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American Exceptionalism Strikes Out

Following a massive surge in new COVID-19 cases across the South and Southwest, the United States increasingly stands out for its utter failure to manage the pandemic responsibly. Far from serving as a global source of inspiration, the "city on a hill" has now become a tragic cautionary tale.

BERKELEY – Once again, the United States is standing out as a world leader, but not for any reason anyone would want to emulate. In most of the Global North, the daily COVID-19 infection rate is down to around one per 5,000 people. When new cases do emerge, the bulk of them are caught quickly by testing, and then contained through contact tracing and quarantines. Thanks to these protocols, many countries have driven the COVID-19 reproduction rate below one, at which point the virus would eventually die out for a lack of new hosts to infect.

Moreover, across Europe, Asia, and many other parts of the world, most people recognize the need for social distancing and face masks, and do not see these precautions as an assault on their “freedom.” In places where compliance with such commonsense measures is the norm, there is every reason to expect that the COVID-19 death rate can be kept below one per 1,000 people – which is roughly one-tenth the death toll of the “Spanish influenza” epidemic at the end of World War I.

There also is every reason to anticipate a relatively quick economic rebound, provided that governments remember that the market was made by and for people, not vice versa. After addressing the public-health emergency, returning the economy to full employment should be the top priority, and it must not be sacrificed on the altar of austerity and financial orthodoxy.

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