Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Paul Krugman - Trump trading deaths for political gain

Paul Krugman explains How America Lost the War on Covid–19. He says It wasn’t because of our culture, it was because of our leadership. Here are excerpts.

Over the past three weeks things have quickly gotten very grim. Hospitals in Arizona and Texas are in crisis. And, yes, it was premature reopening that did it, both directly and by sending a signal to individuals that the risk was past.

But why did America bungle Covid–19 so badly?

There has been a fair bit of commentary to the effect that our failed pandemic response was deeply rooted in American culture. We are, the argument goes, too libertarian, too distrustful of government, too unwilling to accept even slight inconveniences to protect others.

And there’s surely something to this. I don’t think any other advanced country (but are we still an advanced country?) has a comparable number of people who respond with rage when asked to wear a mask in a supermarket. There definitely isn’t any other advanced country where demonstrators against public health measures would wave guns around and invade state capitols. And the Republican Party is more or less unique among major Western political parties in its hostility to science in general.

But what strikes me, when looking at America’s extraordinary pandemic failure, is how top-down it all was.

The main driving force behind reopening, as far as I can tell, was the administration’s desire to have big job gains leading into November, so that it could do what it knew how to do — boast about economic success. Actually dealing with the pandemic just wasn’t Trump’s kind of thing.

In that case, however, why has Trump refused to wear a face mask or encourage others to do so? After all, wider use of masks would be one way to limit infections without shutting down the economy.

Well, Trump’s vanity — his belief that wearing a mask would make him look silly, or mess up his makeup, or something — has surely played a role. But it’s also true that masks remind people that we haven’t controlled the coronavirus — and Trump wants people to forget that awkward fact.

The irony is that Trump’s willingness to trade deaths for jobs and political gain has backfired.

Reopening did lead to large job increases in May and June, as around a third of the workers laid off as a result of the pandemic were rehired. But Trump’s job approval and electoral prospects just kept sliding.

And even in purely economic terms the rush to reopen is probably failing. The last official employment number was a snapshot from the second week of June; a variety of short-term indicators suggest that growth slowed or even went into reverse soon afterward, especially in states where Covid–19 cases are spiking.

In any case, the point is that America’s defeat at the hands of the coronavirus didn’t happen because victory was impossible. Nor was it because we as a nation were incapable of responding. No, we lost because Trump and those around him decided that it was in their political interests to let the virus run wild.

Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for the tip.

No comments:

Post a Comment