In today’s Exponential Investor:
- Not Covid
- Not the NHS
- Not Brexit
Today’s essay comes from Nick Hubble of Fortune & Freedom, first published on Tuesday 24 January. To hear from Nick more often, you can sign up to Fortune & Freedom here.
Does this bit of statistics from Cobus Daneel, the chairman of the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI), mean what I think it does?
“Although weekly excess mortality in the second half of 2022 wasn’t nearly as high as the peaks earlier in the pandemic, it was persistent. This led to more excess deaths in the second half of 2022 than in the second half of any year since 2010.”
I know what you’re thinking: what the hell happened in 2010?
But perhaps that’s just how far back the data goes.
So, is the CMI suggesting that we’re worse off now, after the pandemic, than during it? I can’t quite tell.
Here’s how The Actuary magazine summed it up:
Mortality rates across the UK reached their highest level since 2010, according to an analysis of data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI), which publishes regular updates on death rates, reveals that mortality in the third quarter of 2022 was 9% higher than in the same quarter of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and higher than in any third quarter since 2010.
That’s a bit awkward.
But what does it mean if deaths lately are outpacing those of the pandemic?
It seems we have gone from a situation where we were urged to flatten the curve to one where the curve is flattening the UK. The cure was worse than the disease. The government’s policies, as ever, only made things worse. They focused on Covid deaths to the exclusion of everything else and got more deaths overall.
What an outcome!
Or perhaps it’s all due to the NHS’s shortcomings, as the media claims. By this I mean that we have failed as a nation to take care of our health service.
Meanwhile, in other nations, people are doing a good job of taking care of their healthcare system, right? Or the healthcare systems are doing a good job of taking care of its people, anyway…
But no, I’m pretty sure they don’t have an NHS in Ireland, where excess deaths are also competing with pandemic levels according to this headline from The Times:
Ireland’s excess deaths rate rivals worst of Covid pandemic
More fatalities recorded at Christmas than in any of the past five years
In fact, you might not have noticed, but the excess deaths story is pretty much international.
So… I think we can rule out our shortcomings in saving the NHS from the sick as the key cause of our excess mortality. It has to be some something more global.
To be clear about that, because I’m getting mighty sick of people blaming local conditions for international problems, the NHS’s particular woes cannot be the cause of excess deaths given that these are occurring globally.
Of course, in each nation, the blame for excess deaths falls somewhere different.
In over-vaccinated Japan and highly vaccinated Australia, it’s Covid deaths. In the UK, it’s the striking NHS. In half the United States, it’s lockdowns; and, in the other half, it’s the lack of lockdowns. In southern Europe, it’s the heatwave; and in northern Europe, it’s the cold with a lack of heating.
Everyone has their explanation. But if everyone is experiencing a remarkably similar rise in excess deaths, it’s rather likely we share a common cause.
So, can you think of anything that happened globally which might be causing excess deaths to be higher than during the pandemic?
After all, you have to wonder why so many people are getting sick in the first place – enough to overwhelm the NHS so badly. The number of people making emergency callouts is rising, a lot. I wonder why.
Perhaps Covid is still making the rounds?
Nope. Covid deaths are only a small fraction of excess deaths in the UK.
And Covid comes in waves while a Canadian researcher reports the same claim as CMI’s Daneel above: “[…] we have steady excess mortality, but we’re not really ever dipping. […] So, the fact that we don’t see negatives — or very few of them — we’re running kind of at a constant state of excess mortality.”
What might be causing such a steady stream of morbidity?
In heavily vaccinated Australia, Covid does remain the dominant cause. But Karen Cutter, spokeswoman for the Actuaries Institute’s COVID-19 Mortality Working Group, pointed out that, “In addition to Covid-19 deaths, there are significant numbers of non-Covid deaths – it is not clear what is causing these as there are many factors at play.”
This variation suggests it’s not Covid but something else that both people who get Covid and those who don’t get Covid can die of.
So, can you think of anything that was global which would cause a steady stream of deaths, and which both those who get Covid and those who don’t get Covid could die of?
After all, don’t forget, we haven’t succeeded in untangling the whole die “with” versus “of” Covid.
Another notable thing about the excess deaths is that, while everyone is talking about it, nobody wants to do the work to find out the cause. They analyse what people are dying of, but not why there’s a surge in those types of deaths.
“I think the government should be looking at it” say the Australian actuaries who usually investigate such matters for the insurance industry.
But the Australian government’s investigation into Covid carefully cut out excess deaths from its terms of reference.
You might think the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is responsible, as the actuary Cutter suggested, but “The AIHW does not routinely report on excess mortality” was the response.
To sum it up, as Cutter put it, “I feel like somebody should be doing something – but I don’t know who and what.” That’s how everyone seems to feel. Especially those who should be doing the “it” and those who know what the “it” is that needs doing.
The rest of us, meanwhile, are left to suffer with nothing more than our conspiracy theories and anecdotal evidence.
Throw in Japan, which is facing record Covid deaths after leading the world on vaccinations, boosters and whatever they called the fourth dose, and I think we can all conclude what’s really going on.
The Guardian reported in October that, “Over 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain linked to austerity”.
Euronews reckons that it’s climate change.
Canada’s CTV news reckons, “Loss of pollinators causing more than 400,000 early deaths a year”. And no, they’re not talking bees’ lives but humans’ from a lack of bees.
There’s only one thing we can all agree on, right around the world: what didn’t cause the surge in excess deaths. Thank Pfizer for that. For doing the studies to confirm it, I mean.
Oh, they didn’t?
Well, as they say in the pharma industry, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Not everyone agrees with this sort of mentality though. Especially when it comes to money, people want to see the proof before they eat the pudding.
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Editor, Fortune & Freedom
PS Note from Sam: Just a reminder that Exponential Investor is changing. I’m joining forces with my colleague Nick Hubble over at Fortune & Freedom, to bring you wider ranging daily market analysis.
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