2020年10月6日 星期二

Lessons from a super-spreading White House

Our dysfunction runs deeper than we realized.
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By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

Like almost everyone who pays attention to the news, I’ve spent the past few days glued to one screen or another, waiting for the next bombshell to go off. But what have we learned from all of this? Of course, we’re learning that Donald Trump and those around him lie about everything and don’t care at all about endangering other people. But that’s more of a confirmation than a revelation — we basically already knew that, although we didn’t expect such graphic evidence. What’s actually new?

Well, one thing I’ve concluded is that I and most others thinking about it were wrong about climate change. Seriously — bear with me for a minute.

I don’t mean that we were wrong about the science. I’m not a climatologist, but my home base is a field, economics, in which serious researchers have to contend with a lot of pseudo-analysis coming from politically motivated hacks. So I know what both genuine expertise and crankery sound like, and I don’t have any doubts about the reality and danger of climate change.

Where I’m starting to think we were wrong was the politics.

Even a few months ago I would have said that the politics of climate action were hard, despite the scientific consensus, because of space and time. Space: the damage from greenhouse gas emissions falls on the planet as a whole, not the people next door, which makes it hard to motivate action against polluters. Time: the consequences of emissions unfold over decades, which makes it even harder to get people to act now.

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But dealing with Covid-19, while it bears a strong conceptual relationship to climate change — like emitting greenhouse gases, irresponsible behavior in a pandemic is an “externality,” a cost you impose on other people — is everything dealing with climate change is not.

The consequences of bad pandemic policy take months, not decades, to become obvious — it only took about two months for Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweets, and the premature reopening they helped inspire, to produce a deadly viral surge in the Sunbelt.

And it turns out to be relatively easy to link harm to specific actions. The coronavirus, we’re learning, isn’t mainly disseminated by those annoying people who can’t figure out that their masks should cover their noses as well as their mouths; instead, the main culprits are a relative handful of super-spreader events, in which large groups of people clump together while ignoring basic safety precautions.

So this should be easy. Cause and effect are pretty clearly linked, so it shouldn’t be hard to build a political consensus to do the right thing.

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Yet what we’re actually seeing is irresponsibility and denial. Taking even the simplest, cheapest actions to protect others — like wearing a face covering in public places — has become a partisan issue. And the party in power isn’t just refusing to crack down on potential super-spreader events, it’s holding such events itself. Future generations will find it hard to believe that the Rose Garden event for Amy Coney Barrett took place amid a pandemic; they’ll find it even harder to believe that Trump and company show every sign of having learned nothing from the wave of infections that has swept through Republican ranks.

The lesson I take is that our political dysfunction is even worse, our ability to rise to the occasion even lower, than I imagined. It’s hard to look at what’s happening now without feeling a sense of despair.

Quick Hits

Why k, not R, is the crucial number.

Contacting 206 on 206.

Covid-19 denial and fears of emasculation.

Not getting what “Macho Man” is about.

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Facing the Music

You better think it overYouTube

Well, not a nonlethal Rose Garden, anyway.

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