April 10, 2021


Mass Vaccination Is a Show of American Might (Anne Applebaum, 4/10/21, The Atlantic)

 During 2020, Donald Trump's chaotic, mendacious response to the pandemic; the wave of COVID-19 denialism that swept across America; and the high U.S. death rates were a shock to anyone, anywhere, who still expected competent American leadership. Clips of Trump's infamous comments about bleach ("And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs?") were replayed all around the world and translated into dozens of languages. The Trump administration's refusal to join any of the international efforts to fight the pandemic left a gaping hole that for many months was filled by Chinese planes delivering face masks and doctors.

The U.S. became an outlier, even among democracies. A clear line emerged between countries that had high levels of social trust and decent public-health systems--Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea--and those, including the U.S. and Brazil, that did not. Whereas South Korean public-health officials supplemented the country's contact-tracing system with credit-card and phone-location data to help keep case numbers down, nobody in the United States has enough faith in government contact tracers to make those kinds of data available in the first place. That difference was reflected in domestic registers of satisfaction with government performance. It also contributed to an international perception of American decline.

But if the United States is very, very bad at social trust and public-health systems, it is very, very good at large-scale logistics. And skill at large-scale logistics, far more than social trust, has turned out to be a big advantage in this new stage of the pandemic. Mass production of vaccines, mass distribution of vaccines, "mass vax" centers in stadium parking lots, even string quartets playing for the 10,000 New Yorkers getting their vaccines every day at the Javits Center--all of this we can do, now that we have a president who wants to do it. With zero percent interest rates and the deficit a term belonging to the distant past, Americans can also throw money at problems like nobody else.

Thanks, DARPA!

Posted by at April 10, 2021 12:00 AM


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