We should judge our government systems objectively, against data. Consider the present pandemic crisis and the response from our government, compared to other systems of government around the world. For example, Taiwan, a country of roughly 25 million people. Their government systems responded in December, inspecting plane passengers from Wuhan starting December 31st, and banning all travel from China by February 6th. The Taiwanese government sent outbreak experts to Wuhan to check it out for themselves, stopped exporting masks and other medical supplies, required their private companies ramp of production of necessary supplies and equipment, and took over distribution to ensure the supplies and equipment were available where and when needed – all in January. Months before any comparable response in any of our states or at the federal level.
Taiwan’s anti-coronavirus strategy utilizes a combination of early vigilance, proactive measures, and information sharing with the public, as well as applying technology in the form of analyzing big data and online platforms. All this is done with an impressive level of public transparency and engagement, in stark contrast to China’s use of draconian and coercive measures and censorship to handle the coronavirus outbreak.Foreign Policy March 16th, 2020
Taiwan currently has 373 cases and just 5 deaths from COVID-19 (April 6th). Compared to the United States, or even just to Michigan, that’s minuscule. Taiwan is 110 miles from China and has major airports taking many daily flights back and forth from China. There are hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese working in China, and there are strong business and cultural ties, despite political confrontations. Taiwan is a small island with a very dense population, an ideal environment for the virus to spread. They had massive structural disadvantages, and yet they’re doing far better than the United States as a whole and far better than any of the 50 states in their coronavirus response.
Consider my state, Michigan. We have about 10 million residents and one major airport that has many flights to and from China. Michigan is about 4 times less dense than Taiwan – 67 people per square mile in Michigan, 250 in Taiwan – meaning people are more spread out in Michigan, making it harder for the virus to spread. Michigan should have an easier time controlling the virus than Taiwan. If Michigan were handling the coronavirus as well as Taiwan on a per capita basis, we would have 149 cases and 2 deaths. We actually have 15,718 cases and 617 deaths.
Per capita, Michigan has 105 times the number of cases and 308 times the number of deaths Taiwan has. That’s a staggering failure of Michigan and US government and leadership. So far, that failure has lead to 614 more deaths and over 15,500 more cases in Michigan than if we had Taiwan’s response. Democrats shouldn’t be praising Whitmer’s response, they should be livid about it. She’s failed, in the most basic function of leadership – protecting people’s lives.
Trump’s response is even more abysmal. At 330 million, the United States has roughly 13 times the population of Taiwan, and we have just a fraction of the population density – 94 vs. 250 people per square mile. We have 356,414 cases and 10,490 deaths so far (April 6). If our response had been as effective per capita as Taiwan’s, we would have just 4,849 cases and 65 deaths. The Trump administration’s incompetent response has already infected over 350,000 more people and killed over 10,000 more people than if we had Taiwan’s response. Per capita, that’s 73 times more cases and 161 times more dead Americans. All US numbers are artificially low because we don’t have enough tests – many infected people aren’t counted as infected because they can’t get a test, and many bodies aren’t tested for the same reason.
Republicans shouldn’t be praising Trump’s response, they should be livid about it. He’s failed, in the most basic function of leadership – protecting people’s lives. Our response is at least two orders of magnitude behind the best. We’re not even in the same league as Taiwan. Imagine you had a baseball team that performed 308 times worse than competitors. You’d fire the management so fast, their heads would spin.
What effect would an earlier response have had? Responding with strict social distancing just one day earlier results in 40% fewer cases down the line. Imagine what 7 days earlier would have done. Or a month. Implementing strict social distancing one day earlier would, at this point, have prevented about 140,000 infections and saved about 4,000 lives across the country – 6,000 infections 246 lives in Michigan alone. One day earlier. Every US politician in an executive position has blood on their hands – the deaths of hundreds and thousands of Americans, and soon to be many more.
Taiwan didn’t do anything extraordinary. They just listened to the scientists and did what the science told them to do. For decades, biologists, virologists, epidemiologists, and other public health and medical professionals have been telling politicians that this was coming. This outbreak shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone. Any politician – Whitmer, Trump, or anyone else – surprised by this is admitting they don’t pay attention to science and scientists. They’re not listening to the people with the facts and data. Republicans like Trump who actively ignore and mock science obviously aren’t listening. Democrats like Whitmer and Cuomo – all of whom claim to listen to science – are lying. If they’d been listening to the science, we would be on the Taiwan trajectory, not our present disastrous course with more than 160 times the number of dead Americans we’d have under a science-based response like Taiwan’s. Including this one, we’ve had at least 5 major viral outbreaks that spread like the flu over the past 100 years. On average, that’s one every twenty years. One of those killed at least 50 million people, perhaps as many as 100 million, and infected about a third of the global human population – in 1918, when there wasn’t nearly as much travel to nearly as many places as we have today.
We’ve known this was coming for at least decades, if not a century. Our systems for allocating resources – private industry – completely failed to prepare for it. The reason is very simple. There’s no profit in being prepared. There’s no profit in storing stockpiles of personal protective equipment, masks, or ventilators when you can’t predict when they might be used. There’s no profit in staffing infectious disease teams, or maintaining surge capacity in hospitals, intensive care units, or ventilators between outbreaks. None of these pass cost/benefit analysis, because the only costs and benefits our system cares about are profits, not lives. Business people like Trump want to know the expected return on investment per unit time. Will the project return 5% over a year, or will it take five years to make a profit? When preparing for a pandemic, there’s no way to know how long it will take to earn back the upfront costs and make a profit. No way to get the data private enterprise needs to evaluate the proposal. The system we’re using for allocating resources can’t even process the request for this kind of investment, because it can’t evaluate the request in terms the system understands. It’s like a calculator getting a divide by zero error – does not compute. Ask them to fund preparedness, and they can’t understand what you’re saying, because what you’re asking for isn’t intelligible in their model of how the world works. Make an investment that will use massive resources and not return anything for how long? You don’t know, there’s no way to tell? No profit-maximizing private enterprise will ever spend significant money on that, certainly not year after year, with no profit in sight. As a result, our system doesn’t make those investments. As a result, at least tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, and possibly as many as two million Americans are going to die.
Because our politicians pay more attention to profit-maximizers than to health and life-maximizers. Our system failed to protect life because that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to generate as much profit per unit time as possible. Our systems should be designed to ensure as many years of life for each person as possible.
We should judge our virus response on objective criteria. On objective criteria, our response has been abysmal. To date, we’re continuing to fail at providing the tests we need, so we are certainly doing even worse than detailed above. We just have no way to know how much worse it is than what our spotty data is telling us so far. We should be judging our response and our politicians against the best responses in the world. Instead, I keep hearing about how Whitmer was “better than other governors,” or Trump supporters telling the lie that he’s been “great.”
Trump, by downplaying the virus, calling it a hoax, and waiting unconscionably long to do anything serious about the outbreak, is responsible for the deaths of over 10,000 people so far. The governor of Michigan, by waiting so long, is responsible for over 600 deaths so far. Their failure to act is the proximate cause of those deaths. The numbers will go up dramatically over the next several weeks and the following months.
Taiwan’s response proves that listening to science, and taking appropriate action early, saves hundreds of thousands of lives. Taiwan proves that we know how to do this – that we’ve known how to do this for at least decades. The failure is not of knowledge, technology, production capacity, availability of resources, or skill. This is a systems failure. A failure to plan for the future. A failure to pay attention to science. A failure to organize our resources appropriately. A failure to put people’s lives and health ahead of private profit and special interests. A total failure of the capitalist system to provide for the most basic needs of people – health and life.
Those people and politicians who behave as if profit is more important than people are the ones most responsible – politicians like Whitmer, Trump, and Biden who protect the private profits of the insurance industry, rather than the well-being, health, and lives of their constituents. A major part of the reason Taiwan was able to act quickly is its adequately funded universal single-payer healthcare system – they staffed their infectious disease teams, kept an eye on global conditions, had procedures and processes ready to go in case of a pandemic. They invested in preparedness because their healthcare system isn’t run for profit, it’s run for people. Politicians who enact laws that privilege profits over people are fundamentally responsible for our failed response. You should be angry at Trump, Whitmer, and all the rest. You should be furious that we were not the best-prepared country in the world to handle an outbreak the science told us, for decades, unequivocally, was coming.
Viruses are a real threat, and we’re obviously not taking the threat seriously. The most basic job of a politician is to ensure the safety of the community and the individuals who make up the community. Our politicians have utterly failed at that task. The president has failed, our governors have failed, the entire political and economic system has failed to perform it’s most basic function – protect the people.
If you’re a Democrat, and you are evaluating Whitmer’s or another governor’s response, and you’re comparing them to other governors and not to the most appropriate response, you’re a big part of the reason Democrats lose. You’re refusing to evaluate the politicians in your own party against objective criteria. “What was objectively the best response to the coronavirus? Which response had the fewest infections and deaths per capita? How does Whitmer or any other Democratic governor compare to that?” are the questions we should be asking. Not, “How is Whitmer handling the crisis compared to other (failing) governors?” She’s got 105 times more cases and 308 times more deaths per capita compared to other responses. That’s a failure of unprecedented proportions. If you’re not willing to admit that fact into your understanding of the world, you’re hurting the Party and are a danger to its future success.
The same goes for Republicans ignoring Trump or governor DeSantis or other GOP failures, which are even worse. Some of them haven’t yet issued social distancing orders or only very lax ones.
All citizens should make these evaluations based on data and evidence. Not Party identity or fond feelings. A virus doesn’t care how you feel about it. I don’t care how you feel about Trump or Whitmer or DeSantis or Cuomo. They’ve all failed to listen to science, to prepare, and to handle the situation following the best available science. They’ve all failed abysmally. They all need to take responsibility for that failure and enact laws to ensure we are never again unprepared for a pandemic. If they won’t, we must hold them accountable at the ballot box. Voting has always been a matter of life and death – rarely more clearly so than now.
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