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The Limits of American Recovery

While most of the Global North has reached a state of cautious optimism after confronting COVID-19 head on, the United States continues to stand out for its persistently high rates of death and infection. This public-health failure, and the political dysfunction underpinning it, will remain a drag on economic performance.

BERKELEY – The United States is home to 4% of the world’s population but 21% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths; it accounts for 25% of the Global North’s population but 50% of its excess mortalities (deaths from all causes above the usual rate) registered during the pandemic.

Moreover, America’s current cumulative cases per million are almost four times higher than in the European Union (though the latter itself appears to be experiencing a second wave). While the US continues to lose around 1,000 people to COVID-19 each day, the EU’s daily death toll is closer to 300, and Asian countries in the Global North are losing almost nobody. And no, this is not a continental North American problem: Canada loses only around ten people per day to the virus.

After so many months of failure to confront the pandemic, America’s world-leading fatality and infection rates are no longer a surprise. The question is what the current trajectory of the pandemic means for the US economic recovery.