At last we have some real data which starts identifying the costs of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, to put alongside the health benefits of our approach.
And even though we knew it was coming, the data is hugely sobering.
The largest hit to GDP in one three-month period that we've seen in all of our lifetimes.
A $23 billion government deficit for this year — much of it accumulated over just four months.
And a massive and growing pile of debt into the future, pretty much as far as the eye can see.
All of this is going to restrict our choices and our living standards for many years ahead.
And the impact is going to fall hardest on the least well off.
The most worrying thing about the pre-election Treasury projections is the number of people who won't have work for a long period. Currently, according to the Ministry of Social Development, 217,000 people are on either the unemployment benefit or the special Covid 19 income payment because they have lost their jobs. That alone is a massive increase in just a few months.
Treasury is expecting that number to keep growing to close to 279,000 over the next two years — which sadly seems optimistic when you consider that some 375,000 New Zealand jobs are still being subsidised by the Government today.
Even if it's correct, 279,000 is a very large number of New Zealanders and a lot of affected families. The numbers on the unemployment benefit after the GFC peaked at just over half of that.
But that's not all. Treasury expects some 400,000 people will need accommodation assistance before all this is over. That provides an indication of how many people will be unable to cover their housing costs because of low wages or having only part-time work. Meanwhile, the central bank's ultra-loose monetary policy will keep stoking house prices along even further.
The numbers paint a picture of a lot of suffering ahead for a lot of families. There will be a big increase in child poverty, a big spike in physical and mental health issues, and a huge loss of opportunity, especially for the young and low-skilled — who by some estimates are affected twice as much as everyone else by unemployment in recessions.
And remember, these figures are predicated on no more lockdowns.
All of which makes you wonder whether we should have done some things differently to soften the economic blow of our response, while not materially increasing the risk from the pandemic.
For example, if we hadn't shut down construction or manufacturing in the first lockdown, we'd have reduced the sting to the economy by about a quarter. This is not hindsight talking — many people were saying so at the time, and of course Australia took that approach. The Government itself seems to quietly agree now.
There was no talk of shutting down construction or manufacturing in Auckland's second lockdown.
Did we need that first lockdown to last eight weeks or would five or six have done the job? And even now, do we really need to keep New Zealanders outside Auckland in Level 2 when they haven't seen a case in weeks and weeks — just because the modellers with their spreadsheets reckon there is a 25 per cent chance someone from Auckland with Covid might leave the city?
Nobody is suggesting we could have avoided a sharp recession, but for every ultra-cautious call we make, we are adding to the long-term economic suffering for thousands and thousands of low-income
New Zealanders. Let's hope we can get a little braver soon, on behalf of all of those people whose futures are being discounted away.
The biggest question that flows out of this week's data, is just when politicians are going to stop pretending everything outside of Covid-19 can sail on normally, and start adjusting their own dreams and plans to meet the new reality of a deep economic recession with no fiscal or monetary headroom.
As the weeks tick by, there remains precious little sign of any hard thinking about how to encourage businesses to invest and grow our way out of this mess.
Indeed, it's worse than that. The current Government has just decided to double down on their 100 per cent renewable electricity target, which together with the gas exploration ban will push electricity prices up further, create more hardship for low income earners and drive more big blue-collar employers out of New Zealand.
They are turning a cloth ear to farmer concerns about capricious new environmental standards. And they have resurrected their daft idea to commit billions of dollars to run slow trams through inner-west Auckland suburbs already served with public transport.
Politicians need to stop promising more government services all over the shop. There is no money, and what little there is should be used to fire up the economy generally and lift family incomes rather than handed to hand-picked tourism companies, green schools, or other worthy causes like the Shane Jones re-election fund, even if it is rebadged.
At the moment the Government's rhetoric is starting to be reminiscent of Rob Muldoon — pretending that nothing needs to change and everything is okay despite the reality that everything has in fact changed.
For those who are too young to remember, that didn't end well.
There is an election in four weeks. There is still time for party leaders to level with us and tell it like it really is. I think people would respect them for it. Much more than if they stay quiet until after the election and then tell us.
- Steven Joyce is a former National Party MP and former Minister of Finance.