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The Trump Administration’s Epic COVID-19 Failure: Project Syndicate

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Project Syndicate: The Trump Administration’s Epic COVID-19 Failure https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-covid19-testing-failure-by-j-bradford-delong-2020-03: 'Whereas many other countries afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic have pursued mass testing, quarantines, and other measures to reduce community transmission, the Trump administration has simply dithered. Although America could still shut down for a month to overcome the crisis, the sad truth is that it won't. BERKELEY—Even to US President Donald Trump’s most ardent critics, his administration’s disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic has come as a surprise. Who would have guessed that Trump and his cronies would be so incompetent that merely testing for the disease would become a major bottleneck?

When the Chinese government shut down Wuhan on January 23, quarantined another 15 cities the next day, and then extended a nationwide social-distancing mandate until the end of the Lunar New Year, it was clear that the world was in trouble. By as early as January 31, Western health officials—including Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—had acknowledged that the coronavirus could be transmitted by people without symptoms.

As officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and other public-health bodies surely must have recognized, asymptomatic transmission means that the standard method of quarantining symptomatic travelers when they cross national (or provincial) borders is insufficient. It also means that we have known for almost two months that we were playing a long game against the virus. With its spread more or less inevitable, the primary task was always to reduce the pace of community transmission as much as possible, so that health-care systems would not be overwhelmed before a vaccine could be developed, tested, and deployed.

In the long game against a contagious virus, how to mitigate transmission is no secret. In Singapore, which has largely contained the outbreak within its borders, all travelers from abroad have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether they have symptoms. In Japan, South Korea, and other countries, testing for COVID-19 has been conducted on a massive scale. These are the measures that responsible governments take. You test as many people as you can, and when you locate areas of community transmission, you lock them down. At the same time, you build a database of all those who have already developed immunity and thus may safely resume their normal routine.

In the two months since the threat of a pandemic became obvious, the United States has tested an estimated 484,062 people—South Korea has tested tens of thousands in a single day. There has been no nationwide random-sample time series constructed for the US. Many people who have shown up in health-care settings with symptoms have not been tested, and have instead been sent back into the community. Judging by the rate of growth in the number of reported cases, the US has performed worse than any other country, including Italy, Spain, and possibly even Iran.

Worse, the 80,000 cases reported in the US (as of March 26) are just the tip of the iceberg. From the 1,046 US deaths so far recorded, we can infer that 15,000-50,000 cases were active at the start of March, and that this figure will reach anywhere from 120,000 to one million in the next week. But that is just a guess; in the absence of testing, we really have no idea where we stand.

As such, the US has few options. The longer the government delays imposing a Wuhan-style lockdown, the less effective future social-distancing measures will be in the weeks and months ahead. Trump and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin appear to want to roll the dice, placing an existential bet on America’s future by hoping that the pandemic will peter out with warmer weather. A more likely outcome is that many states’ health systems will collapse before that happens, leading to a spike in the COVID-19 mortality rate as the number of symptomatic cases soars—perhaps to as many as 50 million—in the coming months.

This potential disaster is entirely unnecessary. A lockdown could be rolled back within just three or four weeks if it is properly implemented. During that time, the public-health system could do its job: testing a random sample of the population, tracking the contacts of those with symptoms, and resupplying an already sapped health-care system while scaling up efforts to develop a vaccine and more effective treatments.

After a month or so of this, the businesses that were functioning as of March 1 could probably restart. The policy response could ensure that nobody loses their livelihood as a result of anything that happened between March 1 and May 1. In the meantime, the production and distribution of medical tests, food, utilities, and activities that do not involve human contact would represent the full extent of the economy. Absolutely everything else would be temporarily shut down.

After a month would come a Jubilee: the government would assume all debts incurred during the shutdown, sparing businesses from bankruptcy. The significant increase in government debt would then justify a highly progressive tax on income and wealth, both to reassure investors that long-term public finances are sound, and to recoup some of the unearned gains of those who have managed to profit from the lockdown.

Unfortunately, what the US should do is not what it will do. The country is desperately short of tests and other critical supplies, and the Trump administration has shown no inclination to do anything about it. Here in Berkeley, hospitals are running short of surgical masks and asking for donations. Their plight is symptomatic of an underlying condition that has inevitably aggravated the current public-health crisis.


#coronavirus #highlighted #orangehairedbaboons #publichealth #2020-03-26



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Economy

Inequality, morals & Marxism

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One thing this crisis is demonstrating is that there are plenty of bad employers: the Guardian and Labour List both have lists of them. Another is that, as Sarah O’Connor says, “the people we need the most are often the ones we value the least.” As Paulo dos Santos says, society “grossly undervalues” care work and other jobs essential to fighting the pandemic.

Both these facts show the need for a Marxian perspective.

First, we must ask: why are care workers and others so underpaid? It is certainly not because they lack moral desert. Nor is it because they lack skills: caring demands immense “soft skills” such as patience, discipline and an ability to get on with people as well as physical ones. From a purely technical point of view – that is, one divorced from socio-economic factors – it would be cretinous to claim that a nurse is less skilled than the grifter opinion-mongers who pollute the media.

Instead, care workers are badly paid because they lack power. Some of this is the result of longstanding norms: work done by women and immigrants has long been stigmatized, devalued and regarded as “unskilled.” But another part of it is simply a lack of outside options and hence of bargaining power. As Paulo says:

Market wages and conditions reflect the precarious social positions and sometimes utter desperation of those who typically perform them.

The point, of course, broadens. As Rick said, “all pay is, ultimately, a function of power.” It is trivially true that labour is the source of value, as this lockdown is reminding us. But how that value is distributed depends upon power. Your “skills” are only one element in your power: parlaying these into a decent income is another matter.

Power also lies behind the fact of bad employees. Big firms have a degree of monopoly power: they wouldn’t be profitable if they did not. Good employers use this power to share rents with workers. Bad ones, however, use their monopsony power to jack up the rate of exploitation.

What should be done about this? Some leftists think we need to make a moral case for paying key workers more and that we need to shame bad employers into improving.

Moral exhortation, however, might work sometimes but it is not enough. We do not reduce burglary or murder merely by appealing to criminals’ better nature. We use force as well. Similarly, we won’t abolish poverty pay and bad working conditions merely by asking nicely.

We must instead realize, as Marxists do, that material conditions matter. As the late great Norman Geras wrote in his essay Marxism and Moral Advocacy, ethical analysis and advocacy:

Need to be done with some thought for the social and material conditions of attaining any given ideals, the means of and agencies for attaining them, [and] the social interests and movements that can conceivably be coupled with or become attached to the ideals and imperatives in question.  

It is easy to see how we might abolish the material conditions that give rise to inequality, bad employers and poverty wages. Macroeconomic policy must be aimed at ensuring over-full employment. We need strong trades unions and a high citizens basic income to empower workers to reject bad pay and conditions. And government (and local authority) procurement should be used to encourage coops. 

Most social democrats would agree with this. We Marxists, however, have two doubts.

The first concerns how to get there. How do we mobilize the social movements and interests that would deliver a government committed to these, and weaken those that would prevent such a thing? 

The second is that these policies are only stepping stones, part of what Erik Olin Wright called an interstitial transformation (pdf). They will lead to a squeeze on profits. When this happened in the 70s, it led to a backlash against social democracy and to Thatcherism. The challenge is to ensure that it leads instead to socialistic forms of ownership. Historically, social democrats have resiled from this challenge.

This crisis has increased the salience of inequality and injustice. But there’s a huge distance between an issue being salient and it actually being properly addressed. We have little hope of closing this distance without a Marxian perspective.



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From Torsten Slok’s excellent email links:

Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman: The places hardest hit by the virus are also the places where most jobs can be done at home.

Also the highest wage occupations are easiest to do at home. Good for GDP, bad for people with low wages.

New York Fed Weekly Economic Index

But it’s not just a fall, it’s also a radical shift in demand. A list of lots and lots of job openings, in all the places you’d guess. The instinct to just pay people to sit at home has downsides.

LA times via Marginal Revolution

They were ready to roll whenever disaster struck California: three 200-bed mobile hospitals that could be deployed to the scene of a crisis on flatbed trucks and provide advanced medical care to the injured and sick within 72 hours.

Each hospital would be the size of a football field, with a surgery ward, intensive care unit and X-ray equipment. Medical response teams would also have access to a massive stockpile of emergency supplies: 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators and kits to set up 21,000 additional patient beds wherever they were needed.

…in 2011, the administration of a fiscally minded Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who came into office facing a $26-billion deficit. And so, that year, the state cut off the money to store and maintain the stockpile of supplies and the mobile hospitals. 

… The annual savings for eliminating both programs? No more than $5.8 million per year, according to state budget records, a tiny fraction of the 2011 budget, which totaled $129 billion.

My emphasis. 50 million is a lot. A lesson in what government can do, and I hope will do next time.

Not to rub it in, but Gov. Brown did want to spend $80,000 million on a high speed train, all to lower the average global temperature by about 0.0001 (?) degree in the year 2100. Which is not a personal observation so much as an observation about the probabilities of various events that all of our elite intelligentsia assumed.

Amit Seru and Luigi Zingales want to save capitalism from the cares act. Besides the prospect of direct bailouts to big business, the Fed’s actions are truly gargantuan and under reported. Vastly oversimplifying,  the Fed is prepared to lend about $4 trillion dollars of newly printed money (really newly printed government debt) directly to businesses, and to backstop the entire non-bank financial system. Good or bad? Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.



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Cases and Deaths from Coronavirus Doubling Every Three Days Is Very Bad News Indeed

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I confess I am positively unmanned by the every-three-days doubling of reported cases and deaths here in the United States. I had thought that we would see true cases doubling every seven days. And back when reported cases started doubling every three days, I was encouraged, because I thought it meant that we were catching up on testing, and so getting closer to detecting the bulk of the symptomatic cases.

But now it looks like that was wrong: reported cases were doubling every three days because true cases were doubling every three days—that is what deaths tell us was happening to true cases up until three weeks ago. The lack of case curve-bending makes me think that testing is not improving. It makes me think that reported cases are doubling every three days because true cases are doubling every three days.

That means that the Trump administration has only 40% as much time to get its ass in gear as I thought it did.

And that means the chances it will are very very low indeed:

I must confess it had never occurred to me back when China shut down Wuhan that we would simply not test everyone who presented with symptoms—and then backtrace their contacts. It is really looking now as though China—even with its authoritarian blindness fumbling of the intitial response (see Zeynep Tufekci: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-and-blindness-authoritarianism/606922/ is going to be studied in the future as a positive model of public health in the 21st century, while the Trump Administration’s reaction—currently on track as the worst in the world in handling coronavirus <https://www.evernote.com/l/AAFzPq9AJoFHFr_nrTPi1QyseD8WSAe0y00B/image.png>—will be studied in the future as a negative example: Brad DeLong: The Trump Administration’s Epic COVID-19 Failure https://www.bradford-delong.com/2020/03/the-trump-administrations-epic-covid-19-failure-project-syndicate.html: 'As officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and other public-health bodies surely must have recognized, asymptomatic transmission means that the standard method of quarantining symptomatic travelers when they cross national (or provincial) borders is insufficient. It also means that we have known for almost two months that we were playing a long game against the virus. With its spread more or less inevitable, the primary task was always to reduce the pace of community transmission as much as possible, so that health-care systems would not be overwhelmed before a vaccine could be developed, tested, and deployed. In the long game against a contagious virus, how to mitigate transmission is no secret. In Singapore, which has largely contained the outbreak within its borders, all travelers from abroad have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether they have symptoms. In Japan, South Korea, and other countries, testing for COVID-19 has been conducted on a massive scale. These are the measures that responsible governments take. You test as many people as you can, and when you locate areas of community transmission, you lock them down. At the same time, you build a database of all those who have already developed immunity and thus may safely resume their normal routine…


#coronavirus #highlighted #orangehairedbaboons #publichealth #2020-03-27



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