2020年11月17日 星期二

Coronavirus Stockholm syndrome

The American right’s doomed love affair with Sweden.
Students gather to smoke and drink at Drakenbergsparken in Stockholm in April 2020.Andres Kudacki for The New York Times
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By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

One of the odder twists in the terrible saga of America’s failed Covid-19 response was the way the Trump administration and many U.S. conservatives fell briefly in love with Sweden. Yes, that Sweden, where universal health care is mostly provided directly by the government, where taxes take 44 percent of G.D.P. compared with just 24 percent here, where two-thirds of the work force is unionized.

Most of the time, in other words, Sweden is an example of everything conservatives hate; its very existence is a rebuttal to their claims that low taxes and harsh treatment of the poor are essential to prosperity.

But in this year of Covid, Sweden chose a different path from other European countries. Where its neighbors were imposing lockdowns to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Sweden chose to follow a strategy of “herd immunity” — letting the virus spread in the belief that once enough people had been infected and developed antibodies, the pandemic would burn out of its own accord.

I don’t know enough about Swedish politics and society to know why Swedish authorities were so willing to go their own way, so confident that they understood the pandemic better than anyone else in the world.

I do know that the U.S. right seized on the Swedish example, because the Swedes were doing what they themselves wanted to do about the coronavirus — nothing.

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As an aside, this is a familiar pattern in America. By and large, we’re remarkably unwilling to learn from other nation’s policies. But every once in a while people on the U.S. right become infatuated with a small, far away country of which they know nothing whose experience, they believe, confirms their prejudices.

For example, there was a brief period in the mid-2000s when U.S. conservatives who wanted to privatize Social Security constantly sang the praises of Chile’s retirement system, which they claimed demonstrated just how wonderfully their proposed reforms would work. As it turned out, the Chileans themselves hated the system, which provided very little security, and in 2008 they changed it in ways that made it more like … U.S. Social Security.

So it was with Sweden’s pandemic response. Conservatives — most notably Dr. Scott Atlas, the not-an-epidemiologist from the Hoover Institution who has become Donald Trump’s main coronavirus adviser — rushed to embrace the Swedish model. Atlas was praising Sweden as recently as late last month.

Meanwhile, however, the Swedes themselves are tacitly admitting that they made a terrible mistake.

Swedish authorities waved away the country’s experience in the spring, when it suffered far more infections and deaths than its neighbors. Just you wait, they said: we’re developing herd immunity, so we won’t have a second wave in the fall, while our neighbors will.

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Then the fall came, and Sweden is in fact having a second wave — much worse than the wave in its neighbors. And on Monday the nation imposed substantial new restrictions on public gatherings, although it’s still balking at a broader lockdown.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the failure of the Swedish model will change many minds here. As some wag put it, the modern U.S. right doesn’t believe in evidence-based policy, it believes in policy-based evidence: seizing on or, if necessary, inventing facts that seem to support what it wants to do anyway. And of course Donald Trump, who will still be president for another two months, never admits to anything inconvenient — up to and including the fact that he lost the election.

Anyway, conservatives’ love affair with Sweden will be over soon. And then they’ll be able to go back to denouncing what remains a very decent country as one of Europe’s “failed welfare states.”

Quick Hits

Remember when New York was doomed to suffer worse from Covid-19 because of its population density?

These days it’s one of the safest places in the country, because it has taken the pandemic seriously, while the virus burns through the Great Plains.

But this time economic aid doesn’t seem likely.

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