COVID-19 shows the new center of the world

Summary: COVID-19 might be the catalyst shifting the center of the world, as a senescent West cedes leadership to smarter and more aggressive peoples. Sometimes a crisis reveals how the world has changed.

“Listen to me and you shall hear, news hath not been this thousand year:
Since Herod, Caesar, and many more, you never heard the like before.
Holy days are despised, new fashions are devised.
Old Christmas is kicked out of Town.
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turned upside down.”
— Opening lyrics to “The world turned upside down” (1646).

A globe on a China Flag
Photo 22512167 © Feng Yu – Dreamstime.

COVID-19 is a test for nations of the world

On February 26 I wrote that China shows a future of the epidemic and the world. I wrote that the superior response of China suggested that the weight of global leadership had shifted to Asia. Events since then have provided a lot more evidence. The good news is that Japan, Singapore, and S. Korea have beaten off COVID-19. The bad news is that on March 13, the Director-General of WHO said

“Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China. More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.”

America has proven itself also poorly prepared, as described in these posts.

The West not only had two months to prepare, we also had China’s example of how to contain COVID-19. These are mind-blowing events of the kind that shape history.

Bruno Maçães at Quellitte (senior fellow at Hudson Institute; Wikipedia) explains why events in Europe (and America) are so important. How we see ourselves and our society determines how we can respond to a crisis.

“The coronavirus crisis in Europe is, before everything else, a public health crisis, but it also reflects profound changes in the way the continent sees itself. Many of these changes have been taking place for a while. Previous moments such as the debt or refugee crises can be linked with the ongoing epidemic as part of a larger pattern, but the coronavirus has made everything more visible and certainly more tragic. It seems clear to me that the extent of the outbreak in Europe is directly connected to subtle questions of cultural identity …

“I should note here that the very limited number of people who have been publicly alert to the great danger facing the world – and who grew increasingly angry at the lack of seriousness in Europe or America – were almost invariably those with some knowledge of contemporary China. If you know what progress China has made and how the country is now ahead of the West on many dimensions of what constitutes a modern society, you are very unlikely to shrug with indifference when Chinese authorities lock down a major megapolis. It was serious, but no one in Europe took it seriously.”

Maçães mentions stories about the days of COVID-19, perhaps to become legends in the annals of fecklessness, marking the dying days of western leadership – unless we regain our strength and replace our clownish elites with competent people.

How did China cope?

Remember all those experts with models showing inevitable apocalyptic casualties from COVID-19? See models’ forecasts vs. actual for Shanghai – and how they stopped the epidemic. These models’ forecasts assumed (as almost all did) that no effective measures would be taken to fight the spread. This important detail was usually omitted or glossed over. Click to enlarge.

Shanghai cases of COVID-19 - forecast vs actual

This is from a useful presentation by Wenhong Zhang, MD, PhD. He is Director of Infectious Department of Huashan Hospital and a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai (bios here and here). This is part of a presentation by three Chinese doctors on March 13, all well-worth reading.

How did Italy prepare for the pandemic?

Mattia Ferraresi at the Boston Globe describes Italy’s response and its lessons for America.

“We of course couldn’t stop the emergence of a previously unknown and deadly virus. But we could have mitigated the situation we are now in, in which people who could have been saved are dying. I, and too many others, could have taken a simple yet morally loaded action: we could have stayed home.

“What has happened in Italy shows that less-than-urgent appeals to the public by the government to slightly change habits regarding social interactions aren’t enough when the terrible outcomes they are designed to prevent are not yet apparent; when they become evident, it’s generally too late to act. I and many other Italians just didn’t see the need to change our routines for a threat we could not see.

“Italy has now been in lockdown since March 9; it took weeks after the virus first appeared here to realize that severe measures were absolutely necessary.

“According to several data scientists, Italy is about 10 days ahead of Spain, Germany, and France in the epidemic progression, and 13 to 16 days ahead of the United Kingdom and the United States. That means those countries have the opportunity to take measures that today may look excessive and disproportionate, yet from the future, where I am now, are perfectly rational in order to avoid a health care system collapse.”

How did France prepare for the pandemic?

How did Spain prepare for the pandemic?

EL PAÍS : “Women’s Day marches in Spain attract mass numbers despite coronavirus fears.” – ” tens of thousands of people across the country took to the street to protest for greater gender equality.”

“I believe that nobody thought, and I include myself among them, that this could acquire the dimensions it has taken in a country like ours.”
— Santiago Moreno, head of the infectious disease service at the Ramón y Cajal (a large public hospital in Madrid), from an interview in EL PAÍS.

Contrast that with the response in Asia

Bruno Maçães at Quellitte describes a very different response in Asia.

“I was returning from a long journey in Asia and could not help noticing the contrast. In India, or Singapore, or Vietnam, people were dramatically changing their behaviour to adapt to the coronavirus. They were going out less, avoiding large groups, taking turns on the elevator and, of course, wearing masks everywhere, even if perhaps they looked less elegant in them. The idea that they would organize a Smurf convention to have a little fun is enough to make you laugh.”

Nothing is over until it’s over. But we might be watching the center of the world shift, as a senescent West cedes leadership to smarter and more aggressive peoples.

It’s easy to follow the coronavirus story

The World Health Organization provides daily information, from highly technical information to news for the general public. These are the best sources of information.

Also, see the wealth of information at the CDC website, especially their situation reports.

Posts about the coronavirus epidemic.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a powerful and disturbing story about “Birth of a Man of Steel …for the Soviet Union.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also, see these posts about epidemics…

  1. See the ugly cost of the next big flu pandemic. We can do more to prepare.
  2. Stratfor: The superbugs are coming. We have time to prepare.
  3. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2009 swine flu in America.
  4. Posts debunking the hysteria about the 2015 ebola epidemic in America.
  5. Important: A vaccine against the fears that make us weak.

He predicted 9/11 and COVID-19

In his 1994 novel Debt of Honor, Tom Clancy described how a loaded civilian jetliner could become a powerful weapon – crashing down to destroy a giant building. In his 1996 novel Executive Orders, he describes how a president responds to early signs of a massive epidemic – a highly infectious form of Ebola. This is far worse than COVID-19, but illustrates a national application of the policies China used to contain the COVID-19 to Hubei Province.

Executive Orders
Available at Amazon.

“Therefore containment is the only option,” General Pickett went on.

“How do you contain a whole country?” said Cliff Rutledge, Assistant Secretary of State for Policy.

“That’s the problem we face,” President Ryan said. “The only way to contain the epidemic is to shut down all places of assembly – theaters, shopping malls, sports stadia, business offices, everything – and interstate travel. To the best of our information, at least 30 states are so far untouched by this disease. We would do well to keep it that way. We can accomplish that by preventing all interstate travel until such time as we have a handle on the severity of the disease we are facing, and then we can come up with less severe countermeasures.”

“Mr Presdient, that’s unconstitutional,” Pat Martin (representing DoJ) sid at once. Travel is a constitutionally protect right. … {But} Mr. President, I do not see that we have much of a choice here. …The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” …

“Thank you” Ryan said, checking his watch. “I am calling the issue on the table.”

Defense, Treasury, Justice, and Commerce voted aye. All the rest voted no. Ryan looked at them for a long few seconds. “The ayes have it,” the President said coldly. …This has absolute nad unconditional priority over any other matter.”

49 thoughts on “COVID-19 shows the new center of the world”

  1. Yes, good piece.

    “According to several data scientists, Italy is about 10 days ahead of Spain, Germany, and France in the epidemic progression, and 13 to 16 days ahead of the United Kingdom and the United States.”

    The UK scientific and medical advisors to the Government seem to think about a four week lead time for Italy over the UK, but others outside Government think it is nearer two as in the Globe piece quoted. Tested cases have now lost most of their meaning in the UK, since they are only testing those presenting to hospitals, and they are telling everyone with mild symptoms to stay home and not contact the medical services.

    So the only way you can now estimate total UK incidence is based on death rates, but of course that only tells you the incidence two weeks earlier, and only then if you can estimate mortality rates reliably. Its flying blind. But if they do not have enough testing facilities, its understandable and inevitable.

    Once you run out of beds, staff and ventilators, death rates will rise. As Hubei compared to the rest of China shows. As we are probably seeing now in Italy.

    An interesting theory about the proper parameter for measures taken is that it is traffic levels and congestion in a city. A proper effective lock-down is said to need the reduction levels of 90% or so – which did apparently happen, maybe still is, in Wuhan. Don’t recall where I read that.

    Europe and the UK will get there. Or maybe not at this rate. Von der Leyen last night on the news explaining how critically important it was to keep the single market open…. The EU doesn’t seem to get it. Maybe the individual governments will. Better get onto it soon.

    “If you know what progress China has made and how the country is now ahead of the West on many dimensions of what constitutes a modern society….”

    No. Its a mistake to argue from success in handling an epidemic to validity and sustainability of the system of government and social organization in general. It may be that China is the future on both counts, though I hope not, but this doesn’t follow from this success.

    1. Traffic in Los Angeles – LOS ANGELES – was apparently down immensely, to the point where those traffic maps showed all green except for one little branch of yellow at some awkward interchange I didn’t recognize. There is likely hope for us yet, but it could have happened a week earlier, and many more would have been helped.

      1. SF,

        “There is likely hope for us yet”

        This kind of grassroots-driven social distancing is good, but it is but one aspect of preparations. Unfortunately, most of the others require higher-level action – at which the US has been highly defective.

        Also, I don’t believe that’s a useful framing (as I described in Predictions that COVID-19 will destroy America!). Rather it is, as you note, that there is no reason that the US had to get into this hole.

    2. henrik,

      When Italy runs out of hospital beds, it will not be like Hubei Province in China. Italy’s health care resources are immensely larger.

      Also, the “running out of beds” story is pretty silly. Even China was able to greatly enlarge the number of hospital beds. Medical resources can be reallocated to care for the epidemic, retired and medical students put to work, nurses’ authority upgraded.

      This is all a time-worn playbook, used in countless disasters and wars during the past two centuries. The level of care degrades, of course, as the population under care increases beyond the usual numbers.

      There is another aspect of this, relevant to today’s post: perhaps Italy is no longer capable of this flexibility and resourcefulness. In that case, COVID-19 will reveal its decay. Its people’s confidence in themselves and their institutions will take another hit. And their slide to decay will advance a bit more.

      “No. Its a mistake to argue from success in handling an epidemic to validity and sustainability of the system of government and social organization in general.”

      Absurdly false (that’s the usual “WE’RE BETTER THAN CHINA” cries that dominate discussions of the epidemic). The ability to cope with an emergency tests the functioning of a society in many ways. The skill of its leaders, its social cohesion, its adaptability, and its resilience. Also, success builds the self-confidence and cohesion of its people – just as failure pushes it to further decay.

      1. Larry, I am not saying ‘we are better than China’. ‘Better is too vague a term to be useful. And we too, we the West, have had our episodes of mass collective insanity, civil war, and mass murder. This isn’t about better or worse.

        I do think our model of society and governance is more resilient and sustainable and while it may do less well on any particular challenge, will do better in the long haul across a series of them.

        What I am saying is that what you are now seeing in China is not a general phenomenon of The skill of its leaders, its social cohesion, its adaptability, and its resilience…

        I don’t think you can judge adaptability and resilience on response to one particular challenge.

        What you are seeing is the ability of their particular form of society and governance to deal with this particular case. This time they got what had to be done right, and they had the means to implement it immediately they decided and do it thoroughly.

        To judge whether this is a successful model of society however, it has to stand the test of time. You only have to look back one generation to see how the model stood the two tests it faced when, in response, it unleashed the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. On those occasions the leadership got what had to be done wrong, did it with the same vigor and thoroughness, and reaped the whirlwind.

        This time they got it right. Wait for the next one or several before giving way to enthusiasm for the model and the society.

        Running out of beds, by the way, is not at all silly. The UK is said to be freeing up 30,000 beds in anticipation of what is coming towards it. It will have 12,000 ventilators. Yes, it can get more physical beds by requisitioning hotels for instance. Or it can, as Spring comes, erect field hospital tents. That is easy. But its not the main bottleneck. That is staffing them. The UK has just gone to lockdown to prevent running out of beds. It is a real threat.

        When, in Milan, they are treating patients in corridors and are having to ration ventilators, we are in Wuhan.

    1. Ron, your comment about Dr. Li illustrates a common misconception of effectiveness of a world leading country. It is not about the individual. It is the about the country. At present, China has shown better leadership. You can question its political approach, but that is a different quantity altogether than effectiveness of its leadership and the response by its people.

      1. John,

        What the article illustrates is authorities dropped the ball early on. I won’t be the one spreading the conspiracy theories out there as to the reasons why.

        It’s too late for that, water over the dam.

    2. Ron,

      That’s foolish beyond even the usual in discussions of the epidemic. Health care workers have high fatality rates. Front-line health care workers have very high fatality rates. Those in the earliest part of the epidemic, before it was understood and full precautions taken, have really high fatality rates.

      WHO has talked a lot about this problem.

      But keep those eyes closed and chant “WE”RE NUMBER ONE”. Perhaps that’s the path to national greatness.

      1. Larry,

        I didn’t compare US to China. I’m having a hard time singing the praises of China at the moment. Better check those timelines.

      2. Larry,

        Smart remarks? I didn’t mean it as such, perhaps you should read the article again.

        “Dr. Li was later interrogated by party disciplinary officials and hospital management, who accused him of spreading rumors and forced him to write a self-criticism, he told the newspaper.

        “They told me not to publish any information about this online,” Dr. Li told the Beijing Youth Daily in late January. “Later, the epidemic started to spread noticeably. I’d personally been treating someone who was infected, and whose family got infected, and so then I got infected.”

  2. There are probably aspects of the Chinese model (on the topic of disease response) that we could adopt without necessarily losing our adherence to Reagan Thought. If Japan and India can do it, surely we can too. Instead we have legislators encouraging people to go to restaurants and parties.

  3. Very good article, Larry.

    It seems to me that there are two key elements here:
    1) The assumption of the leaders of the West that the medical establishment (which is particularly expensive in the US) can handle anything a pandemic can throw at it WITHOUT ANY ASSISTANCE FROM THE LEADERSHIP OF THE COUNTRY. This is obviously wrong. The influenza virus of 2019 proved that in the US.

    Larry has been upset about the US burning weeks of lead-time for COVID-19. What about the YEAR that was burned following last year’s influenza disaster?

    Article below is from February, 2019, much worse followed but I can’t find a good source:

    “CDC figures show this season’s flu vaccine is 47 percent effective.” Due to seasonal irregularities, the 2020 flu vaccine was also not as effective as expected. What confidence level does this give you that in a COVID-19 vaccine?

    “A CDC official says the number of deaths is “a little bit surprising.”” At the end of January, 19,000 had died from a seasonal, preventable disease. By the end of April, an estimated 32,000 had died.

    What will CDC officials say about COVID-19 deaths if an effective vaccine is delayed or there are serious, unforeseen side-effects? My best guess is, “Oops! Sorry!!”

    Article below is for the 2020 flu season from the CDC as of March 7:

    a) 36 million cases
    b) 370,000 hospitalizations
    c) 22,000 deaths from flu

    Looking at the charts in the update, most of the deaths have occurred in warmer weather states where the effects should be mitigated. This indicates that the citizens have not been

    2) (And this is more important) A child-like innocent assumption, by far too many supposedly-rational adults, that they do not need to vary their routine because some unnamed force will prevent the virus from affecting them.

    This feeds the national leadership’s weakness and increases the likelihood of the disease spreading faster and with more severe consequences.

    Now we’re seeing supply hoarding, which is hardly a silver bullet. Worse will occur if the disease starts shutting down major transportation hubs as it has in Europe.

    The only points of intelligent thought in the US on this situation seem to be coming from a few people in the CDC and some state governments. The US Congress admits that it has been hamstrung by the President’s fear of sharing information:

    1. Sorry, didn’t finish a thought.

      Puto: “This indicates that the citizens have not been…”

      This indicates that the citizens have not been immunized with even the partly effective flu shot. What does this mean for COVID-19 immunization rates?

      1. Pluto,

        “This indicates that the citizens have not been immunized with even the partly effective flu shot. ”

        That’s a bit too broad a statement. There were about 170 million flu shots distributed by manufacturers in the US during the 2019-20 flu season – vs our population of 327 million. I hope most were used.

        Also note that the vaccine is prepared before we know the exact nature of this year’s most powerful flu. As the CDC says

        “Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary from season to season. The protection provided by an influenza vaccine depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to produce vaccine and those in circulation.”

        There are no magic bullets (at least, not yet). But anything that reduces the indicidence and seriousness of COVID-19 takes some of the pressure off the health care system (allowing better treatment of the afflicted) and the also important pressure off the economy. The psychological effect by itself might be big.

  4. Italy seems to be reacting, now that they woke up. There are new hospitals, more doctors, new ideas to improve ventilation and patient care, some treatments being developed… Also strong displays of social cohesion and discipline, the supply chain for basic necessities seems strong, the national spirit seems up… Their society seems to be capable of flexibility and adaptation, so far. If they can keep this up for a few more weeks, I’d say that this epidemic will be more of a wake-up call to the slow reaction time of their government, than a defeat of national spirit.

    I hope that this is the case for most European institutions – the capacity for adaptation is there, but it needs something very strong for activation. I can give you a personal example: my university and my kid’s school went completely virtual last week, and we now have internet schooling for most students at all levels. This was done in only one week by a rather old and stuffy Ministry of Education, which four weeks ago told us that this would be completely impossible, and which I would have sworn was too stiff with age to face this challenge. Seems like the capacity for flexibility was there, it just needed some exercise. We all did our part, and now at least education won’t stop during the coming quarantine.

    1. JP,

      Thank you for that report from Italy. It’s very good news. As WHO has said, China has proven that COVID-19 can be beaten even after it gets a foothold in a society.

      More good news, from the AP: “Coronavirus vaccine trial starts Monday.” Of course, the path from phase one clinical trials to mass innoculation is a long one. The article says 18 months (although I suspect an effective vaccine would be fast-tracked and take much less than that).

      1. JP,

        Follow-up to your comment today by the Director-General of WHO:

        “We have also seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like closing schools and cancelling sporting events and other gatherings. But we have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing – which is the backbone of the response.

        “Social distancing measures can help to reduce transmission and enable health systems to cope. Handwashing and coughing into your elbow can reduce the risk for yourself and others. But on their own, they are not enough to extinguish this pandemic. …

        “As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach. The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

      2. I know. In Italy it seems they stopped testing every case this because of lack of resources in the healthcare system. Apparently other countries in northern Europe are going the same way (only testing those with severe symptoms), so I think the WHO warning is directed to them. I don’t know if they’re changing this approach, and in Italy I don’t even know if they have enough resources to change it, with the security forces busy enforcing the quarantine and ensuring basic needs are met.

        In my country (Portugal) we don’t have many confirmed infections yet (330 today), so the Ministry of Health is trying to mobilize society to reinforce the healthcare institutes tracking and testing the disease. So far, we have the military hospitals mass-producing testing kits, universities dedicating (now empty) research labs to testing, and our Association of Biologists organizing volunteer manpower for testing (lots of labworkers have been sent home…)

        This only started in the past two days, and there is of course a limit as the volunteers will need direction from someone with experience, but my point is, if our institutions can’t handle the needed tests, we can increase their capacity with mobilization. I have no idea if Italy still has the resources to do this though.

      3. Larry, I don’t know if Italy still has the resources to do this, given that their healthcare system is overburdened with cases and their security services are busy enforcing the quarantine and keeping things running.

        I know that many European countries stopped testing mild cases due to lack of capacity. But this can be circumvented – we are technological societies, we have empty university labs with the required equipment, and lab workers idle at home.

        My country (Portugal) is trying the mobilization approach: the military is mass-producing tests, universities are providing lab equipment, and lab workers are being asked to volunteer to work in the public healthcare labs. We have few confirmed cases yet (350) and our testing system is still adequate, so for now we are just building a reserve capacity to be quickly mobilized.

        The idea is untested but I think it has potential and could address the lack of testing capacity elsewhere, especially in northern Europe with their huge and well-equipped research labs. I haven’t heard of it being implemented elsewhere though.

  5. It would seem to me that those of us who are not working in the medical profession, at least, are subject to the
    frustrating situation of some extremely relevant numbers being apparently unavailable.

    There is this 20%-of-cases-severe-or-critical number being bandied about. It’s obviously a very important figure. If we take the worst-case (extreme) scenario of total health service breakdown it becomes the case-fatality ratio (perhaps that’s oversimplified if some “severe” cases can still recover without any health care).

    Dr John Campbell, for instance, uses this figure (20%) in his March 16 YouTube video, seemingly multiplying
    a projected number of infections (70% of UK population) by 20% to get the number of hospital cases and using it to assert that the NHS will be completely overwhelmed.

    Maybe it will. But his use of it seems an oversimplified approach. It’s the CASE (i.e. diagnosed cases)-
    hospitalization ratio maybe, but not the INFECTION-hospitalization ratio. In the same video he estimates
    infection to case ratio to be 10 to 1. So on that basis are we looking at an infection-hospitalization ratio of
    2% (much better)? Or not? I want to know!

    1. Jonathan,

      I’ve talked with the WHO press team, and they are very cautious about giving out those numbers. People treat these numbers as constants, like the speed of light – but they’re not. They vary tremendously by a large number of variables. Many of which are difficult to communicate to laypeople. Many of these factors about COVID-19 are not yet well understood by epidemologists.

      So you want numbers. But people throughout history have coped successfully with epidemics without anything remotely like the number you apparently believe are so essential. Because they are not.

      From my many conversations with people, they want those numbers in order to second-guess the advice from the CDC and WHO – because modern American have come to believe that each of us is a king of all we survey, able to make decisions about matters with which we know almost nothing.

      It’s one of the factors leading to the conclusions in this post.

  6. Wow. First, can anyone believe the numbers out of China. I doubt them and believe that at least 50,000 dead could be more realistic. Also, the virus originated in China because of either poor lab discipline or sanitation at markets.

    Second, China is a purely Ponzi economy. It’s economy growth is driven by debt and planned fixed asset investment where much of it is unproductive.

    The West’s weakness stems from its greed and its elite’s willingness to sell out their fellow citizens to a Chinese military strategy. The West, if it finds the will, can still outlast and outperform China. It is up to our citizens to ensure this occurs.

    1. Rc99,

      You keep your illusions. Ignore all the data validated by non-China experts. After all, fringe sources are sometimes right about such things.

      That is, almost never. But they’re always fun.

      1. What illusions though?

        There are tons of non-biased sources out there describing the reality of the Chinese economy, their political system, and the relative instability of the Chinese government long term.

        The idea that an authoritarian, almost totalitarian, top down government system run by corrupt party oligarchs, is the new center of the world leadership seems to me a bold statement that has little empirical evidence behind it.

      2. Dave,

        “seems to me a bold statement that has little empirical evidence behind it.”

        Most of the world’s leading nations across history have had an “authoritarian government system run by corrupt party oligarchs.” Things are different in Heaven, but you have to die to get there.

      3. “Most of the world’s leading nations across history have had an “authoritarian government system run by corrupt party oligarchs”

        Fair point but again, the evidence does not show that China’s current success is sustainable or that it will provide a model going forward that people will adapt willingly.

        You also forgot the totalitarian part.

        I am not going to just lay down and accept that a system where any thought your express, any idea for change you have, has to be approved and accepted by a tiny elite that can lock you away because they think you are a threat to their power.

        There will always be powerful and corrupt that abuse the little guy, clearly we are not immune to that, and certainly there is a lot of witch hunting going on in America these days, but I refuse to believe you think there is an equivalence between that and what the CCP is doing.

        Sorry, but too many damn people died fighting not just tyranny, but nightmarish totalitarianism in the past for us to allow such a system to overtake us today.

        This isn’t some jingoistic sentiment, or unjustified USA! USA! nonsense, we have a lot of serious problems in this country.

        But its not over yet and we can get our house in order and show the world that the Founder’s dream isn’t dead and that the future is not control from on high.

        I understand you look at them and see a brutal, effective efficiency and the gall to seize the reigns of world power in the midst of American and Western decadence.

        Yet similar sentiments were raised in the 1920s and 30s when everyone declared that the liberal order was dead and either Fascism or Communism were the future.

        Those systems collapsed because they were fundamentally out of sync with human nature and depended far too much on a small group to run everything.

        This is not the world of kingdoms, ancient empires or even rising industrial nations with a few million max to control. The idea that a small cadre of party officials can effectively run a country of 2 billion would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic in terms of the inevitable human suffering that will result if they don’t reform and decentralize.

        Such an idea to me is akin to the notion that a couple of 4 stars could remake the nation of Iraq sitting in air conditioned Pentagon offices thousands of miles way.

  7. The virus is surely a real threat, but it is the precedents that are getting set that should cause concern.
    Rights of assembly etc have been cancelled, millions have been deprived of their livelihood with zero process or right of appeal and people are getting confined indefinitely. When Trump spoke of his extensive powers under the Stafford act, he was speaking of still further government edicts to limit the people even further.
    How can these precedents be compatible with the idea of freedom and individual responsibility? They certainly clear the way for a vastly more over government control of all aspects of our lives.

    1. etudiant,

      The constitution is not a suicide pact. This phrase has been used many times for many purposes. But its true origin (in some form) is by Lincoln.

      Starting in April 1861 Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in some areas, a power specifically granted only to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. He ignored Court orders to stop, including one by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Congress retroactively approved in March 1863.

      The Constitution is not a suicide pact was his defense. Presidents during later wars have done similar things, and the Republic survived. As I (and countless others in history) said, epidemics are like wars in many ways. this is one one the.

      I suggest you read the Tom Clancy book mentioned at the end of this post.

      Failure to successfully deal with such a crisis has brought down many regimes. I doubt that you would like the one that replaces ours.

      1. I was and am outraged by the government’s response to 9-11 because so many other, constitutional and sensible things, could have been done that would’ve been effective. But a pandemic is not terrorism (caused by rotten foreign policy and overall stupidity). For the first time in my 58 years, I agree, the Constitutional is not a suicide pact.

      2. Nell,

        All good points.

        I am writing about this for tomorrow. The scale of the Federal gov’t screw-up on this is staggering. The reporting about this aspect of the epidemic is useless. I’ve asked some people I know who have deep DC experience for their opinions.

        We have not yet taken actions that should have been done in early jan – or (less excusably) early Feb. Such as ordering more ventilators for ICUs.

        At the very least, I expected more from Pence when he was appointed to ramrod. But he’s been MIA.

        I don’t understand how this can happen. It’s not just Trump (he’s not a queen bee, with the entire govt hive waiting for his decrees).

  8. I have a bad feeling about this. It is almost like if the UK Minister of Health in 1940 during the Blitz had been given uni-lateral power to limit civilian bombing deaths so he orders national surrender to Hitler. And from his narrow perspective, he would be absolutely right to do so.
    The ChiComs have told the world that their system handled this better than the free world. I doubt they would stop at anything to hide any contrary evidence, and 2. They are obviously more willing to take human losses.
    The later might be the important fact.

  9. The hard reality is that in the US, there is NO WAY the demand for vents/ICU beds will not far exceed supply no matter how much social distancing is enforced. Bending the curve down will mean in practice that the period of pain will go on for a long long time. Maybe a year or more.
    I am not sure at all that the ChiComs are honestly presenting what happened in their country and are more than happy to let the West destroy its economy by trying to emulate a false front.

    1. Rum,

      “Bending the curve down will mean in practice that the period of pain will go on for a long long time. Maybe a year or more.”

      Since that has not been true in China, S. Korea, Japan, and Singapore – we can safely say you are just making stuff up. Despite your delusions of genius, nobody knows what will happen. But the worst case is clearly Hubei Province, a poor area whose health care systems totally collapsed. And you are wrong even about their experience.

      1. Randolorian,

        That’s part of an important point. People often sneer at our health care system, but in fact we are better prepared than almost any other nation for this kind of event.

        I reviewed our situation in a February 28 post, which included mention of our high number of ICU beds per capita. Note that the Forbes article did not link to the source Statista article.

        The US has roughly 114 thousand ICU beds. If all were available – no other patients and COVID-19 cases were evenly distributed across the nation – then we could handle 572 thousand cases of COVID-19. But most of those beds are filled – they’re too expensive to keep empty! And COVID-19 cases will be concentrated, not evenly distributed.

        Of course, beds can be made available thru triage and deferral of elective surgery. And patients can be shipped, to some degree, to where facilities are available. But ICU beds will be a bottleneck – a limiting factor – in care of an epidemic. That’s why the fatality rate rises with the incidence of the disease.

        That’s a big reason why containment is so important.

      2. Follow-up to Randolorian –

        The larger factor over the longer term is not the number of ICU beds, but our ability to increase them.

        Reallocating health care workers to more urgent tasks.

        Increasing the number of health care workers by re-activing those who are retired and bringing in those who are students.

        Increasing the supply of key equipment. Such as this from Forbes: “’We could increase production five-fold in a 90- to 120-day period,’ says Chris Kiple, chief executive of Ventec Life Systems, a Bothell, Wash. firm that makes ventilators used in hospitals, homes and ambulances.”

        But note this pitiful news:

        “The ventilator industry is getting a burst of desperate orders from China and Italy. The U.S. hasn’t seen that yet, although manufacturers are bracing for it.”

        Those orders should have been placed by the government in late January – or early February at the latest. Ditto with efforts to ramp up supply of key chemicals needed for the testing kits, which are not a serious bottleneck. These are the things that VP Pence’s group should have been working on after – after it was created absurdly late on Feb 28.

  10. A busy general surgeon I know at a major center was just told she must cancel all scheduled elective cases for the next 3 months – as a first step. Nothing has happened in US Medicine that is remotely like this and I do not have any confidence that the people in charge are anticipating even 10% the actual costs and repercussions. Plans announced in the morning are being changed in the afternoon – across all segments of medicine. All office staff everywhere are being sent home indiscriminately. Most of them are folks with kids living pay check to paycheck. The mind bogles.
    After a few months of this, just restarting the system will be slow and ugly because of the absence of trust. Who would trust in a future/career that lives at the mercy of arbitrary changes of the authorities opinion re “social distance” and an arbitrary valuation of the meaning of a new virus?
    This is one reason the Great Depression was so hard to undo. Loss of confidence in the future.

    When A. Lincoln over ruled habeus corpus he knew that if the union disintegrated the constitution would be dead anyway. I do not think the corono virus was going to kill America.

    1. Rum,

      “A busy general surgeon I know at a major center was just told she must cancel all scheduled elective cases for the next 3 months – as a first step.”

      That’s a sensible measure. What’s your problem with it?

      “Nothing has happened in US Medicine that is remotely like this ”

      I suggest that you read some history.

      “Most of them are folks with kids living pay check to paycheck”

      You might notice from the news that coping with this is a top concern of Congress.

      “I do not have any confidence that the people in charge are anticipating even 10% the actual costs and repercussions.”

      When you read some history, you’ll learn that (unlike TV) most decision-makers act tactically. Since the future is so difficult to predict, they make decisions based on the next few innings. But fear not! When you get to Heaven, you’ll find a perpetual absolute Monarchy without flaw or error (but you must die to get there).

      “After a few months of this, just restarting the system will be slow and ugly because of the absence of trust.”

      It is so easy and fun to make confident doomster predictions! Why do you care? With your ability to predict the future, you must be rich beyond beyond dreams. Personally, I suspect you’re not too good at the forecasting gig. History shows that societies are resilient. But time will tell.

      Rather than imagine nightmares, I suggest reading Predictions that COVID-19 will destroy America!

  11. South Korea is about the size of the state of Indiana and just about completely mono-ethnic. And everybody can speak Korean as a first language and they have the tightest borders anywhere.
    Good on them in the time of the plague, but not everywhere is like that and it is unhelpful to pretend to be.

    1. Rum,

      “South Korea is about the size of the state of Indiana”

      And China has 1.4 billion people. The same methods worked in both places. What’s your point?

      “And everybody can speak Korean as a first language”

      Almost everybody in the US speaks English. What’s your point?

      “just about completely mono-ethnic”

      None of the measures taken there or in China require mono-ethnicity.

      Your comment is the very essence of defeatism. It is a wonderful demo of my point in this post.

      You show a fantastic eagerness to justify our failure. Perhaps it is the natural next step after two months of denial about China’s success.

  12. You are always good at pointing out the history of our country Larry, a history where we often wait until the last minute to do something.

    Its part of our parochial sentiments, and our relatively decentralized federal structure.

    Creating national institutions to take on something like this takes time and even with entities such as the CDC, they often have to keep justifying themselves to a Congress more intent on sending pork back to their districts than the well being of the nation as a whole.

    You are seeing solutions emerge from local communities and states, especially in light of the current administration’s lack of care or concern despite being allegedly “nationalistic”.

    Is that a bad thing? Maybe that is how the renewal of America starts, with the realization that we don’t need to wait for Washington to act before we solve our problems. You have said so yourself many times.

    I don’t think China is really in a position economically, militarily, and culturally to take on leadership of the world in the way that the US did with say Bretton Woods.

    Yes, you see a remarkable amount of development in the last 20 years, and the CCP should be commended as far as they have been able to lift so many people out of poverty. But I don’t see any evidence of real innovation coming out of China, of a dynamic model that the rest of the world wants to copy.

    And after this debacle where people are realizing we have such a diminished capability to maintain critical drug and medical device production, you are going to see even more decoupling from China moving forward.

    I don’t see either party advocating for a closer trade relationship with China, and in fact the opposite will likely be the case politically, especially if God forbid the death toll in America rises significantly.

    How does this affect the CCP’s ability to maintain the record economic growth of the last 20 years while keeping internal discontent from threatening party leadership?

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