When looking at the United States’ response to COVID-19, it is helpful to compare its choices to those made by other countries. Here’s some data comparing the survival rates (green) and death rates (orange) over time in six countries. These countries represent a wide range of governing philosophies, from totalitarian to western democracy. Some countries are wealthy; some are poorer. One country, Iran, had difficulty obtaining needed supplies because of the present US-led embargo.
The graphs demonstrate that, after an initial shock to the sociological system, a country, regardless of government form or wealth, can get ahead of the crisis. A country can mobilize and keep the death rate below the survival rate. The disease may persist but it can be managed and, eventually, eradicated.
The variety of graphs show this. Except in one case. The United States.
Its graph reveals a chaotic response. No pattern. And no settling down of the curves. In fact, it’s the sole country where the death rate is routinely higher than the survival rate.
We can no longer ignore the obvious: the United States is, and had been, rotting from within. The US stock market is not falling because of COVID-19, it’s falling because there is no end to the uncertainty. And there is no end to the uncertainty because the country no longer responds to its citizens but instead its corporations. The national discussion has somehow degenerated into saving businesses not saving communities.
What is required to save communities from COVID-19 is the ability to take measurements, interpret them, and make predictions with them. From the beginning of this crisis, the Trump Administration has not been interested in taking measurements. For the short-sighted, the case against measurements is obvious. Measurements create bad press relations and bad press relations create bad economies.
A powerful contagion infected the United States long ago: A belief that public relations could take care of any problem. The country which prides itself in being skeptical of authority, any authority, now takes its science from Donald Trump, a failed businessman and well-known entertainer who understands public relations. But as Richard Feynman, an American physicist, noted: “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
The United States death graph shows that Nature is not being fooled.
Over two centuries ago, the United States began as an experiment in self-governance. It is now moving into a new experiment: corporate-governance. This is why we find ourselves today in a once unthinkable discussion about how to balance citizen lives with stock market value. We tell ourselves the United States is the wealthiest country on the planet without the recognition that the wealth is not with its citizens but its corporations.
In another time, the graph of the deaths in the United States would have been a source of national shame. When, in 1957, the USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik, the United States felt it as a wake-up call and mobilized its resources on a massive scale. Those Americans looked at another nation and realized they had grown complacent. Those citizens had pride in their collective government, their national identity. And so, a dozen years later, those citizens landed humans on the Moon.
In 2020, will Americans comparing graphs of COVID-19 deaths in different countries be triggered into a similar Sputnik-like mass response? Will Americans reflect on their country’s relationship with corporate business? With each other as individuals?
In 2020, it’s not certain. Despite having the time to reflect while shuttered in their homes and despite having the informational resources provided by the Internet, thus far citizens appear to assume they have no real voice about the direction of things.
At least, thus far.
(Graph Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/)