Archive for the ‘International Comparisons’ Category

Marriage in eclipse: international comparisons

August 20, 2022

There’s a lot of variation here.  I can’t think of any single factor that could explain it.  Can you?

I’d be interested to see the figures for the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) as well as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria and other representative non-Western nations.

Why isn’t Ukraine an economic powerhouse?

June 15, 2022

I’ve always known that Ukraine was rich in economic resources.  And I’ve always known that’s why American and other foreign corporations have wanted to get their hands on Ukraine’s resources.  but I never realized how rich until I read the statistics in this post.

UKRAINE IS:

🌐 1st in Europe in proven recoverable uranium ore reserves;
2nd place in Europe and 10th place in the world in titanium ore reserves;
2nd place in the world in terms of explored reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tons, or 12% of world reserves);
The 2nd largest iron ore reserves in the world (30 billion tons);
2nd place in Europe in mercury ore reserves;
🌐 3rd place in Europe (13th place in the world) in terms of shale gas reserves (22 trillion cubic meters)
🌐 4th place in the world in terms of the total value of natural resources;
7th place in the world in coal reserves (33.9 billion tons)

Ukraine is an important agricultural country:
🌐 1st in Europe in terms of arable land area;
🌐 3rd place in the world by the area of chernozem [a kind of fertile black soil] (25% of the world volume);
🌐 1st place in the world in the export of sunflower and sunflower oil;
2nd place in the world in barley production and 4th place in barley export;
🌐 3rd largest producer and 4th largest exporter of corn in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest potato producer in the world;
The 5th largest rye producer in the world;
5th place in the world for honey production (75,000 tons);
8th place in the world in wheat exports;
9th place in the world in the production of chicken eggs;
🌐 16th place in the world in cheese exports.

Ukraine can meet the food needs of 600 million people.

Ukraine was an important industrially developed country:
🌐 1st in Europe in ammonia production;
The 2nd and 4th largest natural gas pipeline systems in the world;
🌐 3rd largest in Europe and 8th in the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power plants;
3rd place in Europe and 11th in the world in terms of the length of the railway network (21,700 km);
🌐 3rd place in the world (after the USA and France) in the production of locators and navigation equipment;
🌐 3rd largest iron exporter in the world;
🌐 The 4th largest exporter of turbines for nuclear power plants in the world;
🌐 The world’s 4th largest manufacturer of rocket launchers;
🌐 4th place in the world in clay exports;
🌐 4th place in the world in titanium exports;
8th place in the world in the export of ores and concentrates;
9th place in the world in the export of defense industry products;
🌐 The 10th largest steel producer in the world (32.4 million tons).

So why are Ukrainians so poor?:

Ukraine is one of the worst off countries after the collapse of the USSR.  It is the poorest country in Europe despite having a huge aerospace industry, natural resources and some of the most fertile land for agriculture.  During the communist era, Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.  Despite all this, Ukrainians have experienced terrible famines such as the Stalinist Holodomor.

Today, the situation is not much better. Apart from enduring a war with Russia, its political system is particularly corrupt. Almost the entire economy is in the hands of big oligarchs: millionaires who amass fortunes thanks to their connections with political power.

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Fighting men and fertile women

June 10, 2022

The darker the red, the greater willingness to fight.  Click to enlarge.

A people that cannot defend itself, and reproduce itself, will be replaced.

Historically most societies have said that it is the duty of men to bear the hardship and danger of war, and the duty of women to bear the pain and danger of childbirth.

A poll, taken back in 2014, showed that only a minority of Americans and citizens of many other countries refused to say that they would fight for their countries.  At the same time the fertility rate in the USA and many other countries has fallen below the replacement rate.

On one level, I’m pleased at these trends.  Being an old-time liberal, I’m glad the world’s population increase is starting to level off, and I oppose U.S. military interventions of the past few decades.

Also, it is a mistake to read too much into these trends.

Just as it was wrong to think that population increase would never level off, it is wrong now to think that population decline would never bottom out.  And the fact that many Americans are reluctant to be shipped overseas to fight doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t defend our country if it really were in peril.  So maybe there is no real cause for alarm.

But still.  Having children and rearing them to be responsible adults requires great sacrifice.  Serving your country in time of peril requires great sacrifice.  What happens to a nation whose citizens decide individually, on a cost-benefit calculus, that these sacrifices are not worth making?

Click to enlarge

I wondered whether there was any correlation between a nation’s willingness to fight and its fertility rate.  I took the nations in the 2014 poll and looked up the World Bank’s most recent estimates of their fertility rates to see if there is some correlation.

If there is a correlation, it is a weak one.  

With one exception, all the surveyed nations with fertility rates above the replacement rates had more than half the population expressing a willingness to fight.  But some nations with low fertility rates also had a relatively high willingness to fight. 

Ukraine and Russia and China all had lower fertility rates than the USA and a greater percentage saying they’re willing to fight.  China had a relatively low fertility rate and a relatively high willingness to fight.

I provide the numbers below.  Make of them what you can.  

Notice that fertility rates are estimates, and estimates differ.  The map above, the figures below and the figure for India in a previous post were drawn from different sources.  Also notice that most of the nations with the highest fertility rates were left out of the survey.

The minimum fertility rate needed to replace the current population is 2.1 children per woman.  The global average fertility rate is 2.4 children per woman

UNITED STATES.

Willing to fight:  44 percent.

Fertility rate: 1.64

RUSSIAN FEDERATION

Willing to fight: 59 percent.

Fertility rate: 1.50.

UKRAINE

Willing to fight: 62 percent

Fertility rate: 1.22

CHINA

Willing to fight: 71 percent

Fertility rate: 1.70

INDIA

Willing to fight: 75 percent

Fertility rate: 2.18

JAPAN

Willing to fight: 11 percent

Fertility rate: 1.34

GERMANY

Willing to fight: 18 percent

Fertility rate: 1.53

UNITED KINGDOM

Willing to fight: 27 percent

Fertility rate: 1.56

FRANCE

Willing to fight: 29 percent

Fertility rate: 1.83

CANADA

Willing to fight: 30 percent

Fertility rate: 1.40

AUSTRALIA

Willing to fight: 29 percent

Fertility rate: 1.58

BRAZIL

Willing to fight: 48 percent

Fertility rate: 1.71

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The coming baby bust in India

June 3, 2022

Source: Wikipedia via Marginal Revolution.

India, with an estimated population just below 1.4 billion, now has a fertility rate just below the replacement rate, with is 2.1 children per woman.  This means India’s population will peak and then decline.

The USA, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and many other countries also have a fertility rate below the replacement rate.

Most demographers think this is an inevitable trend, whenever (1) birth control is widely available, (2) women can choose to limit child-bearing and have other careers besides motherhood and (3) material living standards rise to a point where husbands and wive can have old-age security without a large number of children to support them.

Overall this is a good thing.  It means the threat of the population bomb—population rising exponentially until mass starvation occurs—is not inevitable.  

The new threat is an economic system based on ever-increasing consumption while food and energy resources are being disrupted and exhausted.  

Meanwhile we have proportionately fewer and fewer working-age people to support people too old to work.

Then, too, there are parts of the world where the demographic transition hasn’t yet taken hold—mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America and the Muslim world.

The varying rates at which the demographic transition means that rich, aging, shrinking nations will share a world with poor, relatively young, growing nations.  This will not be an easy challenge.

LINKS

Why India Is Making Progress in Slowing Its Population Growth by Vaishnavi Chandraskekar for Yale Environment 360.

The Astonishing Drop in Global Fertility Rates Between 1970 and 2014 by Ian Wright for Brilliant Maps.

List of sovereign states and dependences by total fertility rates on Wikipedia.

Craig Murray on inconvenient truths

April 7, 2022

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, who has paid a price in his own life for inconvenient truth-telling, published a list of true statements about Russia, Ukraine and the West.

a) The Russian invasion of Ukraine is illegal: Putin is a war criminal
b) The US led invasion of Iraq was illegal: Blair and Bush are war criminals

a) Russian troops are looting, raping and shelling civilian areas
b) Ukraine has Nazis entrenched in the military and in government and commits atrocities against Russians

Craig Murray

a) Zelensky is an excellent war leader
b) Zelensky is corrupt and an oligarch puppet

a) Russian subjugation of Chechnya was brutal and a disproportionate response to an independence movement
b) Russian intervention in Syria saved the Middle East from an ISIS controlled jihadist state

a) Russia is extremely corrupt with a very poor human rights record
b) Western security service narratives such as “Russiagate” and “Skripals” are highly suspect, politically motivated and unevidenced.

a) NATO expansion is unnecessary, threatening to Russia and benefits nobody but the military industrial complex
b) The Russian military industrial complex is equally powerful in its own polity as is Russian nationalism

I agree with all these statements.  I don’t question your good faith if you happen to disagree with any of them or all of them.  I just think it is highly unlikely, with nations as with individuals, that one side is completely good and the other completely bad.  It is hard to stand aside from propaganda and judge for yourself.  

More from Murray:

One final thought on the tone of the coverage of the war both of the media and of supporters of the official western line on social media.  Though affecting to be sickened by the atrocities of war, their tone is not of sorrow or devastation, it is triumphalist and jubilant.  The amount of war porn and glorying in war is worrying.  The mood of the British nation is atavistic.  Russians living here are forced on a daily basis to declare antagonism to their own people and homeland.

I have had great difficulty in writing this piece – I have worked on it some three weeks, and the reason is a deep sadness which this unnecessary war has caused me.  In the course of my typing any paragraph, somebody has probably been killed or seriously injured in Ukraine, of whatever background.  They had a mother and others who loved them.  There is no triumph in violent death.

[Afterthought 04/09/2022].  On thinking things over, I have some reservations about some of the things on Murray’s list.  But I agree with the spirit of what he wrote.  The fact that one side in a conflict may be bad does not make the other side good.

LINK

Striving to Make Sense of the War in Ukraine by Craig Murray.  A long post, but worth reading the whole way through.

USA tops peer nations in COVID-19 deaths

November 26, 2021

Click to enlarge

LINKS

Health Experts Worry CDC’s Covid Vaccination Rates Appear Inflated by Phil Galewitz for Kaiser Health News. [Added 12/10/2021]

The Pandemic of the Vaccinated Is Here by Rachel Gutman for The Atlantic.  [Added 12/10/2021]

Omicron Happy Talk in the US v. Toughening Restrictions in the UK, Israel by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism. [Added 12/9/2021]

Vaccine Politics Not Working to Biden Administration Advantage by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  [Added 11/30/2021]

We Got a Head Start on Omicron, So Let’s Not Blow It by Zeynep Tufekci for the New York Times.  [Added 11/29/2021]

The Covid pandemic is not taking the very best of turns by Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution.  [Added 11/27/2021]

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.

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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

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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.

 

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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