are legally mandated in many countries to pay their workers while being locked down?

I recently interviewed business owners in the US and Italy about the impacts of lockdown on their businesses. What was most shocking to learn aside from the economic toll handed to smaller businesses was that every single owner had many stories of clients who are afraid to come into their shops and some even afraid to leave their homes. Where Stephen Martin’s recent article addresses “eugenical fascism” and the reality that lockdown deaths, Dodsworth’s book similarly notes that COVID-19 deaths are never put into a comparative framework such that these deaths have been used by the media and the authorities to exploit fear while creating a quite dystopian future.

Still, not all businesses are suffering. Large sectors of the online retail market are doing quite well largely due to low overhead and online sales. Online gardening sites and retailers operating through larger online venues like Amazon Marketplace are also experiencing an uptick in business. One unexpected market boom during the pandemic has been in the vaping industry where businesses like cartridge thread battery have seen a 200% increase in revenue which the company chalks up to people quitting cigarettes over the past sixteen months. 2020 saw the UK’s largest online shopping sales ever, at $180.39 billion in sales just two places behind China and the US.

However, working-class jobs are rarely done online and these are the workers most at risk of being exposed to the virus and the loss of earnings. So while major media speaks confidently about the impending economic boom while backtracking from its claims last year that the “lab leak hypothesis” was conspiracy madness, it now seems that this virus may very well have been the result of “gene splicing” in a laboratory environment. It’s no wonder that most of us don’t know what to believe aside from the negative balance in our bank accounts.

We were warned in the early days of the pandemic that COVID-19 poses a serious threat to a very specific demographic and governments across the planet were slow to react. And when they did react, most employed draconian and psychological tactics in order to scare us all into compliance. Major media kept in step with misinformation at times tending to look away from obvious contradictions in policy such that even Italians are laughing at current colour regimes meant to mitigate a virus that the wealthy can avoid simply by taking a vacation to Sweden where they can go about maskless as the plebes back home suffer the mask mandates in 38˚C heat.

Even while Boris Johnson’s vaccine rollout is being lauded, there is no good reason to pat him on the back as Patrick Cockburn notes, “Johnson’s responsibility for the vaccination campaign is shaky, but his culpability for these mass deaths is not in doubt.” Still, there are many questions to be answered as to why governments chose to use psychological tactics to frighten us into our homes while telling us that the economy is set to boom.

As recent history demonstrates how American psychologists were involved in the Global War on Terror through practising “enhanced interrogation” methods—what many psychologists contend was the aiding and abetting in torture—we must ask questions as to why we are now being prepped for an economic revival when most of us are looking for money in the sofa cushions to buy food.

Julian Vigo is a journalist, scholar, film-maker and editor of Savage Minds. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (January 1, 2015). She can be reached at: julian.vigo@gmail.com. Read other articles by Julian.