To Save the Economy, Biden Must First Save Lives

Yves here. Thomas Neuburger has taken up the INET post we featured over the weekend on their recommended approach to tacking the Covid crisis, which includes lockdowns and extensive testing, accompanied by income support and subsidies. This is consistent with an observation that we made early on: the virus is in charge. Focusing on the economy rather than the disease was bound to fail.

The sometimes energetic discussion in comments included objections to the authors’ claims that strict lockdowns of 4-6 weeks would get it down to levels where it could be kept in check by more targeted controls, as Hong Kong and South Korea have demonstrated: contact tracing, testing, and quarantines of potentially infected individuals. That included providing food and medicines, and if they could not isolate in their current housing, an apartment.

Some disputed the claim that strict lockdowns took longer than 4-6 weeks to tamp Covid down once it had achieved the “community spread” level of contagion. The example of China shows otherwise. Even with their experience with SARS, it took China a bit of time to recognize the severity of the contagion, decide what to do about it and organize its responses.

I suggest reading the entire presentation by the chief scientist who managed the campaign in Wuhan. Here is the key slide, on page 11:

Through Jan 20, China had not launched any serious containment measures. China tried a light lockdown from Jan 23 to the end of January. When they figured that wasn’t sufficient, they went to full lockdown with mandatory quarantine of positive cases away from family on February first. The virus was more or less suppressed by February 18, less than three weeks later.

They continued the lockdown of the area as they slowly relaxed, and squashed a few minor flare-ups over the next couple of months, but the rest of China was already starting to slowly go back into production by the middle of March.

So the question isn’t that a very hard lockdown does not work. The part where China (and other countries) succeeded and the West has largely failed is how to exit the lockdown, as in how quickly to relax the most severe restrictions and what measures need to continue. I can’t comment on Europe, but the US is completely unwilling to put teeth in individual quarantines (as well as provide the needed income and logistical support), and Americans are very capable of rationalizing going to the grocery store as quarantine-compliant.

That then leads to debates that lockdowns “can’t” work in the West. No, they can work. Whether a strict lockdown contains the disease isn’t the issue. It’s that things have yet to get bad enough that Western countries are willing to use the carrots and sticks needed to make them succeed. It’s no different than building a tunnel under a river. Whether the tunnel can be built is a matter of engineering. Here, we have readers offering justifications that the equivalent of “But it’s too expensive!” or “The tunnel will offend the local spirits.”

To put it another way, it’s as if Western countries are collectively failing the marshmallow test.

Or as reader Norseman observed:

Since the rebuttal graphs cited Australia (where I live), I have a dog in the fight. I observe that successful lockdowns here are accompanied by Government, community and non-profit support at most levels of society, imperfect as it was. Despite some missteps & car wrecks here, that happened well enough, plus most people in Australia are practical & support practical efforts given a good explanation. The energy went into fixing it. Can do!

I contrast that with the USA which used to have a Can do culture of exceptionalism, but as the comments here show blindingly clearly, the social energy is going into a thousand different stupid arguments as to why things can’t work, or didn’t really work anywhere else supposedly.

If I was in the US, I’d be taking a long hard look in the mirror, not wasting energy arguing like a kid who has not done his homework.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!

Recently I wrote:


Thanks to partisan politics, neoliberal Democrats & libertarian Republicans, the whole country has to choose between: • Staying open to survive economically • Shutting down to survive biologically

That was always a false choice driven by putting austerity economics (“mustn’t give too much to the undeserving”) ahead of people’s health and well-being.


One could do both, preserve the economy and preserve people’s health, but only by mandating virus control first, then compensating people for the cost. The government could always ensure people’s biologic survival with enforced mask-wearing and lockdowns, plus free treatment and other measures, and also ensure their economic survival with direct public spending that puts money in the pockets of workers it orders not to work.


The problem is that the neoliberals who run the Democratic Party and the libertarians who control much of Republican decision-making have combined to offer the nation an impossible choice — “Your livelihood or your life. You can only save one.”


In reality, the choice isn’t saving one or the other — it’s saving both or neither. And choosing both starts with saving lives.


The Only Way to Save the Economy


A new report published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking has taken a data-driven approach to solving the nation’s Covid problem, and it finds that all of the above is true. The data shows that it’s impossible to preserve lives if a country puts the economy first. It’s also impossible to preserve the economy if it puts the economy first. The only way to preserve the economy is to saves lives first.


Here’s part of the report. The first point to consider is that lockdowns do work:


Lockdowns Work With over ten months of data from dozens of coronavirus hotspots around the world, statements proclaiming the futility of lockdowns are now provably false. Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks. They worked not only to suppress, but to virtually eliminate the virus in Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland, as well as in China, Korea, and Taiwan. Figure 1 below tells the story in one picture of new COVID-19 case counts by country. [emphasis added]

The second point is this: The data shows that attempting to save the economy loses the race to control the virus and further endangers the economy.


Save the Economy by Saving Lives First Limiting economic damage caused by the pandemic starts and ends with controlling the spread of the virus. Dozens of experiments conducted in different countries across the world definitively show that no country can prevent the economic damage without first addressing the pandemic that causes it. The countries that swiftly focused first on pandemic abatement measures are now reopening in stages and growing their economies. Most of the countries that prioritized bolstering their economies and resisted, limited, or prematurely curtailed interventions to control the pandemic are now facing runaway rates of infection and imminent state and national lockdowns. If you still believe that a nation can somehow stimulate and recover the economy without first addressing the pandemic — in other words, trade lives lost to COVID-19 for livelihoods that would otherwise be lost through lockdowns — consider the following chart in Figure 2. It plots the number of coronavirus deaths, a measure of the regional severity of the pandemic, versus the total economic loss, including both the decline in GDP (see end notes on data from EuroStat 11 and OECD 12 GDP Data) and the cost of economic stimulus programs drawn from national budgets and assumed debt (as summarized in this IMF report “Fiscal Policies Database in Response to COVID-19”) by country as of the end of Q2 2020. The chart is effectively a rough representation of how well each country has protected its citizens versus the total cost of doing so. [emphasis added]

In the chart above, the “origin point” — 0,0 — is at the upper right, not the lower left or somewhere in the middle. The X-axis shows economic loss, with zero loss at the far right (not the far left). Similarly, the Y-axis shows Covid deaths per million people, with zero deaths at the top (not the bottom).

So the nations with the least loss AND the least deaths are clustered in the upper right. Most nations with more deaths (those lower in the chart) also experience more economic loss (further left in the chart). While there are some outliers (Japan, Germany, Singapore) and while the quality of Covid responses and economic responses vary from country to country, the trend is clear. If you attempt to save the economy first (Belgium and the U.K. are two notable examples), you’re going to fail.

Regional Lockdowns (and Travel Restrictions) May Be Needed

One last point. China is an especially instructive case since it’s so large and yet so successful — which leads us to a delicate but important point. Successful Covid response in large countries may require region-by-region lockdowns and travel bans.

The next few months will be difficult for the economically focused countries like the US, where too many states allowed COVID-19 to spread unchallenged. At this point the prevalence is high across the entirety of many states. This means that the local divide-and-conquer approach cannot be effective until those broader regions have the coronavirus under better control. Broad regions require a wider scale lockdown for at least a few weeks, and as seen from the data above, the sooner they start, the quicker their recovery should be, at a correspondingly lower cost. The uncomfortable implication is that effective regional measures and lockdowns implicitly require travel limits and quarantines for those in high prevalence areas in what is effectively a divide-and-conquer strategy. Without these travel restrictions, unaddressed local prevalence becomes state, and then national prevalence over the course of a few weeks as infected people spread the virus from regions of high prevalence. China, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and Iceland all took such measures to bring the coronavirus successfully under control. They used swift response to extensive data, and the national scale-up of testing and tracing along with divide-and-conquer border-control approaches to isolate healthy regions from the virus-ridden. They have all successfully contained and even eliminated the virus domestically and are reopening their economies. The most recent Chinese efforts even focused measures down to the city block scale. The U.S., the U.K. and broader European countries have, so far, failed to respond similarly, and continue to struggle with renewed explosions of exponentially growing community spread. With a coordinated national response that facilitates local focus and swift response to changing coronavirus environments, the US can succeed by following the examples set by successful countries. [emphasis added]

That kind of thinking is anathema to the ginned-up “freedom” crowd. But unless the U.S. is willing toenforce regional lockdowns — and at least consider regional travel bans — this virus and the multi-pronged damage it does will be with us for several years at least.


(I say “ginned-up” because a well-financed portion of the U.S. media is paid to enhance and normalize these extreme reactions. The modern extreme Right electorate would be the size of the John Birch Society without billionaire-financed right-wing media.)


Biden Has a Choice


The report doesn’t mention Joe Biden, but the implication is clear. As president Biden can’t afford to appease his right-wing critics by being half fish and half fowl — he cannot choose some lockdown plus some “freedom.” If he does that, we’ll continually re-infect each other, caught in an endless loop of death and decline, until a safe and trusted vaccine is widely available — which, I must add, is not the same has an effective but massively under-tested vaccine. The former will come much later than the latter. I know doctors who won’t take the first vaccine offered.


The virus, in other words, may well be with us through the 2022 congressional elections — and even into the 2024 presidential race — if Biden isn’t both bold and science-driven.


It’s an interesting problem, given his predilections. For all our sakes, I hope he’s as science-driven as he claims to be.

For those who like my work, I’ve launched a Substack site. You can get more information here and here. If you decide to sign up — it’s free — my thanks to you!

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    1. Louis Fyne

      lol, me too.

      no point in debating…though I may try at bit later, both sides are rhetorically locked like it is 1915. Belgium.

      i give up. Let’s have the lockdown. I have plenty of food , cash, and the park is one block away.. Heads I win, tails I don’t lose.

      Most Americans are not that lucky

      1. chris

        Me and mine feel the same way. We’re maddened by the arguments people are making. We can’t understand why so many think we can get through this without helping everyone get through this. But…we’ll be OK regardless.

        It’s the same kind of disconnect I felt on 9/11/01. It was a beautiful and sunny day where I was. Nothing bad happened to anyone in my family. But I knew so many who had suffered and lost family in the event.

    2. ShamanicFallout

      What is this guy smoking? He thinks too logically; the world is upside down so one must contort accordingly.

      To say something like “The only way to preserve the economy is to saves lives first” is to ask a series of wrong questions. Instead you must ask “How is e-commerce faring? How about Elon Musk? How is the stock market doing?Wal-Mart?” And of course the answer is that, for them, the economy is doing brilliantly!

      As I quoted in an earlier thread:

      “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.” Emperor Palpatine to Darth Vader

  1. Shiloh1

    Just a hypothetical: if six weeks doesn’t work, then go to twelve? What’s the exit strategy after 6 weeks?

    Mine has always been like the Fred Astaire character in On The Beach, except trying to break 20:00 in a 5K, not racing cars.

  2. Mikerw0

    Simple, until the donor class feels pain nothing will happen. With the stock market continuing to make all time highs, with the same economic “experts” that protected assets seemingly in charge, with the rich living the good life in their second homes where does the pressure come from. As they swill a good wine at Thanksgiving and rue the pictures of people in long food lines on TV one good tsk tsk should salve their conscience.

    As both an exile from, but someone who still interacts with, Wall Street I can attest that everything is fine, the vaccine is just around the corner and will solve everything.

    Now to the shortage of personal planes, a real problem that needs fixing, before summer vacations in Europe.

    1. Acacia

      Simple, until the donor class feels pain nothing will happen.

      Yep. This.

      What shall we call this budding genre of “Biden should/could/must … ” articles?

        1. chris

          Yep. Or given the predilections of the predatory PMC, autoerotic asphyxiation.

          They think about choking things off and when they can’t stand it anymore they have a rushing release and then go to brunch :/

      1. cocomaan

        It’s so cute right now, but soon it will get to the toddler stage and begin to destroy everything at eye level.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    Gotta say, now that Hitler is peacefully (if chaotically) giving up power, I’m curious to see how #McResistance media plays the ongoing clusterf#<×. All my friends and acquaintances with TDS are going to have to find a new focus for their hysteria and moral vanity, and rationales for the next war…

    Then again, they're experts at that kind of thing.

      1. KLG

        A close friend with terminal TDS said, “I never want to see him in my news feed again!” I let it go, but isn’t that the problem? She is getting fed the “news” by a bot who knows what her reptile brain wants to read…

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Which means her newsfeed will keep giving her tens to hundreds of Trump news-bits every day.

  4. Bob Hertz

    In my opinion, Mikerw0 is not correct……..

    The donor class is not that relevant, I feel.

    I say, America will fight against Covid when the average citizen believes that they and their family will be affected.

    Take Minnesota where I live. About 80% of Covid deaths have been in nursing homes. Perhaps one of twenty families has a close relative in a nursing home.

    In rural counties, there may be only 5 or 10 deaths so far from Covid. If the death rate doubles, that is only 10 or 20 deaths. In a town of 5,000, that is not enough to generate mass support for hard measures.

  5. Alternate Delegate

    Reposting: I have a friend who worked two jobs. The first lockdown took both of his jobs.

    He found two new jobs. Now the second lockdown has taken both of these jobs.

    “Biden Has a Choice!” does nothing for him. He has no income.

    Instead, he chooses to believe that Covid is a hoax ginned up to take away his jobs and the jobs of people like him. He’s wrong, but so what?

    He believes what a lot of people believe.

    This is bigger than Covid. While your country is coming apart around you, it’s helpful to focus on where the cracks are actually propagating, rather than doubling down on an idea of “strict lockdowns” that might work in a different country.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Did you miss, “accompanied by income support and subsidies”?

      That said, you make a good point about the country coming apart. The corrupt sorry state of the nation will indeed be a considerable obstacle to any comprehensive effort. And Biden is a poor choice to confront it, if only because he is so focused on “getting along” with all sides of the only side – the donor class. Just as Biden chose pixie-dust or carbon capture over conservation and renewables (mustn’t step on the toes of the fossil fuel industry) to confront global warming, he will quite possibly frame the waves of COVID 19 issue as one where vaccines replace the need for lock downs.

      But while I’m not at all sure Biden has the “sand in his belly,” (couldn’t resist) to do anything lock-down related except when it’s too late, I do believe the public, by in large, would go along with a competent national lock-down program, especially if it was accompanied by substantial and sufficient financial support. Moreover, the duration of the lock down would be relatively short (a few weeks) before significant progress would be visible and deeply encouraging.

        1. Dwight

          Reminds me of economists during the NAFTA debate, saying free trade was a no-brainer because it increases economic welfare so much that even if you compensate the losers, the economy comes out ahead. Of course the losers weren’t compensated, but told to learn coding or whatever.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Note that by “national lock down program” I meant to include regional strategy and should have made it clear.

      2. Louis Fyne

        as a practical matter, to eradicate the virus, one needs to shutdown or drastically reduce production at food and widget plants…say to 25% of output.

        where are we going to get the food and toilet paper for everyone?

        what happens as the virus, which is at community transmission, never gets eradicated from the fulfillment warehouses? shut those down too? who delivers the food then?

        Cash supports do no good if there are food shortages or warehouse workers perpetuate the virus pool for the entire lockdown period.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          I imagine a regional solution plus the fact that duration for effectiveness might be relatively short (as in 3 weeks) would permit a workable program. Also, do you have support for reduction to 25% in all food and widget plants and all transportation of essentials being a requirement for success? If so, could you share it?

          China seems to have implemented lock downs without mass starvation. Granted it’s politically and logistically easier for them, but that doesn’t make a war like effort impossible here.

          1. Dao Gen

            The difference is that China only locked down Wuhan and some other localities, while the national economy chugged on, whereas the US would be trying to lock down the whole country at the same time, an immensely more difficult task. Perhaps certain areas of the US could be locked down in a rotating manner while other areas continued to produce basic necessities.

        2. Basil Pesto

          You keep asserting that food and bog roll shortages are an inevitabile consequence of effective, disease mitigating lockdowns in the United States. Do you have sources to support this assertion? This has not been the case in the countries cited in the INET report, as far as I’m aware. If you’re asserting that the United States has passed some point of no return where the food supply is threatened by lockdown, which the other countries didn’t, then you need strong evidence to support that; otherwise it’s not remotely convincing.

          1. chris

            The problem is logistics. There are a host of sources describing what we’ve done to get here but none that I’m aware of that detail how the problems we’re currently facing have been caused by decisions we made decades ago.

            Due to many different factors we’ve concentrated production of many of these items in a few places in the country and we need interstate shipping to get them where they’re needed. A successful lockdown of the kind that would kill the viral spread must include controls on interstate travel. Because of our “just in time” highly concentrated and completely monopsonistic economy, we can’t do that. We have zero capacity to handle supply or demand transients. That’s why you can’t get rock salt in late February for thawing ice but you can buy swimsuits at big box stores. The whole supply chain has turned over and you either find a different source or you use whatever you have stored at home because you’re not going to find it readily available anywhere even if you live in a place where winter conditions exist into April.

            The other challenge here is logistics on a much smaller scale. Many US citizens do not have the capacity to store bulk produce, frozen food, additional supplies, etc. in their homes. Our whole lives are JIT. We have people living in cities with zero storage space for what they’d need to survive a real lockdown of any length of time. We have people living in rural areas with tons of space but little in the way that can easily protect what they get. I mean…when was the last time you heard about someone who was excited that they were building a root cellar? The community resources and distribution networks required to handle this kind of challenge with door to door delivery largely don’t exist in a majority of the country and aren’t cheap where they do exist.

            I’ve said this before, but asking most of the US to do what needs to be done is impossible. You might as well ask them to walk to the moon. I agree it’s needed. I agree it can work. But absent a huge commitment from so many to support so many people who will need it I don’t see how this will ever happen.

      3. Alternate Delegate

        I did not miss “accompanied by income support and subsidies”.

        I made the point that these are WORDS. They are not income in people’s pockets. If the income doesn’t show up, the words amount to a lie.

        And that’s where we are now. A lot of people now assume, based on a fair amount of relevant experience, that everything they’re hearing is all lies. You can’t reach them. It doesn’t matter what you say. What can we DO that will show them otherwise?

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          I missed the part where you said financial support had to be just words and also the part where you proved that postulating what it would take for success isn’t allowed.

          Also, I don’t remember saying anywhere that Biden would do any of this. I said it could be workable and that people might go along with a well conceived and well funded plan more than you allowed to be feasible in your comment.

            1. Aumua

              The whole article is pretty much hypothetical of course, and most people here don’t really believe it’s going to happen like that. It’s just say that if it did happen, then it could work.

              On a side note, I’ve noticed the admonition “just stop” trending in my discourses lately. I see it as an alternate way of basically telling someone to shut up, without having to be the one saying “shut up”. I find it really insidious and irritating, which is probably also the point.

              1. Alternate Delegate

                The lockdown will happen. The income support will not happen. To keep talking about make-believe money, is to drive the wedge deeper.

                I did not consider it advisable to tell my friend, “the government could send you a monthly check.”

                Please consider talking to people on the other side of the wedge. Do you really want this to split?

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Adding that though your argument isn’t without merit, there is more appetite to dealing with COVID-19 even in painful ways than you might imagine. I believe lack of dealing with it is what cost Trump the election.

            To me, the insurmountable problem is Biden himself. I seriously doubt he is ideologically capable of understanding the need for never mind emotionally capable of leading and following through with the all out effort required for a successful national lock-down effort.

    2. Mikel

      Without the income support for lockdowns, their “conspiracy theory” about jobs being taken away as part of a plan has some merit.
      It amounts to keeping people desparate until the the tide changes and there is a large labor pool that will go to work for pennies and zero worker protections.
      Without the subsidies it is an open, hot class war.

      1. tegnost

        Yes, and all the while the stock market rockets upward as do the fortunes of multi billionaires.
        I’ve spent some time with the TDS inflicted pointing out that, in spite of news trends to the contrary, people are not stupid. They know their own opportunities are being shelved. But, like I just mentioned in water cooler, more people will qualify for medicaid! So Winning! I expect a slew of whew good thing we have medicaid! articles. Lemons? lemonade!
        The 4 mil number from links is from 2018, that number is sure to go up, so guaranteed positive metric

    3. Ford Prefect

      I think the big challenge in the US was that it happened first in the big :Blue” coastal cities in a country with a president that was looking for things to charge up his base. so it got turned into a hoax perpetrated by incompetent “Blue” state people.

      By the time Joe Biden is President, it will be more than three months since it will have started charging through the Caucasian communities in the red states. We will see if people still think it is a hoax Jan 20. The magnitude of Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, and New Years as super-spreader events should be fully playing out by Jan 20, for good or bad. If the hospitals fill up to the extent I think they will, the death rate in many “Red state” areas will look like NYC in March simply because they won’t be able to care for the patients and will be in full-on triage mode.

      Unfortunately, Congress on both sides of the aisle, has decided to sit it out since things expired in the summer, so full-blown lockdowns are out of the question due to the lack of funding to cover the unemployment.

  6. Carolinian

    That kind of thinking is anathema to the ginned-up “freedom” crowd. But unless the U.S. is willing to enforce regional lockdowns — and at least consider regional travel bans — this virus and the multi-pronged damage it does will be with us for several years at least.

    In other words first assume a can opener (will be with us for several years) and then devise policy accordingly. I do find it interesting that many of the people who object to the maximalist solution are often doctors with hands on experience of disease–not semi politicians like Fauci–and who accept the fact that, yes, people do still die of disease and that we all die of something and therefore living is a matter of triage and accepting and dealing with the risks. Which is to say that all of the above is moot because the public are only going to live with being scared into submission for so long and are not going to spend years living under the dictats of those who would shape society to their own preferences.

    Work is not just about money but also about living, having a purpose, and if you take away that purpose you may be killing people just as surely as to do so with a disease. We should of course take all reasonable steps to deal with this latest disease without trying to reinvent the wheel. It will go away or be controlled and it won’t take years.

    1. cocomaan

      In other words first assume a can opener (will be with us for several years) and then devise policy accordingly.

      The economist’s assumed can opener also doesn’t open cans, because several years of this disease will also result in herd immunity. The options are not just 1. Vaccine, 2. Lockdown, 3. Death. That’s a misunderstanding of immunity.

      The emerging science is showing that immunity is a solid 6 months, meaning gaining herd immunity is a definite possibility. All the worry about how one can never become immune to the virus seems to have been unfounded and based on speculation and fear mongering by medical authorities.

      1. Carolinian

        So many assumptions, so little time. Wherever the truth lies I believe the politicization of this pandemic has created a giant fog. In the internet world everyone gets to have an opinion (including me) but some things really are brain surgery. The views of medical professionals should not be dismissed out of hand, nor accepted out of hand either of course.

        1. cocomaan

          Seems to me that fading faith in medical professionalism probably tracks pretty close to falling faith in the law enforcement organizations.

          Bad actors get zero punishment, like the corrupt scientists who knocked down fat in their research at the behest of the sugar industry, or the idiots who invented the food pyramid still having their jobs. Mistakes are excused. And then faith is lost. It compounds decade after decade.

          There’s not a single institution that works anymore and it shows.

        2. Aumua

          The views of medical professionals should not be dismissed out of hand

          There’s always a few in every crowd, isn’t there. Which is to say that the wider medical community would definitely get behind such measures as the article proposes.

          We can let our opinions be informed by a small but vocal group of dissenters, or by the majority of experience and expertise. It’s our choice of course.

          Wherever the truth lies I believe the politicization of this pandemic has created a giant fog.

          True, especially the using of the pandemic to attack Trump at every turn. Makes it difficult to sort out the truth from the b.s. and most people aren’t willing and/or able to do make the effort to do so.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Are you out of your mind? Six months is the same as the common cold. There’s no herd immunity to the common cold. So you postulate that every winter we’re going to overload hospitals and kill doctors and nurses?

        Moreover, some people have gotten documented second cases in less than six months. In some cases, that’s due to multiple strains running around. Getting sick with one strain doesn’t appear to confer much immunity to others.

    2. Tom Bradford

      We should of course take all reasonable steps…

      Quite right.

      Of course what amount to ‘reasonable steps’ are rather different to the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate. Whereabouts on that spectrum are you?

  7. Bob Hertz

    One of the problems that America faces is that the authorities who can order lockdowns cannot simultaneously order financial support. You see this most painfully at the state level…..the governors can order shutdowns that drive businesses to bankruptcy, but we have wait for Congress to pass any financial relief.

    I have the impression that this is not the case in quite a few other countries. Denmark and Germany for example announced wage subsidies the same day they announced shutdowns this spring.

    1. Carla

      “Denmark and Germany for example announced wage subsidies the same day they announced shutdowns this spring.”

      Interesting that even lacking a sovereign currency, Denmark and Germany can do this. Can Estonia, Greece, Portugal?

    2. Larry

      Bingo. Charlie Baker extended foreclosures as long as he saw fit, which was longer than most other governors. That said, there is no rallying to tax the wealthy (hello money printers at Moderna, Cambridge, MA) to help shoulder the collective burden. The rich know they can wall up in their castles, get their takeout and instacart, and laugh as the proles suffer. Hey, might be able to scoop up some cheap real estate as part of the deal to further engorge my portfolio!

  8. Louis Fyne

    we are beyond the point of Taiwan in Feb/Mar, for a strict lockdown, you gotta shut down literally almost everything—as in ban purchases of everything but food and medicines so that you don’t have the supply chain using workers risking exposure to deliver jeans, air fryers and widgets and people flying to Florida.

    is the public ready for that?

    using China as a model is insane as (a) they have not been transparent with their data and (b) they used coercive measures that made WWII internment of the Japanese look like a tea party.

    the examples cited of national lockdowns (a) did not have lockdowns to the extent needed by the US right now and (b) are literal islands (even SK given its border with NK) which made securing their borders much easier and avoided community transmission

    and the lockdowns in the East Asian countries nowhere approached what is envisioned in the US

  9. Louis Fyne

    one of the biggest pools of viral transmission is jails.

    what are we going to about that? release all / 85% of the prisioners? stop arresting people?

    what about care homes?

    are we going to force care workers to live segregated from their families in hotels as not risk contracting the virus?

    what is also common among the “good countries” is that they have much lower levels of institutional housing (jails, care homes) than the US

  10. Louis Fyne

    as I do not want the world to possibly see a Cuban Missile Crisis-like showdown over a Syria no-fly zone, i say let’s do this lockdown.

    A lockdown will break the perpetual, reflexive rally-around-the-flag effect among flyover folks

    And perhaps make people skeptical about a standing army and expansive government police powers like the paleo-classical liberals.

    and 2022 and 2024 may break the stranglehold of the technocrats.

    best case, it works. worst case, it drives the Biden-Pelosi-neocon alliance out of power

  11. semiconscious

    Results: Higher Covid death rates are observed in the [25/65°] latitude and in the [−35/−125°] longitude ranges. The national criteria most associated with death rate are life expectancy and its slowdown, public health context (metabolic and non-communicable diseases (NCD) burden vs. infectious diseases prevalence), economy (growth national product, financial support), and environment (temperature, ultra-violet index). Stringency of the measures settled to fight pandemia, including lockdown, did not appear to be linked with death rate.

    Conclusion: Countries that already experienced a stagnation or regression of life expectancy, with high income and NCD rates, had the highest price to pay. This burden was not alleviated by more stringent public decisions. Inherent factors have predetermined the Covid-19 mortality: understanding them may improve prevention strategies by increasing population resilience through better physical fitness and immunity.

  12. marc b.

    This is depressing. People clamoring for vaccines that don’t prevent infection, but alleviate symptoms? Maybe what we need is some mRNA aspirin. And the numbers, even if you accept their accuracy, are misrepresented for some odd reason.

    MA, supposedly one of the centers of medical greatness and liberal/technocratic efficiency, had a lockdown from March through June, when things started to slowly open up, and yet, we are told, a spike is upon us. But is it?

    In November, we are back to April/May positive case numbers. The dreaded spike, driven by the odd college student ignoring the quarantine measures at school and other bad actors. But the ‘spike’ numbers can’t be taken at face value. Tests administered in November are greater than four-fold of the numbers in April/May. More tests, more bits of viral debris measured. In addition, the vast majority of tests currently administered are repeat tests. So, on November 16th over 120,000 tests were administered, about 3/4 of which were tests of ‘repeated individuals’, i.e. not ‘first test per individual, their terms. How many repeat positives are part of the ‘spike’? On the other hand, hospitalization and death rates, while increasing in November, are still only a small fraction of rates in the April/May time frame, current hospitalizations being about 1/4 of peak April/May numbers, and deaths being less than 1/5 of Spring peaks. That is assuming that the numbers are accurate, what with problems with the PCR, lack of autopsies to confirm real cause of death (death with or death of controversies), and at present, the average age of a death by Covid case in MA is 81, or slightly higher than the average life expectancy in the state. What to make of this?

  13. rtah100

    In each, case, test and isolate if positive and quarantine in-bound travellers.

    It’s really not rocket science, it just requires a will to pass and enforce the law and to fund the mitigation of its economic consequences on those affected.

    It is also cheaper than muddling along in the twilight zone. Pay hotels for rooms for travellers. You’re bailing them out round the back anyhow.

    As for people muttering about vital workers in meatpacking, look, right now your preferred approach does nothing to help them, consigns them to get ill and lose pay and puts the supply chain at risk (allegedly – US meatpacking spent Q2 and Q3 shovelling record exports to China). Enforcing testing and paid isolation would look after their health and welfare and, I would confidently expect, not significantly reduce the number of staff turning up for work because the effect of putting the first batch in isolation would be balanced by not losing another N shifts to transmission.

    The virus is in charge and the employees are not turning up because they are sick, not because of pandemic suppression or relief measures.

    How hard is it for people to see this?

    (NB: all of the above assumes you fund financial support. If you don’t do that, hell, maybe letting people get chaotically over a couple of years is the best you’ve got).

  14. juno mas

    This is consistent with an observation that we made early on: the virus is in charge. Focusing on the economy rather than the disease was bound to fail.

    Let me just say this is one of many consistently prescient, non-group think, creative viewpoints I’ve discovered reading here from the leaders at NC. Whether it be the inflation of the real estate bubble of the early 2000’s, the futility of the Greece default negotiations, or more recently Brexit, You get special insight reading Naked Capitalism. Thanks Yves, and ALL.

    Healthy Holidays.

  15. Jeremy Grimm

    > “For all our sakes, I hope he’s[Bidden] as science-driven as he claims to be.”

    I don’t believe Science-drive has much to do with the Corona pandemic in the US. We have several examples of practices that worked to control the Corona pandemic in other countries. You don’t need Science-drive to copy what works. Of course you might want to fund some research grants after the fact to figure out how and why it worked, how it might be improved upon, and what to do to prepare for the future pandemics that will come. You might want to fund some research grants to more thoroughly explore the basic science of how viruses spread and operate in our cells and of course explore the basic science of how cells operate. [Note I very deliberately used the word ‘grant’ because I believe basic science works through grants rather than research ‘contracts’.]

    This post places faith in Science. After the many research articles linked to by NakedCapitalism and the many times those scientific research articles made broad assertions based on embarrassingly small evidence and sample sizes, and how many times the scientific research turned out to reflect underlying political or monetary agendas … it might be wise to place somewhat less faith in the pronouncements of science and place much greater faith in using our ability to reason. Neoliberalism is making a valiant effort to build a Market for Ideas where Market epistemology decides ‘truth’ in place of Scientific methods.

    > “I say ‘ginned-up’ because a well-financed portion of the U.S. media is paid to enhance and normalize these extreme reactions [‘freedom’].”

    This statement raises questions about the who or what provided this ample finance and why? At risk of being placed facing the corner wearing a tall conical tinfoil-hat — where did the CARES Act come from and how did it slide through Congress like greased weasel shit? Even after almost a year, I cannot get past the reek of the CARES Act and the new ‘deal’ and new ‘economy’ slowly assembling from the ruins left as our small and medium businesses crumble, small landlords, home owners and renters hang in air over a cliff like so many Wiley Coyotes [but unlike Wiley Coyote they may not fair so well when they hit the ground so far below].

    Taming the Corona pandemic is not rocket science. I predict the many excuses for why measures might be unconstitutional or could not be done ‘here’ because of magical differences will suddenly be solved once those who own and direct the US government have accomplished whatever they are working to accomplish. I believe neither saving lives nor saving the economy have a place on their agenda but I have no idea exactly what is on their agenda. I fear everything will be illuminated long after we might do anything to stop it.

    1. Shiloh1

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cares Act was sitting on the shelf for years, waiting for the right opportunity to be unveiled, just like the Patriot Act.

      In the end, did it matter who really burned The Reichstag?

      Hegelian dialectic.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe the CARES Act was indeed sitting on the shelf waiting for the right opportunity. The question remains — what is its ultimate intent, cui bono, and exactly how?

        The Reichstag in the US has burned and who exactly held the torch matters less than who exactly made it possible and benefits from the conflagration. [Hegelian dialectic? ugh! and how different is it from dialectical materialism? and why do we need a dialectic and metaphysics to understand crass power plays? — The remedy for metaphysics is more poisonous than the disease. ugh!]

  16. ChristopherJ

    Depressing to see the half hearted response from your governments.

    Here in Cairns, we’ve not been worried about the risks since May, after a hard lockdown and the borders were closed. Victoria lost the plot in the hotel quarantine space (and about 700 lives) and we are only now opening the border on 1 Dec to people from that state as they no longer have any cases occurring. The occasional returning Aussie will test positive, but they are isolated in medi hotels and we are getting better at protecting the security personnel and other workers in these locations. No one is flying into Australia for a holiday or for business. That is likely to continue to be the case until countries get their acts together.

    What helped Australia of course was the financial support from all levels of government and most who lost work or were unable to work received income support to enable them to stay at home. This income support is tapering off as the cost to the budget is ‘unsustainable’ – ie they’ve had to borrow and forget that the interest costs are presently next to nothing. Still this is the Liberal National government of Morrison.

    Sadly, the ability to live a good life has been eroding before my eyes for Americans my entire adult life (here too, but for slightly different reasons (too much immigration)). And now you can see it literally everywhere as the homeless are left to rot, right in the middle of all your cities. So, so sad, the complete country-wide lack of compassion and empathy, from a country which had the most potential.

    I am reassured by the many familiar people who turn up and contribute in this place, most sensibly avoiding the risks from this pandemic. Continue to stay safe as no one is coming to save you. That’s your job

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I grow sad reading in your comment how “the ability to live a good life has been eroding” for you in Australia. You in Australia and many of those living in Canada should realize how much hope Americans hold that life might be better in your nations. I am humbled and gratified by your view of the US as “a country which had the most potential”. I don’t know that that were true but I too feel the US held great potential and I feel we have most wantonly wasted and ruined that potential for ourselves and for others.

      1. ChristopherJ

        University used to be free here. When I read economics, there were heaps of Aussies doing Arts degrees. The public good of well educated people has been forgotten. Instead, our kids borrow from the Govt and accumulate a debt that cannot be forgiven. They start out in life way behind. My generation had careers with many staying in same organisation for decades. Now, the kids, even ones with degrees, are lucky to even find a good job.

        Our public service has been politicised, hollowed out and generally outsourced so that connected mates get the contracts. A far, far different service than the gentle, reasoned, experienced people I first worked with in Defence in 1978

        Our government once owned the airports, Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank. These were constructed and held on the basis that public ownership put a floor on prices, inter alia. Hawke and Keating started the sell off and the neo liberal shit that we have now. And still some have a tear in their eye whenever they are brought up in context.

        I have lived through almost 40 years of having our lives and natural assets sold off or destroyed. Yes, right here in Australia, where you need a million dollars to buy a house and many are just getting by on $25 per hour.

        Thank you, Jeremy. One of my honeymoons was in Hawaii in 1990. Never saw a homeless person once. What’s it like now? Plenty of encampments sprouting up here too.

        I cannot see Americans traveling abroad again until you have eradicated covid from your population. Can’t be done by just letting people catch it.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I didn’t realize so that so much that was good about Australia had been dismantled just as in the US. I have trouble believing democracy chose this sell-off and decay for our countries.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I do not believe the New York Times is your best source for information.

      But — will the protocols outlined work with this more infectious mutation?
      I believe the protocols outlined or very similar protocols have worked for dealing with many diseases in the past [caveat — protocols defined how exactly — the US has been very loose about its notions of ‘testing’, ‘lockdown’, and ‘quarantine’].

      Will the protocols outlined prove as effective at controlling an outbreak of a much more infectious disease? That would require a degree of speculation that might be more than beneficial to the length of my already generous, but very beautiful, nose.

      The protocols outlined are the best known protocols based on current knowledge of this pandemic. They may not be as effective for a more infectious disease, but until the characteristics of that more infectious disease were better known — the protocols outlined remain the best known protocols for dealing with that new disease. However, as the new disease you and the NY Times postulate might be more similar to some other disease from the past and might spread differently than the Corona virus … there might be better protocols which we could replicate from the past and as we learn more those protocols might be improved upon for responding to present and future pandemics.

      In any case, I believe I can say — without qualification — that the existing US protocols for dealing with the Corona pandemic are … “sub-standard”. And really … ~20% more infectious????? Really!!!!!????? But wait! not ~20.0099% more infectious than the Wuhan strain? If you have been following the scientific literature. just how well have our scientists been able to gauge the infectiousness of any of the Corona viruses?

  17. Basil Pesto

    The most recent Chinese efforts even focused measures down to the city block scale.

    This is interesting, because early in Melbourne’s winter wave, the government locked down specific postcodes, rather than the whole city. This struck me as one part dithering, one part shutting the door after the horse had bolted and I suspect it ultimately prolonged the lockdown.

    I suspect as well that in a more disciplined/authoritarian state like China, locking down of city blocks could work (and specific, delineated blocks might be more effective than postcodes, which encompass hundreds of blocks. This might be easier in China because of the way cities are planned and organised, as well; I’m not sure). But in a country like Australia, without serious heavy-handed discipline that I don’t think would be politically tolerated, I’m not sure those postcode lockdowns would work.

    This is a rather conjectural, sketchily written post and I might be wide of the mark so I wonder what others think about targeted intra-city lockdowns.

  18. VietnamVet

    The overseers and media in the USA are intently trying to keep everything operating as normally as possible, except, localities impose haphazard lockdowns when hospitals are overwhelmed. This is Sophie’s Choice. Realization of what happened will come with survival afterward.

    The Western ruling class has no concern that a quarter million, to date, and possibly up to a million Americans will die early from coronavirus and its collateral damage. The new Aristocracy is simply unwilling to restore the public health system, make government work again, and control the virus like China, Cuba, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia or New Zealand are doing. Not only are the Western Elite incompetent. They are corrupt and amoral. Money (the only thing that matters to them) comes manufacturing, distributing and injecting pharmaceutical industry’s vaccines, not saving human lives.

  19. chris

    If people in the commentariat are struggling with food and medicine storage and worried about power outages and such decreasing their ability to store what they need to survive a lockdown and quarantine, I recommend considering a trashcan root cellar.

    They work very well. We’ve taught our local boyscouts how to make them. They work in small places. If you have the time and the capacity you should test the temperature and relative humidity inside whatever you build but in the winter time it’s a lot easier to maintain things then in the spring and summer. The people at Cornell have helpful articles describing what produce can be stored at what conditions. It’s hard to get refrigerators and freezers these days so perhaps this suggestion will help a few.

  20. Bruce Wolman

    Having ended up in Norway throughout the pandemic – studying the Nordic Model no less – I can confirm the success of Neuberger’s approach, which is mostly how Norway proceeded. The superior results are clear compared to the rest of Western Europe and even neighbor Sweden. If Norway has been suffering an uptick in infections recently, that is due to a Center-Right government re-opening up a bit too quickly under pressure from business interests. The government was generous with economic support to all businesses affected, and after some pressure from the opposition and the Labor Unions, was equally generous with workers, students and gig workers. An effective social welfare infrastructure allowed fairly quick distribution of funds to everyone without any break downs.

    While the Norwegian government pragmatically felt its way into many of its decisions, Nassim Taleb early on independently provided convincing risk-management analysis justifying a strategy similar to what Norway ended up doing. It is a shame Taleb went ignored, even in NYC where he teaches, and that Sweden didn’t follow its Scandinavian neighbors. Many lives were lost unnecessarily.

    More amazing was the idolizing of the Swedish approach to the pandemic in the US and British press and on Twitter among neoliberals, libertarians, left-wing anarchists and business pundits. Sweden’s death rate has remained 10 times that of Norway throughout the pandemic, with hardly a better economic result. Still some die-hard supporters of the Swedish approach remain convinced it still has the secret sauce and that the numbers are all wrong.

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