Archive for the ‘International Comparisons’ Category

Military recruiting videos around the world

September 25, 2021

Anti-woke folks have been posting three military recruiting videos on the Internet—one each from China, Russia and the USA.

The Chinese video shows a Chinese husband and father, leaving his family to live a life of hardship and danger in order to protect his family and nation from enemies.

The Russian video shows a tough, muscular Russian trooper, ready to face and deal with whatever comes.

The US American video shows a nice young woman, who has been raised by two lesbian women, who has found the U.S. armed forces accept her for what she is.

The anti-wokesters say the videos show the difference in the martial spirit of the leaders of the three countries.

Someone like the young US American woman probably would not be a match for someone like the Chinese or Russian man on the field of battle.  And the nature of the video does say something about the feminization of US American society.  

Then again, actual warriors make up a small percentage of US American armed forces.  Most of them are technicians and support staff whose war is waged at a distance.

I spent all afternoon reviewing military recruitment videos from different countries.  I don’t think that, in isolation, any particular military recruiting video proves anything about the character of the nation that issued it.  Even so, the different kinds of reasons they offer for joining the military are interesting, at least to me.

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Why can’t US Americans be like Canadians?

September 14, 2021

The bond of unity of most nations is the idea that they are one family, a family of common lineage usually speaking a common language and adhering to a common religion. Sometimes this is cemented by having a hereditary monarch as a symbolic national father or mother.

We US Americans lack a common lineage.  We consist of all kinds of people—descendants of the original white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, African slaves, native American peoples and Spanish-speakers acquired by conquest, plus immigrants from literally every continent in the world.

So maybe we need an American creed, or an American myth, to bind us together.

But wait a minute!  Canada, our good (and often better) neighbor does all right, without any obvious sense of Canadian exceptionalism.  How do they do it?

A Canadian friend of mine summed up her idea of her nation this way:

Canadians suffer from boredom and blandness.  Even the most conservative politician in Canada believes in universal health care run by the government.

There were some differences here concerning the role of the private sector in healthcare, but in general those differences were worked out years ago.  Canadians put up with high taxes.  Doctors are basically civil servants.

What myth warms our hearts?  Fairness and multiculturalism? 

Refugees and immigrants in Canada are enjoyed.  Their story adds a little spice to the Canadian meat and potatoes.  They are not pushed to become CANADIANS.  What would that even be?  It would be very unusual in Toronto to walk down the street for one block and not hear 3 or 4 languages spoken.

One very common problem is people in their 40s who have parents who came to Canada 30 years ago and never learned English.  I know a lot of people in that situation, who feel an obligation to be their parents’ interpreters at a moment’s notice (even though they have demanding careers and young children to raise).

There are no illusions that Canada is the leader of the Free World, no sense that we are shining beacons on a hill, no sense that we set the world’s agenda.  We try to do our fair share of the world’s peacekeeping. 

This makes Canadians a bit like children. We put the government in charge and then complain mightily about everything they do.

What made the USA and Canada different?

The USA had to fight for its independence.  Canada never had to.  The leaders of the USA in 1776 were mostly descendants of the original British settlers, but they had to figure out a rationale for independence not based on lineage. 

The rationale was that we US Americans stood for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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How did China become so mighty?

May 24, 2021

Image via Debating Europe

When I was a schoolboy in the 1940s, I felt sorry for the poor Chinese.

I was taught they were doomed to famine because their enormous population—400 million—exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.

The saying was that if the Chinese marched four abreast past a given point, they would march forever, because by the time the first 400 million had passed, there would be another 400 million behind them.

All this was too bad, because the Chinese were a highly civilized people and in some ways very wise.  For example, they paid their doctors when they were well and not when they were sick.  But, so I was taught, they were hopelessly behind the times.

Now China has a billion more people than it had then.  While some of them, especially the rural villagers, are poor by European and North American standards, none are in danger of starvation anytime soon.

The fertility rate of Chinese women is below the replacement rate, so the imaginary columns of marching Chinese would end at some point.

And much more importantly, the Chinese in many ways have replaced us Americans as pace-setters for world progress.  Charts in my previous post show some benchmarks of Chinese progress

The Chinese are the world’s top manufacturing nation and top exporting nationTheir technology is highly advanced.

During the past 20 years in particular, the USA has been struggling with self-created problems–military overstretch, governmental paralysis, racial conflict, while the Chinese have gone from strength to strength.

China’s rise does not, in and of itself, threaten American independence and prosperity.  The reason we Americans should be concerned is that China’s rulers reject America’s professed ideas of democracy, free-market economics and human rights, and yet are moving ahead while we Americans are falling behind.

China’s mercantilism

Click to enlarge.

China’s economic takeoff began shortly after the death of Mao Zedong, when the government shifted from a centrally-planned economy of state socialism to be loosely-guided economy of capitalist mercantilism.

Mercantilists do not believe in unrestricted free enterprise and they especially do not believe in unrestricted free trade.  Instead they believe in supporting industry by means of infrastructure improvements, protective tariffs and other subsidies.

This was the policy of Alexander Hamilton in the USA, of Friedrich List in Germany and of Deng Xiaopeng in China. 

It has been the policy of many countries, not always successfully.  But the Chinese made it work.

American companies were allowed to operate in China, using Chinese labor and gaining access to the huge Chinese market.  But they were subject to certain conditions.  They had to employ Chinese workers—not just blue-collar workers, but engineers and managers.  They had to allow some Chinese ownership.

And, most importantly, they had to transfer technological know-how to the Chinese.

Other countries besides the Chinese set conditions for entering their markets.  When I reported on business for my local newspaper, I was told by Kodak and Xerox managers that these companies had branch plants in Mexico because the Mexican government would not allow them to see film or copies in Mexico unless there was a certain amount of ”value added” in that country.

China represents an extreme and the USA represents another extreme. 

The Chinese government wants foreign investment to add to that country’s industrial base.  The U.S. government doesn’t care.  About 98 percent of foreign direct investment in the United States consists of purchase of existing assets, not investment in new capacity.

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China, the emerging superpower: in charts

May 24, 2021

The USA still has the world’s largest gross domestic product, but that may not mean as much as it seems.  It includes useless and harmful spending as well as useful spending.

China is by far the world’s leading manufacturing nation.

It is overtaking the United States as the world’s leading trading nation.

China’s global reach is being extended by its “belt and road intiative.”   China intends to finance pipelines, railroads, highways, seaports and other transportation infrastructure so as to economically integrate the whole of Eurasia, with China as the hub.  Admittedly, much of what’s shown on the maps is still on the drawing board, but even if the plan is only partly carried out, it could have a big impact.

Click to enlarge.

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Success and failure in fighting the pandemic

May 6, 2021

Eric Berne, a famous psychiatrist, wrote that there is a psychological difference between winners and losers.  The winner’s goal is victory, and the winner hopes and expects to win despite any temporary defeats.  The loser’s goal is to avoid defeat, and the loser fears and expects to lose despite any temporary victories.

It seems to me that there is a similar sorting of winners and losers among countries in regard to the pandemic.  There were some nations who sought to eradicate the virus, and largely succeeded.  There are others who sought to bring down the rate of infection to something they could live with, like polio before the Salk vaccine.

A few countries, mainly in the Far East, including China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea [1] and Japan, had a goal of eradicating the disease, and largely succeeded. 

Their lockdowns, if they had any. were short and sharp.  Their governments by and large used the lockdowns to track down and quarantine persons who were infected before the disease took hold and there were too many to trace.  Many cut off air travel to countries that were centers of the disease.

Here in the USA, the initial reaction was to dismiss COVID-19 as just a more severe version of the ‘flu.  Michael Lewis has a new book coming out, The Premonition, about how Americans in authority failed to react.

In January and February of 2020, hundreds of Americans in Wuhan, China, were flown back to the U.S. Considering how many people had died of COVID-19 in China at that point,  it would have made sense to test those Americans who were coming back.  But according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC Director Robert Redfield refused to test them, saying it would amount to doing research on imprisoned persons.  [snip]

According to Lewis’ reporting, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic early on.  Early on it was that there was nothing to see here — that this is not a big deal.  It’s being overblown.  And then there was this very quick pivot when it started spreading in the U.S. and the position became it’s too late and there’s nothing we can do.

Source: NPR

The United States had partial lockdowns.  Some Americans were able to work from home or, like me, had sufficient retirement income to stay at home.  Some lost their livelihoods and were forced into poverty.  Some had no choice but to continue working, many under extremely unsafe conditions.

The center of infection in the USA was New York City, and the source of the infection was passengers arriving by air from virus hot spots in Europe.  This was known at the time.

It should have been possible to take the temperatures of incoming passengers, given COVID tests for those running a fever and quarantined or sent back those who tested positive. 

But neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio did this.  They would have been severely criticized if they had, because the seriousness of the problem would not have been obvious.  Instead they waited until the problem did become obvious.

At first we were told that the virus spreads in droplets, and we needed to be careful to keep our distance even out of doors, and to avoid touching surfaces including touching our faces. 

Now we know that the virus spreads as a kind of mist, and you are at risk anytime you are indoors for a long time in a space without good ventilation, even if you are six feet from anybody else.  But we still act as if the problem was droplets.

The good thing is that vaccines were developed faster than many people expected, but many of us Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.  The idea of getting to “herd immunity” has been quietly dropped.

Sadly, the USA is not an outlier.  The virus is hanging on in other countries, including rich countries, just as much as here, while it is spreading to India and other poor countries.

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Race, ancestry and nationality

April 13, 2021

Ethnographic map of the world. Click to enlarge.

So-called scientific racism is nonsense.  On the other hand, the idea of identity based on common ancestry is powerful, unifying and non-falsifiable.  It is the most common basis of nationalism.

The question is whether peace is possible in a world of nationalisms based on ancestry.

When nationalism is based on ancestry, a nation’s people are taught that they are like members of an extended family (usually a patriarchal family, headed by a father-figure) and that there is a bright line between members of the national family and all others.

Japan and Korea are two nations in which this idea is strong.  Japanese mythology tells how the Japanese islands were created by the gods and their Emperor is the descendant of the sun goddess; Korean mythology tells how the Korean people were specifically created by the gods.

President Kennedy called the United States a nation of immigrants.  Nobody would ever say that of Japan or the two Koreas.  Nobody would ever call these nations multi-cultural. 

The Han Chinese, probably the world’s most successful ethnic group, also have a strong sense of national unity.  Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, they have a history of being able to absorb foreigners, including conquerors such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.

The assimilation process is now going on, in a brutal way, with Tibetans and Uighurs.  I think the reason the Vietnamese fear the Chinese more than they ever feared the French or us Americans is because of the real possibility that assimilation by the Chinese could end their existence as a nation.

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The Global South resists the COVID virus

March 11, 2021

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me this chart and a link to a New York Times article indicating that death toll from the coronavirus has been a lot less in poor nations in Asia and Africa than in rich nations in Europe and North America.

The writer, David Leonhardt, isn’t sure why.  It’s not that the African and Asia nations fail to record the COVID-19 deaths, he wrote.  Record-keeping is pretty good in the cities, where you’d expect the disease to be at its worst.

Some possibilities:

  • Young people resist the disease better than older people, and African and Asian populations are on average younger than European and North American popultions.
  • People in Africa and Asia on average care for their elderly relatives at home rather than putting them in nursing homes, and a large proportion of COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes.
  • People in poor African and Asian countries on average are more exposed to infectious disease, and may be developed more of an overall resistance to infection.
  • Homes and places of business in tropical countries are better ventilated than in more northerly climes.

Ventilation is an important aspect of controlling an airborne, respiratory disease.  It hasn’t received near the attention it should in the USA.

I’d add another point.

Air travel is an important vector for the spread of the disease.  Infected passengers in the enclosed space of a plane spread the virus to others, and they all become potential speaders in the places where they land.

The spread wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as it was in, for example, New York City if incoming passengers from Europe had been screened for the virus.

Poor countries in Africa and Asia get less air traffic to begin with, and my impression is that countries that have been most successful in fighting the virus have restricted incoming air travel.

Or maybe the explanation is just that many poor countries simply did a better job of combating the virus than rich countries.

∞∞

The overall coronavirus situation is better than I expected it to be this time last year.  Drug companies developed vaccines in less than a year, and vaccinations are proceeding with all deliberate speed, especially here in the USA.

I think President Trump, for all the harm he did in discouraging masking, made the right choice in Operation Warp Speed, which was simply to give large amounts of money to drug researchers in the hope that a few of them would come up with something good.

In the present vaccine rollout, I don’t think the people who need the vaccine the most are not being prioritized as they should.  But maybe that’s less important than simply immunizing as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  If President BIden’s vaccination goal is achieved by May, that will be have been great achievement.

The anti-virus struggle isn’t over.  The new mutant strains are worrisome.  But things are better than they might have been.

LINKS

A cornonavirus whodunnit? by David Leonhardt for the New York Times.

How Europe and the United States Lost COVID-19 by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.  [Added 3/15/2021]

Covid conundrum: Pandemic is hitting rich countries harder than poor ones by Yen Makabenta for the Manila Times.

Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others? by Siddhartha Mukherjee for The New Yorker

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Winners and losers in the coronavirus war

January 1, 2021

Click to enlarge.  Figures in right-hand column are the important ones.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic is an objective test as to which of the world’s governments are able to perform their functions and which aren’t.

A blogger named Anatoly Karlin recently posted the most comprehensive review I’ve seen of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government efforts to deal with it.

Karlin graded the test results.  The governments of eastern Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and China got high marks.  The European Union countries did less well, and the USA, Russia and Latin America even worse.

In east Asia, governments acted quickly before the virus established itself.  They implemented (1) universal mask wearing, (2) centralized quarantine, (3) travel restrictions and (4) mass testing.  Only China had a lockdown, and this was in effect only a relatively short time.

The USA did none of these things.  I’m not sure whether the U.S. government had the capacity to carry out such policies even if it had wanted to. 

Although President Donald Trump did and said harmful things, especially his disparagement of mask wearing, it is unfair to attribute all the U.S. COVID-19 deaths to him personally.  The failure was the failure of a system, not just of a single individual.

The bright spot, according to Karlin, was the unexpected speed with which new vaccines were developed.  Informed estimates at the start of the year were that it would take up to two years to develop a vaccine, and useful vaccines were produced in less than a year after China disclosed the molecular structure of the virus. 

So the ineffective governments of the USA, Russia and other countries may be saved by the triumph of science.  This will depend on them being effective in distributing and applying the vaccine, which is not a foregone conclusion.

The publication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome structure was essential to vaccine development.  I had thought the Chinese government did this as a matter of official policy.

It turns out that this wasn’t so.  It was the decision of an individual Chinese scientist, Dr. Zhang Yong-Zhen, and he got into trouble for doing it.

A favorite theme of science fiction is the nations of the world uniting in the face of an alien invasion.  But SARS-CoV-2 is as alien and deadly as any extraterrestrial life form. 

Where is the human solidarity in the fact of this threat?  I see many brave and dedicated individuals, but governments and institutions scrambling to capture scarce resources for themselves instead of working together for the common good.

∞∞

Update 1/2/2021In response to Bill Harvey’s comment and video link on poor countries being left behind, here’s a chart on the likely pace of the vaccine rollout.

Click to enlarge.

I predict Chinese COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available in poor countries before US and European vaccines are.

LINKS

The Year of Corona: Ten Megadeaths and the Crash of Western Supremacism by Anatoly Karlin for the Unz Review.  If you read the whole long article, you will be well-informed..

A pandemic atlas: How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020 by the Associated Press.  A nation-by-nation report.

The Pandemic Heroes Who Gave Us the Gift of Time and the Gift of Information by Zeynep Tufekci on Substack.

The Mutated Coronavirus Is a Ticking Time Bomb by Zeynap Tufekci for The Atlantic

Russia admits COVID death toll third-worst in the world by Al Jazeera.

Corona’s Toll in the Ex-USSR by Anatoly Karlin for the Unz Review.

Financial Times Coronavirus Tracker.

China’s triumph in maritime shipping

December 4, 2020

Double click to enlarge

As recently as 2006, only three of the world’s 20 busiest ports were Chinese.  Now nine of them are, including seven of the top 10.

Notice that China’s largest port, Shanghai, does more than four times the business of the largest U.S. port, Los Angeles.

Along with this, the Chinese government plans to make China the hub of overland shipping within the Eurasian interior by constructing railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

The problem for the USA is not China.  It is that our American leaders have been pursuing a goal of military and financial dominance while neglecting the real sources of national economic strength.

LINK

Visualizing the World’s Busiest Ports by Nick Routley for Visual Capitalist.  Lots of interesting detail.  Note that the chart is nearly two years old.  Very likely China has increased its advantage since then.

Snapshots of the global pandemic

September 18, 2020

Anders Tagnell

Anders Tagnell and the Swedish Covid experiment by Richard Milne for the Financial Times.

Coronavirus: What explains Pakistan doing so much better than India? by Shoiab Daniele for Scroll.in.

Brazil surpasses 4 million Covid-19 cases amid tentative signs of virus easing by France24.

Europe overtakes U.S. as coronavirus hotspot by Thomas Mulier for Fortune.

A time-lapse map of known COVID-19 deaths

July 10, 2020

Thomas Piketty and the politics of inequality

May 27, 2020

Reasonable people differ on the amount of economic inequality that is tolerable.  But I think almost anyone would set some upper limit.

In today’s USA, a single individual, Bill Gates, is wealthy enough to buy the city of Boston for the assessed value of its property.  The size of Jeff Bezos’ wealth is almost unimaginable.

Meanwhile four in 10 Americans lack enough cash on hand to meet an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt.

Why is this acceptable?  I’ll describe the ideas of the great French economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, Capital and Ideology.  Then I’ll discuss some of the things Piketty left out.

Piketty said the fall of Communism in the Soviet bloc and China discredited egalitarianism and validated the market economy.  Leaders of Western capitalist countries felt they were in a position to tell the working class that there is no alternative.

Even before that, the economic stagnation of the late 1970s discredited the welfare state.  The USA had both high unemployment and high inflation, which was considered theoretically impossible.  One diagnosis was that the welfare state had reached its limit, that it was in a state of deadlock because of the inability to satisfy all claimants.  This had been predicted by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  He said that only a fascist dictator would be able to break the deadlock.

Click to enlarge

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher presented a different answer.  Dial back to welfare state, cut upper-bracket tax rates and allow rich people and corporations to accumulate wealth.  They will invest that wealth and the workings of the free market will assure that this works for the benefit of all.

As Piketty pointed out, none of this worked out as promised.  Cuts in marginal tax rates did not result in job creation, economic growth or anything else that was promised.

So why do Reaganism and Thatcherism still prevail?

One reason is that the historic left-wing parties abandoned the working class.  The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain and the French socialists came to represent an educated elite rather than laborers and wage-earners.

Politics in these countries has come to be a conflict of elites, between what Piketty called the Merchant Right and the Brahmin Left.  It is like the conflict between the nobility and the clergy in the European Middle Ages and the conflict between landowners and business owners in 19th century Britain.

In the USA, many progressives see today’s politics as a conflict between the plutocracy, whose power is based on wealth, and the professional-managerial class, whose power is based on their academic credentials and their positions in organizations.  Wage-earners are not represented.  Piketty showed that the same conflict exists in other countries.

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As the coronavirus lockdown ends (for now) …

May 21, 2020

Click to enlarge

The chart above, via Kevin Drum, shows that the United States has gotten off fairly lightly during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to other Western countries.

The USA has the most total deaths because it has the largest population, but the death rate is the key measure.  The USA is a big country.  Some parts of it are relatively safe and some aren’t, but overall things aren’t as bad as they might be—at least not yet.

 

Click to enlarge

The chart above, also by Kevin Drum, shows that the number of new deaths from the coronavirus is tapering off in Western countries.

As the lockdowns end, the death rates will probably rise again—hopefully not to their previous peak.  If they don’t rise, a lot of what epidemiologists have been telling us about contagion is wrong.  I expect we’ll learn the epidemiologists were right.

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Countries that are beating the coronavirus

May 5, 2020

Click to enlarge

Countries Beating COVID-19 on Endcoronavirus.org.

Tale of Two Cities Redux: Hong Kong to Ease Its COVID-19 Restrictions, While New York City Situation Remains Dire by Jeri-Lynn Scofield for Naked Capitalism.

Death rates in the year of the coronavirus

April 27, 2020

Click to enlarge

Death rates from the coronavirus could be 60 percent higher than estimated, according to an article in the Financial Times of London.

Reporters compiled weekly death rates from cities and countries where this information is available, and compared the current death rates with the five-year average for previous years.

As the charts show, death rates are unusually high in certain countries and cities.  These figures actually may undercount the number of coronavirus-related deaths because they do not take into account possible savings of lives due to the lockdowns, such as fewer auto accidents.

Click to enlarge

LINKS

Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported by John Burns-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles for the Financial Times.

We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.

The Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Be This Confusing by Ed Yong for The Atlantic.  [Added 4/29/2020]

The new lockdown-induced poverty

April 5, 2020

If you deny people the right to provide for themselves, you have a responsibility to provide for them.

Lockdowns are preventing millions from going out and earning a living.  The fact that their jobs may be deemed nonessential doesn’t lessen their need to pay for food, rent and utilities.  There are more serious problems in the world than boredom.

Click to enlarge

The U.S. government will provide some minimal relief—one-time-only checks to be mailed to households, extension of unemployment compensation benefits, etc.

But it doesn’t appear as if it will be enough to offset the coming lockdown-triggered recession.  I think a recession would have happened even without a pandemic, but the lockdown will bring it sooner and make it worse.

Deaths and infections from the coronavirus are doubling every few days.  The lockdown is necessary.  A lot of people are going to die in U.S. states who would have lived if their governors had ordered lockdowns sooner.

At the same time, I can understand why those governors hesitated.  The governors who’ve waited longest are, in general, the governors of the poorest states.

Usually, when huge numbers of people suddenly lose their jobs and are plunged into poverty, they take to the streets to protest and strike.

But under lockdown, it’s illegal to take to the streets.  Repressive governments suppress uprisings by, among other things, ordering curfews.  Because of the pandemic, these curfews are already in place.

If a government orders a lockdown, it has a duty to make it possible for everyone, no matter who, to observe the lockdown without fear of hunger or homelessness.

Leaders of some countries realize this.  Others don’t.  The ones that don’t can expect an explosion of mass defiance sooner or later.

LINKS

Somebody’s Screwing You and It Ain’t China by Caitlin Johnstone.

Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury by Jennifer Valention-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel T.X. Dane for the New York Times.

Jobs Aren’t Being Destroyed This Fast Elsewhere – Why Is That? by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman for the New York Times.

New Inequalities and People-to-People Social Protection by Nora Lustig and Nancy Birdsall for Vox & CEPR Policy Portal.

Services Sector Falls Off Cliff: First Data Points from the Eurozone Where Lockdowns Started Earlier by Wolf Richter for Wolf Street.

‘I just want to go home’: the desperate millions hit by Modi’s brutal lockdown by Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Shaikh Azizur Rahman for The Guardian.

Tracking the spread of the coronavirus

April 4, 2020

Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

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Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

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Click to enlarge. Source: Financial Times

All the nations and governments of the world are being weighed in the balance as to how they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  Success or failure in bringing the disease under control is an objective measure not skewed by ideology or prior bias.

International comparisons are tricky because nations have different ways of counting and different degrees of reliability in counting.  But these reports from the Financial Times, updated daily and available to the public, give as good a report as any available.  What do they tell us?

LINKS

Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as the pandemic spreads by the Financial Times.  Contains additional charts.

Why Western Elites Are So Incompetent and What the Consequences Are by Ian Welsh.

Doubling rates of coronavirus deaths

March 25, 2020

Click to enlarge

This chart shows that even in Japan and South Korea, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has been doubling every week.  For many nations, the doubling rate is every three days.  It is nearly that much in the United States.  So we shouldn’t be complacent about the relatively small number of people who have died so far.

The coronavirus and the new China-U.S. cold war

March 19, 2020

Xi Jinping visits Wuhan on March 10.  Photo via Unz Review

Xi Jinping is using the coronavirus pandemic to discredit the USA and to position China as the world leader and exemplar.

He contrasts China’s decisive response to the Wuhan outbreak to the slow, fumbling U.S. response.

He contrasts China’s generosity in helping other nations with U.S. economic warfare against vulnerable states.

And his government is spreading a theory that the disease originated not in a Wuhan meat market, but in a U.S. biowarfare laboratory.

Pete Escobar of Asia Times reported—

Beijing is carefully, incrementally shaping the narrative that, from the beginning of the coronovirus attack, the leadership knew it was under a hybrid war attack.

Xi’s terminology is a major clue. He said, on the record, that this was war.  And, as a counter-attack, a “people’s war” had to be launched.

Moreover, he described the virus as a demon or devil.  Xi is a Confucianist.  Unlike some other ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius was loath to discuss supernatural forces and judgment in the afterlife.

However, in a Chinese cultural context, devil means “white devils” or “foreign devils”: guailo in Mandarin, gweilo in Cantonese. This was Xi delivering a powerful statement in code.

When Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, voiced in an incandescent tweet the possibility that “it might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” – the first blast to this effect to come from a top official – Beijing was sending up a trial balloon signaliing that the gloves were finally off.  

Zhao Lijian made a direct connection with the Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019, which included a delegation of 300 US military.

Via Asia Times

The Chinese leaders claim to have the coronavirus under control in their own country, and now are taking a lead in fighting the disease worldwide.  Pepe Escobar went on to report—

Beijing sent an Air China flight to Italy carrying 2,300 big boxes full of masks bearing the script, “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

China also sent a hefty humanitarian package to Iran, significantly aboard eight flights from Mahan Air – an airline under illegal, unilateral Trump administration sanctions.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic could not have been more explicit: “The only country that can help us is China. By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.”

Under harsh sanctions and demonized since forever, Cuba is still able to perform breakthroughs – even on biotechnology. The anti-viral Heberon – or Interferon Alpha 2b – a therapeutic, not a vaccine, has been used with great success in the treatment of coronavirus.  

A joint venture in China is producing an inhalable version, and at least 15 nations are already interested in importing the therapeutic.

Now compare all of the above with the Trump administration offering $1 billion to poach German scientists working at biotech firm Curevac, based in Thuringia, on an experimental vaccine against Covid-19, to have it as a vaccine “only for the United States.”

Via Asia Times

China’s governing philosophy is a weird mixture of Maoist thought control, Confucian conservatism, blood-and-soil nationalism and neoliberal capitalism, together with elements of independent civil society left over from the Deng Xiaopeng era.  But Chinese success and American failure to deal with the coronavirus make the Chinese system highly appealing.

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The worst of the pandemic is yet to come

March 16, 2020

Click to enlarge. Chart Updated 3/18/2020

[Updated 3/18/2020]  The chart in the upper left shows the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.  Others show that France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the USA are on track to follow in Italy’s footsteps.  So far the virus is spreading more slowly in Canada Sweden and the UK.  

Nobody can know for sure what will happen, and France and Germany are somewhat better prepared for a health emergency than the UK or the USA, but I don’t see anything in place that would save any of these countries from Italy’s crisis.  And of course the situation in Italy may become much worse that it already is.

Unless things change, COVID-19 will not be the last or the worst pandemic.  People and governments need to concentrate for now on dealing with the emergency, but afterwards we need to think about why we were caught by surprise, and why our globalized economic system can enable infection to spread from a single source, possibly a live-animal meat market in China, to every corner of the globe in a matter of months.

I include myself among the complacent.  I have a certain limited intellectual understanding of the crisis, but I don’t feel it in my bones.  As the saying goes, I lack the courage to believe what I know.

LINKS

The incompetence pandemic by Matthew Karnitsching for POLITICO.  Mainly about Europe.

Conceit and Contagion: How the Virus Shocked Europe by Bruno Maçães for Quillette.

The USA, China and the coronavirus pandemic

March 14, 2020

We Americans have long liked to think of our ideals of freedom and democracy as models for the world.  But China, whose leaders reject those ideals, seems to be doing a better job that we are of protecting its citizens and the world from COVID-19.

Advocates of democracy claim that our system is better because it provides a reality check.  When the government fails to do its job, the loyal opposition and free press are there to point it out.

Click to enlarge

China’s initial response to the coronavirus showed the truth of this.  The first physicians to detect the coronavirus were threatened by police for spreading false rumors.

But once China’s rulers realized the truth, they drew upon the strength of a totalitarian system, which is to be able to focus all a nation’s resources on a single objective.

By the way, I greatly admire the courageous Chinese doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stop the spread of the disease,  Not only the Chinese, but the whole world, owe them a debt.

The Chinese appear to have succeeded in stopping the spread of the disease in a relatively short time.  The number of cases in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, seems to be leveling off at about 70,000.  This is cases, not fatalities.  Hubei has a population of 58 million, almost as great at italy, with 60 million.

Dan Wang, an American living in Beijing, reported on the effectiveness of quarantine measures there.

Click to enlarge. Source: Forbes

The problem with the Chinese system of government is: How can we be sure?  In any large, hierarchical organization, whether corporate, military or something else, those in the lower ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want to hear, and those in the higher ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want them to believe.

I think there will be a natural tendency of those on the lower levels of the Chinese hierarchy to report everything is under control, whether or not it is.  I know a college professor with a great many Chinese students.  She tells me they are all cynical about reports of success in China, and whether all Chinese cities will get the same protection as Beijing.

Under Deng Xiaopeng, there was enough of a limited free press and civil society to point out the problems.  Will this be true of Xi Jinping?

Based on what little I know, I think the Chinese have responded magnificently and the world owes them a debt.  But if the opposite were true, it would be a long time before I had any way to know it.

Here in the United States, we have Donald Trump, a totally incompetent, but democratically-elected leader who denies reality as blatantly and obviously as any Communist ruler of old.

The saving grace of our system is that his failure to lead is not hidden.  it is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a willingness to face facts.

And the other saving grace is that we the people can take constructive action without waiting for orders from the federal government.  State and local governments, universities, research centers, commercial corporations and civic groups are all taking corrective action.

Still, we should ask ourselves.  How is it that we are so completely unprepared?  Why do we have so few hospital beds?  Why is it that China and other countries are able to test for COVID-19 on a large scale and we are not?

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The coronavirus and the test of reality

February 26, 2020

Passengers disembark from virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship

Photo via New York Post.

The first duty of any government is to assure the survival of its people.  The COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus is a test of how well the world’s different governments can perform this basic duty, and they will be judged on how well they perform that duty.

It doesn’t matter whether leaders call themselves conservatives, socialists or something else.  Are they able to act effectively and without panic to meet a threat?  Are they able to face facts or do they punish truth tellers?

Here in the USA, our President and Congress have mainly been fighting over problems generated by governmental policy and a couple of things that don’t really exist—the alleged Trump-Putin collusion and the imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Now, along with the rest of the world, we face a real external threat—one that can’t be made to go away by means of public relations or changing the subject.

The Trump administration’s budget priorities are its nuclear weapons modernization program and the new Space Force.  In contrast, as Nicole Wetsman of The Verge reported—

The administration’s proposed 2021 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cuts $25 million from the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and $18 million from the Hospital Preparedness Program. The administration also asked for over $85 million in cuts to the Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program.  [snip]

Housed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response is charged with responding to public health emergencies.  It also coordinates public health responses with local and international partners and manages the Strategic National Stockpile, which squirrels away critical medical supplies for use in emergencies.

The Hospital Preparedness Program aims to ready hospitals for emergency surges of patients, and it’s already under-equipped to handle situations like the ones currently seen in China.  Right now in the US, hospitals are already swamped by the flu and are counting their supplies of protective equipment.

Cuts to the Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program would further hamstring the CDCs ability to do research on diseases like coronavirus and to gather the scientific information that lets it prepare for outbreaks like this one. [snip]

The 2021 budget request did ask for an additional $50 million for the CDC’s Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund.  That fund, which was established in fiscal year 2019, is currently being used in the ongoing coronavirus response.  That money, though, is activated only after a public health threat appears.

==The Verge.

The coronavirus has not yet reached our shores.  There is still time for the U.S. to rally.  There is still time for President Trump to assume leadership.  There is still time for Democrats in Congress and on the Presidential campaign trail to make an issue of this.  Will they?

It is not just an American issue, of course.  All the world’s leaders—Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Emanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and the rest—will be weighed in the same balance.

∞∞∞

The coronavirus threat makes two other things clear—the need for internationalism and the perils of globalization. Let me explain what I mean.

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Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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Where the world gets its stuff

December 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

Most countries of the world used to get more stuff from the United States than they did from China.  But now it’s the other way around.  Now most countries buy more stuff from China.

This map, which has been making the rounds of the Internet, appeared in the Financial Times—behind a paywall, unfortunately for me, because I don’t subscribe to the FT.

Many economists think the turning point was in 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, which included the world’s most advanced industrial nations.

China became entitled to “most favored nation” status, which means no trade barrier against a WTO member could be higher than a barrier against any other member.

I say China’s gains had to do with the effectiveness of China’s industrial policy, and the lack of any U.S. industrial policy.

China told foreign nations that if they wish to sell goods in China, they would have to locate manufacturing facilities in China.  Furthermore they would have to share their technological know-how with Chinese partners.  Then the Chinese would take their new knowledge, improve on it, and use it o compete with their former partners.

The U.S. government, under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was content to let this happen.  American consumers benefitted from cheap imports, and stockholders in American companies shared the profits of offshoring.

Meanwhile the United States dissipated its wealth in waging pointless and inconclusive foreign wars, while China used its wealth to make itself stronger.

Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump has correctly identified terms of trade with China as a problem.  He deserved credit for putting this issue on the table.

But his scattershot tariffs on Chinese goods do not solve the problem.  All they do is to create a market for goods from other low-wage countries.

The Chinese government successfully executed a long-range plan to build up its industrial strength, using subsidies but also building up the infrastructure and know-how of the nation as a whole.

The U.S. government has no plan.  It has been content to stand aside and allow financiers to hollow out U.S. manufacturing.  Tariffs aren’t an answer unless they are part of an overall strategy to rebuild.

The Chinese aren’t to blame for our problems.  Our leaders are to blame for our problems.  We are to blame for our leaders.

LINKS

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s magazine.

How Bill Clinton and American financiers armed China by Matt Stoller for BIG.

China Revolutionizes World Trade While Washington Dozes by Geoffrey Aronson for The American Conservative.

The changing balance of world population

November 27, 2019

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge

I came across these two maps on the Brilliant Maps web site,  They show the changing balance of world population over the past century.

In 1900, the population of North America exceeded the population of Latin America.  Now it is the reverse.

In 1900, the population of Europe vastly exceeded the population of Africa.  Now Africans are more numerous.

The population of present-day China is only slightly less than the population of the whole world in 1900.

To get a better idea of the absolute increase, you’d need to enlarge the maps, and enlarge the bottom map a little more so that the sizes of the little squares (each one equivalent to 500,000 people) are equal in size.

The population of China has more than tripled since 1900, but the population of the United States has quadrupled and there are five times as many Canadians and Australians.  There are more than 10 times as many Mexicans, Brazilians and Nigerians as in 1900 and more than 20 times as many Ethiopians.

A nation can be populous and weak, like India and China in 1900 and Nigeria and Ethiopia today.  Nevertheless, there is a relationship between population and power in the long run.

Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that if there is to be world peace, nations must agree to limit their populations as well as their armaments.  He had a good point, but I’m not sure such agreements are feasible.

There seems to be a universal demographic transition.  When modern medicine and agriculture reduce death by disease and famine, the death rate falls and population increases rapidly.  When living standards rise, contraception is available and women are emancipated, the birth rate falls, eventually falling below replacement rate.  Governments don’t seem to be able to affect this very much.

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