The West’s embarrassing response to Covid

In the spring, I pushed back at people who claimed it was all China’s fault—the claim that if they’d only warned us a week or two earlier, we could have prevented the epidemic. This argument is wrong on so many levels that it’s almost laughable that anyone still believes it. At this late date, it’s like believing in Santa Claus.

The FT has an excellent report on China’s response to the crisis. At first the report looks like it’s going in an anti-China direction, and there is appropriate criticism of bureaucratic delay in Wuhan. But in the end the Chinese government only delayed a warning to the world by a few days, say from roughly January 16th to January 20th. This sort of unfortunate screw-up is part of the normal “fog of war” problem. But as we’ll see, it’s utterly trivial compared to the massive screw-ups in the West.

Ironically, what the West insists China should have done when they discovered the problem—make a massive effort to stop the spread—is exactly what China did do after a roughly one week delay. And they succeeded. Even though the pandemic had already spread to dozens of Chinese provinces, the national lockdown stopped it in its tracks. By early March it was basically over, and China’s had only very small flare-ups ever since:

We also know that many other developed countries were able to do the same, keep it under firm control. But not the US and most of Europe.

The supreme irony here is that we are blaming China for not taking steps that we were unwilling to take, when in fact China did take those steps, just a week or so too late.

America faced a far easier challenge than China. On January 20th we still had just a few known cases. China was already swamped. And yet for 6 weeks our government sat around twiddling its thumbs. Some will say that at least Trump put a ban on travel from China. But even that’s a lie—there was never a China travel ban. (My wife is flying directly from China to the US in 2 weeks.) And even if there had been a travel ban, it would have been completely pointless—the virus was already here and we were doing nothing to stop it from spreading like wildfire.

“I was in China [in mid-February] and was able to see the extent of the response,” he added. “Unbelievable lockdowns with trains not moving, aeroplanes all with covers on their engines, and absolutely clear blue skies in [often polluted] Beijing. So it did spread across China, but they just shut it down.”

Meanwhile other countries and territories in east Asia — most notably South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — used a more flexible mix of visitor bans, contact tracing and lockdowns milder than China’s to contain community spread of the virus effectively.

But for those countries that were quick to issue travel bans while doing little else in a co-ordinated, nationwide fashion, such as the US, it was too late. 

Australia and New Zealand also had effective responses. And although Melbourne was recently hit by a big second wave, the Aussie government quickly got it under control. So it wasn’t just East Asian countries that knew what to do.

In the spring, people complained when I pointed out that China’s not to blame for our incompetence, but the FT confirms I was right:

Dr Fisher’s view was that “another couple of weeks” of advance notice about the pandemic would not have helped many countries. He pointed out that despite it being confirmed that the virus could be transmitted from person to person on January 20, “it’s not like [everyone] jumped up and sprang into action”.

That’s the understatement of the year!

“Most of Asia really respected this, had systems ready to go, and did a lot of work in January and February for the day that was coming when they were going to get smashed,” said Dr Fisher. “Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world needed to get smashed to have that realisation. As we said in our February [WHO China delegation] report, this virus can have devastating health, social and economic effects but the world is not ready, in capacity or in mindset, to deal with it.”

Prof Wang added that for all of the Chinese system’s shortcomings in the earliest days and weeks of the outbreak, the rest of the world should have been on high alert. As soon as human-to-human transmission was confirmed and Wuhan went into quarantine a few days later, countries could have prepared themselves for its arrival as effectively as Taiwan and South Korea did, among others.

Most did not. In particular the Trump administration’s response will go down as one of the worst national security failures in the history of the US republic, with the virus breaching even the White House and the president himself. As Prof Wang said: “For other countries not to have taken [the virus] seriously, there’s just no excuse.”

Just to be clear, I’m not blaming Trump for all of this. Hillary would have done somewhat better, but the evidence from Western Europe suggests that the failures go much deeper than Trump. Local governments in the northeastern US also screwed up. Instead, my moral outrage is directed at the West’s attempt to blame China for the Covid crisis.

The Western world is like a huge version of Trump. Recall that Trump famously attributes to other people his own faults—corruption, dishonesty, stupidity, nepotism, laziness, etc. The West claims that China didn’t take the problem seriously enough even though China succeeded against a crisis that was objectively far greater than the crisis faced by Europe and America. We were the ones who didn’t take it seriously.

China was the first place that Covid started spreading, so naturally it spread pretty far before they got a grip on the problem. In contrast, America and Europe had plenty of advanced warning. Yet China was able to control the epidemic under difficult circumstances and the West mostly failed under much easier circumstances.

I suppose one could argue that we shouldn’t be blamed because our culture is so undisciplined. Funny to read anti-Chinese white nationalist bigots in my comment section try to excuse our weak response with claims that the Asian culture is just better organized than our culture. So what’s your point? Are you saying that Asian countries should stop accepting immigrants from shithole countries like the US and UK?

Sorry, I’m not that bigoted against the West. Next to Canada, Australia’s the country that is most similar to America. Germany’s also relatively similar, certainly compared to New Guinea or Burundi. I’m not willing to accept the “our culture is different” excuse. Yes, there are cultural/political reasons why certain countries failed. But we need to look in the mirror and admit that we blew it. And fix it.

By the way, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok relentlessly document, our failure to do challenge studies as well as our shameful bureaucratic delays in rolling out everything from testing kits to vaccines to drugs has delayed the reopening of the economy.

And the Asians told us back in February that we should wear masks. But of course we Westerners are so much smarter than them. We knew that masks don’t work. Right?

I’m also outraged by all the people who claimed that China was covering up the problem, that they could not possibly have it under control. My wife’s spent the past 6 weeks in China, including time spent in Chinese hospitals, and I can assure you they are not covering up anything. There is no Covid epidemic in China. Things are back to normal. (Oh wait, our president insists that my wife is probably a Chinese spy, so I can’t trust her report.)

I’m also thinking of the people who told me that it was folly to wait for a vaccine. I had commenters assuring me that it was inevitable that the whole world get it; it can’t be stopped. Only herd immunity would work.

(BTW, this is separate from the question of whether herd immunity was a good idea. Given how badly we screwed up I’m not sure it would have been much worse. But for Taiwan? Herd immunity would have been insane.)

PS. Another FT article contrasts the testing systems of Germany and the UK, and does a nice job of distinguishing between reasons and excuses.

Roughly 90 per cent of testing in the country is done by self-governing private laboratories. That means Germany has consistently had excess capacity of around half a million tests a week, leaving the system well placed to deal with sudden spikes in demand. One outbreak in the Tönnies meat processing plants in North Rhine-Westphalia in June created a need for 50,000 extra weekly tests as the disease was traced in local communities.

This contrasts with the UK’s system, which was heavily centralised from the start. The government overlooked existing labs in favour of creating five so-called “lighthouse laboratories” — outsourced, purpose-built facilities tasked with processing tens of thousands of tests a day. The sites quickly faced setbacks and have become overwhelmed at several points during the pandemic, creating bottlenecks and delays.

Reasons are not excuses!

PS. This Matt Yglesias tweet caught my eye:

If Trump had read my March 1 post he’d be cruising to re-election. And he still has a 35% chance of winning!



69 Responses to “The West’s embarrassing response to Covid”

  1. Gravatar of Jens Jens
    21. October 2020 at 12:33

    Total approval regarding the western arrogance and unjustified accusations against China. We can just say we are lucky that it started there

    With regard to the cultural differences, I’m a little more cautious. You can currently see how difficult this “we are the ones who screwed it up, we have to fix it” is in reality.

  2. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 13:25

    Your authoritarianism fetish is disgusting. Perhaps you should emigrate to China– you’d be doing everyone a favor.

    We still need to know where the virus came from. Probably the lab, maybe the wet market. Either way, there is likely to be another outbreak from the same source. Possibly of the same virus.

    All of the nations that were ‘successful’ are islands or might as well be (Korea). Plus the Asian nations had pre-existing test and trace professionals, not like the incompetent bureaucrats in the US. We weren’t going to build from scratch in a few months.

    NZ and AUS had another important advantage. The virus arrived in mid-summer.

    You never address the evidence that is confounding, you only wu mao for Xi. Sweden is gradually surpassing elsewhere in Europe with a better outcome. Latin America was bad regardless of populism or leftism (e.g., Brazil and Peru). And India has been terrible.

    WHO estimated 750 million infections worldwide, although WHO lies so much I haven’t seen if they’ve retracted yet.

    And what about all the anti-vaxxers in the Dem Party? Cuomo, Harris and Pelosi come to mind. They’ve succeeded in delaying the vaccines by one to two months by demanding more safety data w/o the benefit of challenge trials.

    The reality is there was a tipping point for stopping spread, which required a mix of island, advanced public health and test infrastructure, ethnostate, and social trust. Needless to say, USA has 0 of those 4. And the Chinese propaganda organs (of which you are one) have been working overtime to amplify the lack of social trust.

  3. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 13:29

    Also there aren’t really any excess deaths in the US outside of New York City, and in the 25-44 age group which is starting to show excess suicide and addiction deaths.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2020 at 13:32

    Steve, You said:

    “Also there aren’t really any excess deaths in the US outside of New York City, and in the 25-44 age group which is starting to show excess suicide and addiction deaths.”


  5. Gravatar of Bill White Bill White
    21. October 2020 at 13:53

    I wish Trump had just delegated to Fauci and then personally took the Woodrow Wilson approach. Not say a single thing about the pandemic. Then we’d at least have higher mask wearing.

  6. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 13:56

    Sumner, what’s wrong with Los Angeles? It’s governed like a third world country despite the virtuous political class in Lala Land.

    Contact tracers hired by the county of Los Angeles to interview people who tested positive for the new coronavirus and any others who might have been exposed continue to face challenges, according to the latest data presented by Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis on Thursday, Sept. 10.

    In the last two weeks of August, roughly 60% of the 17,379 people who reported testing positive responded to interviews. Out of the 10,429 who were interviewed, roughly 56% reported having contact with at least one other person within the period they were infectious.

  7. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    21. October 2020 at 13:59


    I agree one again that the Western world has fallen short of its theoretical possibilities. Most western countries have screwed up badly. It’s nice that you believe in us, but maybe we have to realize that we are unbelievable losers in this respect, with various problems, and obviously unable to solve them quickly and effectively.

    Maybe it is a rather simple evolutionary problem. Another botched reaction like that, and a real mass-killer virus will wipe the Western world basically out, mostly Europe and America.

    However, these deep moral failures are quite independent of possible moral failures of the CCP, whether they exist or not. I do not see how you can seriously believe that you can offset the one against the other. Morality hardly ever works that way.

    Maybe it can be said that the CCP has sinned less in this respect than Western governments. Okay, I give you that, as long as the lab theory is not true, of course.

  8. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 14:12

    In case the italics didn’t make it obvious, of 17,379 chinavirus test positives, only 5840 reported *ANY* human contact. In Los Angeles.

    Is Trump supposed to federalize LA? Wouldn’t he be accused of authoritarianism if he did? (Then again authoritarianism is what the wu mao want). More importantly, would Federal bureaucrats be any better than LA bureaucrats? Unlikely.

    What’s the point of testing if this is the result? Maybe we can iron out these problems before the next virus release, but not in a few months.

  9. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    21. October 2020 at 14:53

    I basically agree although I point to bad management over bad manners. However, one theory that needs to be taken seriously is natural cross-immunity:

    This could explain why the difference is so unbelievably drastic, even compared to well-behaved Western countries.

  10. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    21. October 2020 at 14:54

    I don’t care for the word choice here:

    “Asian culture is just better organized than our culture.”

    I would say something like authoritarian rather than “organized.”

    Regarding masks, it was ridiculous when so many of the so-called experts said not only was mask-wearing not helpful, it was harmful. In fact, the first person in any sort of position of authority to recommend cloth masks was Trump, himself (even if he never wore one). This was while the CDC was stil advising against it.

    The CDC has been horrible. They were refusing to acknowledge that covid was an airborne disease as recently as a few weeks ago. The messaging has been muddled all along, and when information has changed, corrections have been slow to come, and guidelines and recommendations have not kept up.

    Lockdowns were applied arbitrarily, and the rational keeps changing. Af first it was to not overwhelm the hospitals. In which case, only a small number of regions should have locked down. But then the rationale changed to maintain the lockdowns. San Francisco had the earliest and some of the strictest lockdowns, and are proving to be the last to open up, despite never having more than a small infection rate. This has lead me to the conclusion that SF is a very conservative city (despite its reputation otherwise.)

    Big data companies offered to distribute contract tracing apps. But that was shut down as too much Big Tech / Big Brother. I am curious if that would have made a difference, even if participation were completely voluntary.

  11. Gravatar of jayne jayne
    21. October 2020 at 15:00

    The outbreak can be explained very simply in terms of legal and geographical differences:

    1. We don’t have draconian data collection laws, which permit the federal government to track and trace every citizen, nor does the federal govt have the authority to mandate the quarantine of states and communities.

    2. Those same data laws used to control the spread in China, are the same draconian data laws that exterminate Uighurs, and jail dissidents. If you want a big govt that can FORCE people to comply, and MANDATE whatever they want, when they want, without any opposing voice, then you are giving up your freedoms.

    3. Australia has 7M kilometers of land, but if you look at the map you will see most of the population is congregated along the southern coast line, making it much easier to contain.

    In another post you attempt to equate Taiwan to the USA. Taiwan is the size of Massachusetts. They also have a centralized government that has direct access to ISP databases (our govt does not). Meaning they can trace and track you at any time (assuming you have a phone).

    In other words, you are comparing apples to oranges.

  12. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. October 2020 at 16:05

    In China, 20% of the companies, in terms of revenue, are owned by the Chinese Communist Party, and all publicly held companies are controlled through Class A voting shares, held by members of the CCP. Jack Ma, for example, is CCP.

    Thus, there is a large amount of state capacity, consensus, and enterprise-government collusion in China (and to varying degrees in all of the developed Asian Pacific).

    The CCP model has proved out better for pandemic control.

    It appears to be proving out better for economic growth—the next couple decades will tell.

    Nevertheless, I loath, detest and revile the CCP and prefer Western democracy and private enterprise. And free speech, a vanishing virtue globally.

  13. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. October 2020 at 16:18

    There is a great deal of resonance between the Singapore macroeconomic-government model and the Beijing/CCP economic models. Singapore, of course, as far higher GDP/PPP per capita than the US.

    Singapore effectively controlled the virus except for guest-worker dorms, a huge population of 1.5 million and about one-third of the Singapore Workforce. Bunk-room housing, 20 people per room etc.

    Singapore literally ring-fenced many worker dorms, making prisoners of guest-workers but controlling the virus.

  14. Gravatar of gary gary
    21. October 2020 at 16:20

    Jayne touched upon an important philosophical issue which, historically, has defined American ideals: that is, universal morality.

    The only viable solution to stopping COVID-19, and nobody talks about this, is to have a central government capable of mobilizing resources and legislation quickly. By definition, authoritarian states perform better in these situations, because they don’t have opposition. Mandates are followed, or else.

    The Western ideals of universality, democracy, and a distribution of power — either through representative democracy or direct democracy, with strong legal systems preventing the violation of universal laws, means the wheels turn slower. It also means people have more freedom, and are not subjected to relative moralism.

    You can keep complaining, but your alternative is dystopian for most of us.

  15. Gravatar of xu xu
    21. October 2020 at 16:36

    Just to be clear, I’m not blaming Trump for all of this. Hillary would have done somewhat better…

    – And there is your brainwashed Sumner. Without any evidence, he brazenly suggests that Hillary would have done better. Why? He has no idea. She is just a democrat, and he loves democrats. Is anyone surprised that Sumner’s research was never published?

    This is why publishers never took him seriously.

    Keep in mind Hillary was not that competent either. Look at Benghazi. She didn’t even respond to their emails. Too busy fund raising for her “nonprofit”.

  16. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 17:15

    Democrat run states have 70% higher unemployment, with no relative health benefits. There’s your “Hillary would’ve done better.”

    And I’m extremely angry about the anti-vaxxing coming from Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Cuomo, and Kamala Harris. Because we are talking about the next Speaker of the House, the next Attorney General, and the next POTUS.

  17. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 17:19

    Oh, and Fauci was probably right about masks in March. They probably help a little, but most people wear them improperly and they give a false sense of security.

    Masks and lockdowns have something in common. Both are bad substitutes for terrible test and trace. Which leads me back to Los Angeles. Why do the World’s Most Virtuous People (TM) govern like third world clowns?

  18. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    21. October 2020 at 17:47

    This comment section is hilarious, ever only warming over their own pet talking points without even a nod to what Scott’s post actually said. One harps about the Uighurs, the other about how many companies are owned by the CCP, yet another one about Benghazi, then one about cross-immunity (if that were the reason then why was Wuhan hit so hard initially? no cross immunity in Wuhan?). You can’t make this stuff up.

    Doug M,

    yes, East Asian countries are usually better organized, which is not the same thing as being authoritarian. I would even call it a different word: populations there are more civic minded and disciplined. So when they’re told that some things need to be done, they do them without much hand wringing. That’s actually it, very simple. They do expect things to work out in the end, so if the government action doesn’t work, they will judge those governments quite severely too. It’s a give and take. They expect government to be competent. In exchange, they do their part too, as citizens.

  19. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 17:58

    mbka wrote: “if the government action doesn’t work, they will judge those governments quite severely too”

    Well, *THAT* is un-American!

  20. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. October 2020 at 18:11

    21. October 2020 at 16:20—

    You are right. In the West, we want limited state capacity, and checks and balances. Well, we used to, but that may change under a Biden Presidency, and D-control of House and Senate.

    Biden is calling for the end of “shareholder capitalism.”

    Not that the GOP is all angels—see the totally government-infused farm sector. And the GOP has ranted for “free markets” forever but never hinted at the smallest challenge to property-zoning.

    But aside from a few island nations, every Western democracy has flopped in handling C19, while scare-mongering the ailment to the moon.

    Hard to believe as recently as 1968, the Hong Kong flu took out up to 100,000 Americans, with hardly any policy debates at all. In the 1957-8 flu, more than 100,000 Americans died on a population about on half of today’s, and again life went on.

    Today in the US the government scaremongers the population, straitjackets the economy, deploy ineffective lockdowns, while partisans blame the other political party for results.

    A confederacy of dunces.

  21. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    21. October 2020 at 18:32

    Those making the claim that America’s response to the pandemic has been as good as China’s should try the mental exercise of taking the opposing position. You’ll notice that it’s far easier to make your points. And you can make those points without ever needing to say that you want the US to be ruled by the CCP.
    Simply put, we blew the pandemic and a number of others didn’t. Admitting that is the first step to figuring our way out of this mess. Learning from those others is the next step.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2020 at 18:43

    And so we have commenters who think:

    1. I am defending the CCP

    2. I believe in an “authoritarian solution” to covid.

    3. Trump has been encouraging masks

    4. I favor the California Dems

    5. Australia and New Zealand are not Western countries.

    6. Singapore and China have similar economic models

    7. My research was never published

    LOL, this comment section is becoming a clown show

    Jayne, It’s possible that our demographics make it difficult to match Australia’s success. But is that an excuse for not even trying? We literally twiddled our thumbs for 6 weeks after we knew about the problem.

    Everyone, As for all those people who think America’s too “free” to control an epidemic, I’d point to the Snowden revelations. And I assure you that if another such epidemic occurs in 5 or 10 years, all those freedoms will go right out the window and we’ll do the exact same as Australia and NZ.

  23. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    21. October 2020 at 18:44


    if you look carefully and squint your eyes a little, you can see AU and NZ learning from Asia already. They’re steeply, deeply, culturally Western countries, but they’re also naturally immersed in APAC and have close trade ties with it. The strictness of their lockdowns and the speed and efficiency with which they enacted them is closer to Taiwan than to the US.

    The big soul searching in the US will come not when, as now, white people become less obviously dominant in society. It will come when the US is forced to learn from China.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2020 at 18:46

    mbka, You said:

    “This comment section is hilarious,”

    Ha! I wrote my previous reply before reading your comment.

  25. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 18:46

    Carl, has anyone made this claim?

    Those making the claim that America’s response to the pandemic has been as good as China’s

  26. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 18:57

    I stopped reading this blog when Sumner insisted Antifa was just an idea, with no DNC support. How’d that turn out? 2 billion of insured arson, and perhaps 10 billion of uninsured damages?

    Turns out this place is still full of clowns who misrepresent everything.

    I actually agree with sumner on some things. I supported 30 days of lockdown in march/april, but it became clear almost immediately that we don’t have the culture or institutions for that strategy to succeed.

    Smart people adjust when their initial views are falsified.

    But the Sumners of the world insist they aren’t “for” anything and their views are being misrepresented, while simultaneously misrepresenting the views of commenters.

  27. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 19:13

    mbka is right that the USA needs to learn from China, but evasive on the correct lessons.

    The Chinavirus may have come from a pangolin, but China would probably be slaughtering pangolins if that were true.

    More likely the virus came from a lab, but either way the ***USA SHOULD ASSUME THE VIRUS CAME FROM A LAB*** and prepare for the next one.

    We need better test and trace. Copy Singapore and Taiwan. Maybe Sumner agrees? But we also need to understand that American values prioritize freedom. We also differentially promote incompent bureaucrats (which is also a consequence of diversity).

    Nothing is free or assured. AUS and NZ are small island nations hit in the middle of summer. The US was hit in winter, and immediately hammered by propaganda that travel bans are racist, cordon sanitaire of NY is illegal, etc. It probably didn’t matter anyway, but our minimal test and trace was decisively overwhelmed with politics as an accelerant.

  28. Gravatar of miro miro
    21. October 2020 at 19:13

    I was in China and traveling during the early weeks of January (leaving around the 17th or so).

    The idea that China did not warn people about the pandemic during those early days is entirely false – there were postings about it all over the airports that I was traveling in, although they were mostly focused on travelers from Wuhan.

  29. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 19:24


    China banned domestic flights from Wuhan, but encouraged international ones.

  30. Gravatar of Skeptical Skeptical
    21. October 2020 at 19:39

    Good lord this post brought out the crazies.

    – the virus isn’t from a lab
    – the cultural insecurity is palpable
    – this has nothing to do with checks and balances
    – this has nothing to do with “we’re so free we can’t X”
    – Taiwan is not an authoritarian nation (although it was in recent history)
    – the US government is not respecting your data privacy in any way whatsoever, let’s not pretend otherwise
    – the equilibrium is where the NSA can read your emails but can’t use it to track a disease….how’s that for a local minimum

    Large sections of the West to include the US have blatantly incompetent governance and, frankly, dysfunctional societies. Usually this doesn’t matter that much: homelessness, opioid addiction, and low labor force participation rates aren’t great but are largely ignorable.

    Once in a great while you actually need a functional society to do something and the lack of which actually causes some serious harm. This is one of those times

  31. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 19:42

    Also I couldn’t care less about CALIFORNIA Demoncrats. California can destroy itself if it wants.

    I CARE that NANCY PELOSI is going to be SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE in 2021.

    I CARE that KAMALA HARRIS is going to be PRESIDENT OF USA in 2021.

  32. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 19:44

    Skeptical wrote: “– the virus isn’t from a lab”

    Proof? Or just another bullshit artist?

    Shouldn’t we assume the worst for biodefense purposes?

  33. Gravatar of Skeptical Skeptical
    21. October 2020 at 19:52


    Yes, and NASA should immediately assume the moon is now made of cheese for space defense purposes.

    I have the null hypothesis. You have a blatant nonsense conspiracy theory. The burden of proof is not on me here.

  34. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 20:00

    Virus came from Yunnan but emerged next to a lab doing gain-of-function research in Wuhan. Burden of proof is on you.

  35. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    21. October 2020 at 20:22


    “And I assure you that if another such epidemic occurs in 5 or 10 years, all those freedoms will go right out the window and we’ll do the exact same as Australia and NZ.”

    … and I replied to Carl before this of yours popped up 🙂

  36. Gravatar of Skeptical Skeptical
    21. October 2020 at 21:04

    Virus came from Yunnan but emerged next to a lab doing gain-of-function research in Wuhan. Burden of proof is on you.

    You have a baseless conspiracy theory that goes against the overwhelming consensus of virology experts. I have the null hypothesis, that just like SARS and MERS it crossed over from animals to humans.

    You should stop watching Alex Jones

  37. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 21:14

    Argumentum ad Alex Jones?

    Who is Alex Jones? I don’t follow him.

    Apparently “Skeptical” is a fucking clown, just like the other Sumner Fanboies. Any original thoughts?

  38. Gravatar of Skeptical Skeptical
    21. October 2020 at 21:38

    Yeah, you’re ranting about politics in all caps, spreading baseless conspiracy theories about a global pandemic, and issuing profanity laced pointless insults.

    I went with Alex Jones, but given the fruitless rage I’m leaning closer to /pol/-tard in the wild

  39. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    21. October 2020 at 22:02


    Struggling to find an “all caps” in my previous post, Mental Midget!

  40. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    21. October 2020 at 23:43

    Sumner: “Australia and New Zealand also had effective responses. And although Melbourne was recently hit by a big second wave, the Aussie government quickly got it under control. So it wasn’t just East Asian countries that knew what to do.”

    Scott still doesn’t get this virus at all. Gee, what a surprise since he is an economist. What exactly did Japan “know what to do” when the Western media mocked Japan for incompetence and said it was hiding cases so that it could still have the summer Olympics? South Korea was held up as an example of testing competence despite that it, as with Japan, had the lowest number of tests.

  41. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    21. October 2020 at 23:55

    Gresham’s Law of Commentators in full-swing today, I see.

  42. Gravatar of Sun Sun
    22. October 2020 at 02:52

    Todd Kreider.

    I don’t know for Japan, but Korea has a low number of tests because they did targeted testing and contact tracing. You don’t just throw in all the tests you can like a big brute and hope that the virus disappears, which is what the US did. US actions concerning the virus are a big circus show, where all Americans have rallied to debate something where there really should be no debate, and where science and logic have gone out the window. The US has one of the highest test per capita now, yet it’s completely worthless because they completely missed the point of testing. Same thing with masks. Baboons comically incapable of wearing them correctly aside, even the Americans wearing them correctly still wear them like a talisman. People still bunch up, some remove them to talk to strangers, to eat their sandwich in public, to take a sip of coffee, go to parties. This country is doomed.

  43. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    22. October 2020 at 05:31

    If you’re not trying to make excuses for the US pandemic response, then why are you getting all worked up about this blog post? And, you put the word “successful” in quotes when describing the responses of all the countries that had low infection and fatality rates.
    We have one of the highest infection and fatality rates in the world and we’ve gone trillions deeper into debt. I don’t have a hard time saying that other countries have been objectively successful and we have objectively screwed the pooch.

  44. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. October 2020 at 06:26

    Steve, You said:

    “I stopped reading this blog when Sumner insisted Antifa was just an idea, with no DNC support. How’d that turn out? 2 billion of insured arson, and perhaps 10 billion of uninsured damages?”

    I love making fun of these sorts of comments. First, you obviously haven’t stopped reading this blog! So you are a liar. Second, the DNC is not antifa, so you are a conspiracy nut. Third, antifa (while likely a very bad group) is certainly not responsible for 10 billion in uninsured damages. Not even $10 billion. So you are also innumerate.

    Just a typical moneyillusion commenter.

    You said:

    “I actually agree with sumner on some things. I supported 30 days of lockdown in march/april”

    I never advocated lockdowns, so don’t imply I did.

    As for “freedom” I notice that right wingers think America took the “freedom” road, despite our lockdowns, while Taiwan’s lack of lockdowns is “authoritarianism”. To each their own.

    Steve, You said:

    “China banned domestic flights from Wuhan, but encouraged international ones.”

    Nope, Another lie from right wing sources. The source of the lie has since admitted it was a lie.

    Steve, this is what happens when you rely on the right wing media bubble. You live in a world of lies.

    You said:

    “Virus came from Yunnan but emerged next to a lab doing gain-of-function research in Wuhan. Burden of proof is on you.”

    LOL, it’s that exactly where the CIA would place it if it came from a US lab, and we wanted to blame China? Sigh . . .

    Todd, Even someone as clueless as you can’t possibly believe that the number of tests shows how effective the testing system is. Stop trolling. And have you no shame. A few week ago you said I was wrong when I said Covid was starting to rise again in America. At some point will you admit that your whole worldview is wrong? How much evidence do you need?

    I’ve been wrong about some things—I thought at the beginning that we’d handle it as well as Australia. But I learn from my mistakes, I don’t cling on to the same discredited theories, just because it’s what I’d like to believe.

  45. Gravatar of Student Student
    22. October 2020 at 06:29

    Wow, these comments….

    We blew it, and we blew it badly. While it’s not Trump’s fault we got hit with the virus (it was here before anyone even knew it could spread human to human), it is his fault that our response would have been better if he sat in his room watching shark week reruns for 9 straight months. Literally, a random person off the street would have done better. Not only did Trump not help, he actually made the problem worse. If he just shut up and said nothing, more people would at least wear masks haha.

  46. Gravatar of Student Student
    22. October 2020 at 06:39

    Steve needs to remove the American flag from his ass and learn how to accept justified criticism. What an ignorant snowflake…

  47. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. October 2020 at 06:43

    China is your Trump—it is not so much you like them as it is you dislike the critique that has been overused to shift “blame”–because the West “did not take it seriously”, while the Chinese did. I have no idea if that premise is true, but it is certainly plausible enough.

    My “response” was likely typical—“oh here go again, another almost pandemic coming from China that does not pan out”. It seems likely that thought was everywhere—-except China

    Why? I think you de-emphasized the “why”. They knew what it was—-certainly knew more about it than us. Wet markets or accident from a lab. Of course they knew more, because their conditions in some way created it—-just like our conditions made us ignore it.

    Notice I am not allocating “moral blame”. But you are–or at least “stupidity blame”—which makes you seem like a creep.

  48. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    22. October 2020 at 06:46

    Well, all the hardest hit countries have been in South America, while Africa has been only hit lightly. This is because Africans did all the right things and South Americans did all the wrong things.

    Clearly, there are things that could have been done better, and the US comes out pretty bad overall (I mean, look at Canada), but it seems obvious to me that a major factor is geography/climate, some places were more susceptible than others, and it’s not over yet.

    In the US, your home state of Wisconsin is correctly identified as having managed Rona much better than ALL the states surrounding it (not just Illinois, but Iowa and Minnesota and Michigan too). As the virus rotates back north, Wisconsin is now on a path of catching up with its neighbors. Chicago, which was clobbered, seems to be handling the second wave better than most. Not as well as NY and NJ however. I wonder what their magic is.

  49. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    22. October 2020 at 08:28

    “At some point will you admit that your whole worldview is wrong? How much evidence do you need?”


    Scott, I don’t have a “worldview” with respect to coronavirus and have been agnostic about many aspects as you write with uninformed certainty for reasons I don’t understand.

    My several views are in line with what health organizations around the world were saying prior to March 2020 before many, but not all, flipped 180 degrees without providing any reasons. Fauci is at the top of the flipper list: “lockdowns don’t work” (Jan. 20) “The masks sold at drugstores don’t truly protect anyone. If you look at the masks that you buy in a drug store, the leakage around that doesn’t do much to protect you.” (Feb. 17) But from April those masks magically turned into life savers? Religious thinking, Scott.

    You wrote that Trump was twiddling his thumbs for six weeks but left out that Fauci was telling the President that there was no concern for the U.S. during that time.

    With respect to Japan and South Korea, how do you explain what happened in 2009 when 100 Japanese, 200 Koreans and 150 Australians died of H1N1 (swine flu) while the CDC says between 8,000 and 18,000 Americans died? Did those three countries do “great against the virus” as opposed to America’s “poor performance” then?

    A paper pointed out that if you put Australia’s 100 to 200 H1N1 deaths into the CDC model, they actually had 1,400 deaths, which if the population of the U.S. is equivalent to about 18,000 H1N1 adjusted deaths.

    Suddenly Australia, South Korea and Japan don’t look as if they did great against H1N1 once you factor in reality, which Scott doesn’t seem to keen on doing.

    With coronavirus, nobody is using a model to count Covid-19 deaths for whatever reason but countries are counting deaths differently. Even Scotland and England weren’t counting Covid deaths the same way until mid July when England decided to use a 28 day cut off as Scotland was doing the entire time, so deaths were reduced 10% there.

    We also should try not to be as naïve as Scott into assuming all populations are equivalent (including levels of previous immunity) when they clearly are not.

  50. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    22. October 2020 at 08:54


    Scott linked to a silly Washington Post article which misrepresented what the CDC said. Once again, Scott linking to something this poor demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the basics of this pandemic.
    Actually, the issue of excess deaths isn’t that simple as Nobel laureate Michael Levitt has pointed out, so I can see why Scott might not understand this at first even though you do.

  51. Gravatar of Alan Goldhammer Alan Goldhammer
    22. October 2020 at 10:26

    The comments to this post are a perfect example of confirmation bias in action. Everyone should take a chill pill and watch Alex Gibney’s new documentary on the US COVID-19 response that just went up on Hulu the other day. “Totally Under Control” will teach you all something worthwhile. For those who don’t want to watch it, get your hydroxychloroquine scrips filled and you will be protected. No need to wear masks!

  52. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    22. October 2020 at 10:55

    Speaking of masks, the lead author of a 6,000 person Danish mask effectiveness study was asked when his group’s paper will be published, and he replied: “When a journal will have the courage to publish it.”

    Gee, I wonder what that research team found?

  53. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    22. October 2020 at 13:50

    There aren’t as many crazies as some here claim, but Steve and Todd write a lot and are very loud. On the other hand, Covid-19 seems to be a disease that spreads very much through superspreading events, so unfortunately even a few crazies (who don’t follow the rules) might be enough to drive us over the edge.

    This doesn’t mean that one cannot learn something from anyone, even from the “crazies”. The lab theory is not so completely implausible as the “rational” side likes to claim.

    The same is true for the “flight theory”, if you just look at the traffic, then flights from Wuhan were drastically reduced, but other flights? Not so much. That was a huge mistake, studies have proven that one can reduce the number of cases by 95-99%, if one locks down Wuhan, or China for that matter, early enough. Just leave moralizing outside, from both sides.

    This is not a disease that spreads worldwide by car or by foot in such a short time. It’s only the flights. Kill the flights early enough and the problem is solved. All flights should have been canceled asap. We should remember that for the next virus problem please. Unfortunately, the way it seems now, we won’t.

    Brian also makes good points.

    It also seems kind of naive to believe that this disease can be treated without quite “authoritarian” measures. For example, there will always be quite a number of “crazies” in Western countries, “free thinkers” who won’t listen out of principle.

    Social control, role models and imitation alone no longer seems to work, today anyone can be a sender, the “crazies” are role models to one another.

    In the end, the most extreme of these people might only be kept in line by quite “authoritarian” measures: regulatory authorities, police, severe fines, prison, psychiatric wards, blocking of whole regions and cities.

    One can observe this for example Germany right now, where there are actually many good role models, the vast majority of media are also controlled by the self-declared “good” and “rational” side, nevertheless the number of cases is exploding right now, there are too many outliers, too many people do not participate anymore. And in Germany things are still going comparatively “well”, in the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic and Poland things are currently looking even worse.

    These are rather bleak prospects if a really critical virus develops pandemic potential.

    A country like Singapore would, in an emergency, simply cut off a finger, and a hand, and an arm, if there is no other way. We would just lie down and die.

  54. Gravatar of Charles Richardson Charles Richardson
    22. October 2020 at 13:52

    Great post, but just one small correction. You say “And although Melbourne was recently hit by a big second wave, the Aussie government quickly got it under control.” It was the Victorian (state) government that got it under control (although it was also its negligence that was partly responsible for it happening); the Australian (federal) government was worse than useless.

  55. Gravatar of Alan Goldhammer Alan Goldhammer
    22. October 2020 at 13:55

    @Todd Kreider – Personally I think this ‘Danish Mask Study’ is bogus. If the guy was serious he could have uploaded it to one of the medRxiv preprint server for all to read. I look at this every day for my COVID-19 newsletter and have not seen anything from Denmark on this at all. In fact, most of the papers show that masks do work including the one from Jena in Germany that had a comparison city not that far away. Jena instituted a mask mandate and cases went to zero. Erfurt still had cases for four weeks until their mask policy kicked in and their cases went to zero. this is as good as it gets for a trial.

    It helps to read the primary literature rather than just parroting Tweets that may or may not be true.

  56. Gravatar of Fazzy Fazzy
    22. October 2020 at 14:32

    How is it so hard for so many of you that until there is scientific proof of something, scientists don’t act like they know something works or not? In absence of data proving FOR SURE that masks helped prevent infections, scientists had to contend with the following facts that HAVE been researched and proven :

    – People without training don’t know how to use masks properly
    – People who don’t know how to use masks properly are at a high risk of spreading the pathogens found on the mask with their hands
    – Hands are the #1 vehicle for the transmission of droplet-bound pathogens
    – Covid-19 is transmitted through droplets
    – Wearing protective equipment creates a false sense of security in untrained people, which leads to them adopting riskier behaviour that increases the spread of pathogens
    – There aren’t even enough masks for health care workers, who are the people who are the most exposed and are also people who know how to properly use masks negating all of the above.

    So at that point, the knowledge that scientists had very much pointed to the public wearing masks being a bad idea and that it would be better off for people to remain rightly scared of the virus and convinced that staying away from other people and washing your hands regularly was the only way to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

    THEN they did studies about wearing surgical or cloth masks by the public and THEN they found out that the protection that masks provided outweighed all the negatives above.

    And THEN they are right now discovering that Covid-19 is not quite airborne but almost.

    Jesus Christ people it really isn’t hard to understand science. Scientists aren’t morons who assume that something is true just because it seemingly makes sense and they don’t go and make recommendations based on unproven claims. I know that this is really really really difficult to understand for the not so smart, but that’s how science works.

  57. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    22. October 2020 at 15:05


    Wuhan has a population of 58.5 million people and had 47 deaths per million. The hypothesis is that it circulated there quietly and largely unchecked and blew past the herd immunity threshold. It’s a hypothesis worth considering for the “Asia/Oceana” divide. It would also explain why Central Africa has done well (high circulation of coronaviruses).

    Anyway, there’s little point in commenting if there’s nothing to add or question.

  58. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatics Cartesian Theatics
    22. October 2020 at 15:56

    Forgot to mention, the bi-weekly cases per million as of Oct 22 in Australia is 10. In Canada–seemingly a roughly similar country–the rate bi-weekly case rate is 880(!). That’s almost 100x. Bats are sometimes consumed in Australia, thus there’s likely to be a higher circulation of bat corona viruses. Canada isn’t even adjacent to a country that consumes bats. Just saying it’s something to consider.

    The bi-weekly case map lines up surprisingly well with bat eating countries:

    There’s some counter-weights to the argument for sure, but I’d be willing to be it’s at least a factor.

  59. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    22. October 2020 at 16:59

    “most of the papers show that masks do work including the one from Jena in Germany that had a comparison city not that far away.”

    No, the do not, and life Scott you won’t link to an actual study whereas I have linked to both the meta study published this year and to the 2015 Australian study.

    The Danish newspaper headline is: “Does a mask work? Top journals refuse to print the Danish answer.”

  60. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    22. October 2020 at 18:52

    Oops, typed too fast. “No, they do not, and like Scott, you won’t link to an actual study.”

    Much better!

  61. Gravatar of Cartesian Theatrics Cartesian Theatrics
    22. October 2020 at 20:15

    However well masks may work (unlikely to be a keystone variable), it seems clear to me that high tech super-masks are possible to engineer. Yet nothing was done about this for decades despite the industry knowing that a pandemic was imminent. The first UV mask was just developed:

    I can’t even find info on whether it’s known that uv shreds covid-19. It shreds other SARS viruses.

    By the looks of it, we’re doomed to go through the same song and dance over masks next pandemic because the elites believe in authoritarian control over scientific argument. They’re very unimaginative (not surprisingly because they want control).

  62. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    22. October 2020 at 20:38

    Student, Yes, he actively worked to make the problem worse.

    Michael, Somehow Taiwan and other East Asian countries took it seriously. But yes, we missed the boat early, and I include myself.

    Todd, I’m not going to waste time with all your nutty conspiracy theories. You’ve been wrong about almost everything, and keep refusing to admit that you are wrong.

    Christian, You said:

    “This is not a disease that spreads worldwide by car or by foot in such a short time. It’s only the flights. Kill the flights early enough and the problem is solved. All flights should have been canceled asap. We should remember that for the next virus problem please. Unfortunately, the way it seems now, we won’t.”

    Just the opposite. This time we under-reacted. Next time we’ll overreact.

    Thanks Charles.

    Cartesian, You said:

    “Wuhan has a population of 58.5 million people”

    Actually, it has around 14 million. I do agree that some areas like SE Asia might have had some natural immunity. Maybe parts of Africa. But remember how quickly it went through that Korean religious cult—East Asians are certainly susceptible.

  63. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    23. October 2020 at 03:22

    Off the rails Scott. What conspiracy theories? A paper was blocked in spring that showed herd immunity might be lower than thought. You have religious views about the pandemic, and I can see how those would be hard to shake.

  64. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. October 2020 at 06:15

    I have said the following too many times to count. It is impossible for me to believe it is remotely plausible the reason Taiwan, Japan, S.Korea (I have no idea what China’s numbers are——nationwide, they can bury (no pun) thousands of deaths a day and know one would know,it. And what is their counting method?)

    So Japan has 1/200th or less deaths per million. I believe that—-to some degree. I know that our CDC implied that ——-absent cures and vaccines——-all we could do was spread the deaths out—-or flatten the curve. We could not limit the total number that would die. I still have no idea what we think. Does the virus die on its own accord over time? Have curatives reached their limit of helping? What we do know is global deaths are statistically a constant——and have been since at least June 1.

    The only plausible explanation for Japan and Taiwan for example is less disposition to catch it—-perhaps they have 100s of years of dealing with this. This is not to say they did not prepare well——-but you may believe that Japan, e.g., deaths are so low due to being ready better——-but I don’t. It is impossible.

  65. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. October 2020 at 06:17

    First paragraph above left out phrase “is due to their being more ready”.

  66. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. October 2020 at 07:28

    Michael, You said:

    “(I have no idea what China’s numbers are——nationwide, they can bury (no pun) thousands of deaths a day and know one would know,it. And what is their counting method?)”

    False. China’s nowhere near as closed as North Korea. My wife’s there right now. She says things are clearly back to normal.

    You said:

    “The only plausible explanation for Japan and Taiwan for example is less disposition to catch it—-”

    So Wuhan had 4000 deaths (at least) and Taiwan with a much bigger population had 7 deaths, and the difference is . . . natural immunity in Taiwan but not Wuhan?

  67. Gravatar of Zbigniew Łukasiak Zbigniew Łukasiak
    23. October 2020 at 12:36

    Ad authoritarianism – the curious thing is that the West proved to be not authoritarian enough for any effective top down measures – but also authoritarian enough to prevent people from buying the cheap antigen tests and stopping them from developing more bottom up distributed solutions.

  68. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. October 2020 at 09:07

    Zbigniew, Well stated!

  69. Gravatar of Interesting, isn’t it? | Evocatively Ambiguous Interesting, isn’t it? | Evocatively Ambiguous
    28. October 2020 at 10:37

    […] Here is Scott Sumner: The West’s embarrassing response to Covid. […]

Leave a Reply