The New York Times reports that the United States, and the West, are now the real problem in the fight against coronavirus:
The fear and suspicion directed at China in the devastating early days of the coronavirus outbreak have made a 180-degree turn: It is the West that now frightens Asia and the rest of the world.
The fear and suspicion, of course, were entirely justified, because the Chinese Communist government lied about the existence and scale of the virus, unleashing it on the world. But I’d love to find the insane person who would rather be in Wuhan or Tehran right now than Ohio or Houston.
There’s a destructive strain of cynicism infecting so much of our media. To contend that the United States was “completely unprepared” for a coronavirus pandemic, as this Politico piece does, or to claim that “America Is Acting Like a Failed State,” as this Atlantic piece does, is malpractice. I don’t know if these writers, or similarly inclined ones, have some knee-jerk antipathy towards the United States or if partisanship blinds them to state of the world, but none of it aligns with reality.
It’s one thing to be critical of our government’s reaction to the crisis — and there’s fertile ground there, especially when it comes to the bureaucratic impediments that slowed the initial manufacturing of coronavirus tests — and another to talk about the United States as if it were some kind of third-world nation.
Between federal and local programs, the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on emergency and disaster preparedness across the country every year. I can’t even find a reliable number to offer for overall spending, because there are so many disparate programs. FEMA alone spends billions per year towards preparedness.
And while may it come as a surprise to some people, the CDC did not erase all of its institutional knowledge and fire every scientist and researcher after the 2016 presidential election. In late 2019, the Global Health Security, a group that evaluates emergency preparedness and health security, ranked the United States first for health-emergency preparedness out of 195 countries. We probably prepared as well as anyone.
It’s also true, as the report states, that “health security is fundamentally weak around the world” and that no nation “is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address.”
But how can anyone ever be “fully prepared?” No nation has millions of empty hospital beds and medical professionals on standby for the eventuality of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Nor is anyone going to be in the business of manufacturing millions of supplies every year, just in case. We don’t even know how zoonotic diseases will manifest most of the time, or all the materials we might need to combat them when they do.
Even if we did, imagine living in a nation that has to sustain an economy and infrastructure on war footing, in perpetuity, preparing to fight every conceivable emergency and natural disaster that we can anticipate. It’s a wildly unrealistic expectation of government and society. And anyway, if we were always on a war footing, we wouldn’t have another gear when emergencies hit.
Americans will perish during this crisis. But that doesn’t mean our system, one that’s served us better than any in mankind’s history, is broken. This isn’t a utopia. There’s no political system in existence that has instantaneous remedies to cure viruses (at least, not yet) or fix the economic fallout. Not even the Chinese Communists, who can dominate their population with authoritarian measures, can control these outbreaks. Even if they could, is their form of governance something we want to emulate?
But, on the other hand, there is no nation that can scale up production the way we can when we do take a war footing. I suspect that the risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit embedded and fostered in American life will pay off. It took a week for an open-source project to come up with a 3D-printed ventilator validation prototype for hospitals. It takes only days for trucks to arrive with more food and supplies. In the United States, the instinct to hoard is psychological, not a matter of survival.
It’s difficult for us, the healthiest and safest generation in history, to contemplate that some things are beyond our control. People are dying. Even if we avoid the worst of the medical emergency, the economic one will be devastating for millions. Still, I’m not being a delusional patriot when I say there is no place I would rather be to ride it out than the United States.