China is not a twentieth century country; it is a 21st century country with 19th century characteristics

The poster and economist Noah Smith wrote a dumb post on why China is a twentieth century country. Needless to say, this is not the case. Though all countries today are 21st century countries, one can sometimes usefully think of countries as being more similar to other places’ past than their present. For instance, the seventeenth century Chinese Empire had some resemblances to the Roman Empire, more than contemporary Britain did, at least. However, Smith’s claim is still largely inapt even given this generous assumption.

The twentieth century was dominated by war and extraordinary levels of military mobilization. China is not warlike, having not invaded any country since the 1980s and having a very low military share of GDP. The twentieth century had fairly weak globalization. China is very globalized. The twentieth century had already built nations (Japan, France, Britain, etc.). China is still nation building; its promotion of 普通话 resembles that of the French government’s promotion of standard French during the nineteenth century. Likewise, the characters have conspired to keep China’s effective literacy at levels reached in Western Europe 100-150 years ago. Rising coal use was a nineteenth century phenomenon much more than a twentieth century one, and China’s automobile ownership lags well behind its GDP per capita. Of course, China is much more a twenty-first century nation than it is a nineteenth century nation. Its use of digital technology is unprecedented in any previous century. Its electric grid was already built up by the end of the twentieth century. Its assertiveness on the world stage is a product of a response to American imperialism more than of any other phenomenon, and its foreign relations are thoroughly shaped by post-1991 American dominance. Its infrastructure development is grander than anything that ever happened before in any other place on Earth, though obviously has both nineteenth and twentieth century precedents. Though its demographics are somewhat reminiscent of those of nineteenth century France, low fertility is a typical 21st century phenomenon across the majority of countries. China’s diplomacy is also characteristically twenty-first century, especially in its avoidance of military confrontation, though it has nineteenth century parallels (e.g., British investment in Latin America, the nineteenth century “long peace”).

The most twentieth century-like thing about China is its uncanny similarity of its patterns of economic, commercial, and infrastructure development to post-WWII Japan. The expansion of neither economy resulted in military aggression and both concentrated heavily on exports of electronics, boosting their own dollar price levels to unusual heights and greatly impacting American discussion in the process. Its use of re-education camps as a means of reforming the population is also a phenomenon most commonly found in the twentieth century, though has nineteenth century parallels (e.g., U.S. Indian reservations). Most importantly, however, China doesn’t look like any twentieth century country in particular. It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s neither prewar nor postwar Japan. It certainly doesn’t resemble Maoist China or the economically inflexible Soviet Union, and resembles Republican China only very weakly. It’s certainly not twentieth century America, France, or Britain, and China resembles today’s America a lot more than it did any previous manifestation of America. Its closest resemblance among relevant 20th century countries is to the 1870-1918 German Empire and to mid-20th century Portugal/Spain, but the former spent most of its time in the nineteenth century and the resemblance between China and the latter is still pretty weak. China remains fundamentally a 21st century country with some characteristics of previous centuries, especially the nineteenth.

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China’s average IQ is probably around 92

The various lists of Chinese IQ by province out there tend to be unreliable. The average IQ of Taiwan, as calculated from the PISA data, is a mere 102.5 or slightly higher; it is silly to expect that of Fujian Province to be any higher than that (the 2018 PISA results for Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang, higher than Singapore, were obviously gamed, though the 2015 ones don’t seem to have been):

Where are all the Level 2 mainland Chinese performers?

Fujian is widely recognized as one of China’s three highest IQ provinces, having been severely overrepresented among imperial examination degree recipients as early as the Song Dynasty, and China is a fairly large and diverse country, so there is no chance at all China’s average IQ is above 100. Since it is best to place one’s estimates on the firmest of grounds, rather than potentially unrepresentative surveys, I have estimated the average IQ of the Chinese provinces by simply assuming a 1-to-1 relationship with provincial GDP per capita, setting the average IQ of Fujian province at 102.5 (the PISA-estimated average IQ of Taiwan), and setting the average IQ of southerly Guangxi province at 82.3 (the PISA-estimated average IQ of Indonesia). This is the most controversial assumption of my model, but there’s no obvious reason to believe it’s wrong. Recall that Guangxi province is, despite excellent infrastructure, actually poorer than Indonesia by PPP, and that the majority of Indonesian ancestry comes from Neolithic China by way of Malaysia (which has a PISA-estimated average IQ of 89.65). The Filipinos also originated from southern China at around the same time, but Guangxi has surely experienced admixture from Hunan and Guangdong since then, which is why I mark Guangxi’s average IQ as the same as that of Indonesia, rather than that of the Philippines.

The model and its results are posted here: https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/402265308770992130/817810732573786122/chinaiq.xlsx

So far as I can see, the results check out. Hong Kong’s PISA-estimated average IQ is five points higher than the modeled average for Guangdong province, hardly a severe urban-rural divide. Gansu, the lowest recorded province, has a modeled average IQ of 77.8, almost as low as the Philippines (PISA-estimated average IQ of 77.5) -but, then again, the province is almost as poor as the Philippines by PPP. Shanghai is at 111, slightly higher than Singapore (PISA-estimated average IQ 108.45). The most questionable results are those for the northern provinces, where incomes have obviously been lowered by an overly inefficient state-led economic model -but it is likely using the 2010 GDP per capita data would have placed the average IQ of the northern provinces too high. I doubt Hebei really is as low as 84 or Heilongjiang as low as 78.5.

Overall, the model estimates Chinese average IQ at 91.67, just above that of Serbia (PISA-estimated average IQ 91.35) and higher than those of Chile, Romania, and Malaysia. This estimate is hardly ridiculous – China today is still poorer by PPP than Thailand (PISA-estimated average IQ 86.92), and while there surely is a gap in efficiency between Chinese and Thai capitalism, I doubt it is severe enough to result in China’s average IQ level being similar to that of Western Europe.

“Low Count” for Hispaniola completely vindicated

I wrote two posts back in 2014 on the population size of Hispaniola estimating its precontact population at around 250K (generously assuming 9-10% Native population decline per year since contact and Old World urban population density for the island’s largest settlements); it appears the actual population size (based on a genetic study profiled in the New York Times) was closest to Miguel de Pasamonte’s estimate of 60,000.

If China did everything right on coronavirus

The world economy would have undeniably have been less affected due to the avoidance of inefficient and ineffective lockdowns, but there would have been, if anything, more worldwide deaths due to world leaders delaying travel bans. China would have also been criticized far more for turning Wuhan into a giant prison both for citizens and foreign visitors, as well as for failing to prevent the pandemic for going global. It is known coronavirus was in northern Italy from mid-December onwards, nearly a month before the first recorded coronavirus death in Wuhan, and about the same time the Wuhan pneumonia cluster became notable. This was also two months before the north Italian outbreak made it into the world’s front pages. In order to prevent the pandemic from going global, China would not have merely had to prevent the Wuhan outbreak, it would have had to do contact tracing in northern Italy, France, and New York throughout December and January, something the leadership of these areas would likely have not permitted it to do. It would also have had to destroy the Western anti-mask consensus on its own, and to convince the Western epidemiological community (a pack of rats with the intelligence of bricks if there ever was one) that the pandemic was certain to go global simply due to its form of spread.

Of course, the real China did far from everything right. It opposed travel restrictions on its own citizens, it always verbally supported the deeply flawed and Western-dominated World Health Organization, and, crucially, it delayed travel restrictions, public gathering bans, and attempting to rigorously contact trace and quarantine all those infected as soon as it was aware of the Wuhan pneumonia cluster in December. But that, if anything, reduced the worldwide death toll by making it easy for foresighted leaders like Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Prayut Chan-Ocha, and Luis Lacalle Pou to prevent the coronavirus from ravaging their own countries. Without the terrible Wuhan death toll of January and February, the leaderships of Tunisia, Jordan, Central Europe, and Burma would all surely been much more hesitant about their own countries imposing travel restrictions on Western Europe and America that delayed their own large outbreaks by many months.

Oh; ye of little faith

The sly and neurotic Kentuckian Hong Konger Lyman Stone has recently written a piece arguing that China’s population is destined to fall and converge with that of the imperialist countries and their Pacific puppets. While I do agree with some of this argument -China’s high economic growth isn’t going to last forever, much of its demographic stagnation for the next couple decades is built in, and it is doubtful whether the whole country can economically converge with the typical European First World- it suffers from vastly insufficient faith in the Party’s mechanisms to implement its goals. Never mind the specifics of alliances, which can be debated later, I want to argue against this idea that China, of all countries, is destined toward demographic doom.

Throughout the 2010s, the party has been encumbered with at least three major problems, completely irresolvable by any of the imperialist countries had such problems been faced by them. Consider Xinjiang. In 2009, the province was chaotic and volatile, with hundreds of Chinese being killed by marauding Uyghurs.  Today, in a stunning demonstration of the success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, the problem is completely solved, Uyghur fertility has been forced to sub-replacement, nonstate violence in Xinjiang  is nonexistent, the population has been almost completely reeducated in the virtues of Xi Jinping Thought and the necessity of assimilation into Chinese society. Could anybody back at the beginning of the decade have predicted that China would solve its Uyghur problem so thoroughly? Hundreds of American and European ghettos remain -and, indeed, today they are expanding with vicious speed with the enthusiastic encouragement of the state; this does not mean that such a thing would be possible in the People’s Republic of China.

The government faced a severe crisis due to the 2019 autonomist protests in Hong Kong, which crippled that city’s status as a major zone of interaction between East and West. Today, Hong Kong is on its way to being a triumphant showpiece of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the Twenty-First Century, with resistance crushed and the city pacified, with all the American State Department’s promotion of the riots and demonstrations gone to waste.

The People’s Republic of China was, as is well known, the first country to experience a major outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Today, it has, unlike all the countries greater than 50 million other than Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, and South Korea (not coincidentally, all neighbors of China), nearly eliminated the virus, while it continues to spread completely unabated through vast swathes of the United States, its foremost imperial rival.

Anybody who did not have faith in the will and means of the party to achieve its goals of preventing chaos, mass death, and disaster in China utterly failed in his predictions in each of the above three events. While there is no guarantee the Chinese state’s will shall not fail in the question of demographics, its growing comfort in the use of authoritarian methods to enforce its social vision certainly seems likely to grow, not shrink, over the coming decade, and there is no reason to believe this comfort will not extend to the question of increasing Han fertility.

The party state’s will and control of the means of force appear firm. Thus, in a country as willing to use state power as China, the future total fertility rate is entirely dependent on the Party’s preferences. If it wants it to be 12, it will be 12. If it wants it to be 4, it will be 4. And if it wants it to be 2, it will definitely be 2. The methods to achieve heightened fertility are straightforward -bans on women from employment if they fail to bear a sufficient number children, strict and large fines on urban couples if they fail to have children after a certain age, strong incentives for young men to marry, a lowering of the age of marriage, promotion of marriage and childbearing in the means of mass information and among the elite. Given the party state’s already excessive inconveniencing of the public with checkpoints at public transportation, there is no reason to believe the party would sacrifice such a vital national goal as increasing fertility for the sake of some trivial public inconvenience about performing such a biologically necessary and ancient task.

Never mind experiencing demographic doom. With such methods as the party state has already very recently tried and used, China could (and likely will) comfortably expand its population while sending tens of millions of friendly emigrants directly to the West to promote its interests there.

Now, certainly, talk is cheap, it is, thus, firmly appropriate here for me to make a concrete prediction. I thus make two. While America’s White population will certainly decline between today and 2040, China’s Han population will rise. And while America’s White total fertility rate will stay consistently below 2 between now and 2040, China’s will rise to above 2.2 by the year 2035.

We’ll see who’s right soon enough. All I know is that when Xi has talked before, he meant business.

Why the Soviet System Failed

1. The economy was bad

2. The leadership quality was garbage

3. The leadership experienced no negative incentives for bad performance

1. and 2. are quite natural properties of Classical Leninism, which emphasizes socialism in regards to economic matters and the promotion of the working class and ideological dogmatists in matters of government. Though the Soviet economy did experience substantial economic convergence with the West from the end of the Civil War to the mid-1970s, and, due to 2. and 3., it clearly could have squeezed out a few more points of convergence with the imperialist countries, it is very clear the Classical Leninist system has inherent disadvantages over capitalism. 2. and 3. also resulted in the influx of antileninist subversive elements into the sinews of the polity, which ultimately resulted in its destruction politically as well as economically.

America currently experiences 2. and, despite elections being more competitive than ever before in its history, 3. So far, it does not experience 1, which saves it from being discredited from a purely economic standpoint, though by no means saves it from political collapse. Individual parts of the American system may experience penalties for bad performance, but the leadership structure as a whole never does, as the electoral penalty is usually over only one axis of bad performance. The competition is also, quite often, literally over if a person with a red or a blue colored hat, who differ with each other on about 1% of the policies they could realistically diverge on, gets to implement the exact same stupid policy in exactly the same fashion. Even primaries totally fail at producing competent leadership, due to ability to please the crowd being at best imperfectly correlated with ability to competently govern. Consider Cuomo. Also, term limits and powerful incumbency advantage, both de facto and de jure, make it impossible for there to be any political advantage in doing a good job relative to doing a bad job. Thus, no state governor except Steve Bullock so much as bothered to contain the coronavirus. Western-style democracy, as well as the current sovereign democratic Russian system, have failed. Chinese Communism has, so far, succeeded. It is, of course, essential for the thriving of the Chinese economy that the party’s control be laxened in certain areas, but, so far, the leadership has prioritized the economy over the extent of its reach, and has sought to find ways to ensure that there is no contradiction between the two goals.

How do we ensure the economy is good? Select the best economic policies. The economy is a machine for producing goods and services; finding ways to maximize output is relatively straightforward.

How do we ensure the leadership quality is good? Make the sovereign body (in the United States, the sovereign body is the overly large and unwieldy Congress, which should clearly be much smaller if it is to have impact) run by a council of superforecasters, who all believe exactly the same things and deviate from their understanding of future reality neither to the right nor to the left, which should make resolutions of questions of values much easier.

These superforecasters should freely design incentives for bad performance not just for themselves, but for all levels of society. They should understand the public will is quite malleable and hard to determine, so it is best not to rely too much on that thin reed.

China’s coronavirus response was basically Korea-level

We knew very little about the Chinese response to the coronavirus or about its appropriateness as of the first of January. We knew a lot more as of the first of February. Today, after the experience of over ten dozen countries, we know a lot more than we did on the first of February. It consistently reflects well on China relative to all but half a dozen or so countries, most of which border China- Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Slovakia, and consistently reflects poorly on the imperialist countries.

The novel coronavirus was first discovered in the city of Wuhan on December 26 and was first reported to the WHO on December 31. At the time, the government had almost no information to make decisions off of. How fast did it spread? How did it spread? What was the length of spread? For how long had it been spreading? What was the time from infection to symptom onset? Most importantly, was this basically H1N1 flu (a notorious overreported nothingburger which required no action whatsoever) or a highly deadly infection like MERS? None of the answers to these questions were known in late December. They are known now. It is now known the virus results in a large number of asymptomatic cases. It is now known that asymptomatic spread is quite common, except in children. It is now known that spread varies greatly depending on the nature of activities a person engages in, with mass gatherings with close face to face contact like a seafood market being far more likely to result in a large cluster of symptomatic cases than public transportation on which mask-wearing is universal and talking is rare. It is now known that universal mask-wearing is a great aid to helping keep the reproductive number of the virus down. It is also now known that when a significant spike in deaths is noticed in a city, the number of infections there immediately starts declining, not because of herd immunity, but due to rising social distancing due to growing awareness of the new deaths. It is also now known that counts of cases and deaths are notoriously lagging indicators of actual infections. None of this was known to Chinese authorities at the beginning of this year. Considering all this massive and fully excusable ignorance, their missteps make a great deal of sense and their overall response from December to this day appears quite admirable. The city of Wuhan was limited to some four thousand deaths and four hundred thousand infected, the latter number consistent with by seroprevalence tests and basic logic. Wuhan has the same population as Belgium, but, due to China’s much better response, less than half as many coronavirus deaths. Much worse undercounting took place in Italy; every country that experienced a major pandemic undercounted both coronavirus deaths and cases. The situation in the rest of China isn’t really relevant, since China’s government put out all the sparks emanating out of Wuhan (China’s most important transportation center) successfully, more or less as I expected them to at the time. I was correctly worried about Indonesia and India, though I overestimated the reproductive number in the southerly climes and incorrectly worried about Thailand and Malaysia.

It is pretty clear that China’s original response was less proactive than that of most of its neighbors -Thailand, Korea, Burma, Mongolia, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. The only truly good way to have prepared for this possibility was to have mandated mask-wearing in indoor areas in public every winter. Ideally, once the novel coronavirus was discovered, Chinese authorities would have engaged in a Vietnam-style strategy to contain its still minor outbreak -massive isolation of contacts combined with a quick rampup of testing to discover asymptomatic cases in order to quarantine them and their contacts, as well as shutting down outbound travel from Wuhan. But given the lack of existing knowledge of sustained community transmission with a high reproductive number until mid-January, this is a rather tall order for a country with no pre-existing knowledge about the peculiar features of the virus, and would have been well above typical First World levels of competence. I, for one, consistently favored the somewhat deficient, but still generally functional Korean-style approach from mid-January until April. Such proactive, affirmative, offensive measures to curb the spread of a virus causing just a few pneumonia cases was an approach only such a sublime republic as Mongolia could pull off with no error. Korea didn’t even begin testing all pneumonia cases for the coronavirus until February 18, more than twenty days after the first recorded case in the country. New viruses are discovered every day. It seems Chinese authorities chose not to respond proactively until more information about the virus could be known to confirm it would neither burn itself out nor would be as as much of a nothingburger as H1N1 flu. The high age of those most severely hit by the pneumonia must also have struck the authorities into some degree of complacency. As a result of mistakes committed by the Chinese authorities, Wuhan had as many as a hundred thousand infections by January 15, when overcrowded hospital videos began to become prominent on Chinese social networks. The long lag between infections, symptoms, and deaths combined with the high rate of asymptomatic cases and spread blindsided the authorities. Wuhan eventually had some four thousand deaths (or possibly as much as 2-3x more). Hong Kong, the pro-CCP leadership of which began to be concerned about the new virus as soon as it was reported and the first government in the world to Tweet out concern over it in English, had four deaths. New York City already has over twenty five thousand, and this pandemic isn’t even over. The situation in Wuhan roughly paralleled that in New York City with a difference of two months, with the exception that Wuhan’s infections obviously fell much faster than those in New York City once the Chinese government began taking anti-pandemic measures there. In both cases, infections during the portion of the epidemic during which they were still increasing were clearly undercounted by the authorities because of lack of early mass testing. It is questionable to the extreme that any but half a dozen other countries could have been as effective in countering the virus had its first superspreader event been within their borders. Overall, I am forced to agree with Ren Yi that “On a 10-point scale, I grade the Chinese government a 9 to 9.5.”. Certainly it confirms China has extraordinary levels of state capacity, far superior to those in any of the imperialist countries, and certainly far superior to any of the other BRICS. Of all the great countries exceeding seventy million in population, it’s clear only China, Vietnam, Japan, and, to a lesser extent, Germany and Turkey have any real ability to combat epidemics (we have yet to see about Ethiopia).

The decision to restrict within-country travel was easily the smartest decision Chinese authorities made relative to most of the world. It greatly decreased the number of sparks the various provincial governments had to put out in the majority of the country while the situation in Wuhan was getting under control. Very few other countries prevented outbound travel from their leading pandemic epicenters. Ultimately, however, the Chinese authorities’ delay in restricting internal travel might have been a highly salutary thing. It demonstrated to the entirety of the world that democracy had no impact whatsoever on good governance, that the Chinese system (so far) is largely superior to that of the First World, and that the West’s riches did not result from current “good institutions” so much as a set of past institutions that resulted in the creation of an innovative private sector in much earlier days. Had the Chinese government snuffed out its pandemic without it spreading to the rest of the world, the rest of the world might have thought China’s mistakes during its pandemic were demerits against its system, rather than common problems the rest of the world currently faces. The Chinese lockdown (or stay-at-home order), the portion of the response that most hurt its economy, was, in retrospect, a blunt, dumb, and unnecessary measure, and was seen as so by Western media at the time. But given the sheer number of supposedly competently administered countries that adopted it, it may well have been one of China’s smartest moves, as it demonstrated the imperialist countries were too racist to learn from their own vassals in Korea and Taiwan. Without the mass unemployment caused by the American lockdown, would the Anglo-American riots of May-June 2020 have even happened? Today in America, Britain, and Sweden, ideologues on both the left and right are actively encouraging people to spread the virus and work to obstruct contact tracing. But Biomaoist America and its English and Swedish pals are so much better than Dengist China!

On a related note, Australia has once again proven itself to be by far the most dynamic country in the Anglosphere in general, and, thus, the White world.

The China shock did hurt the American economy, but not in the way most explain

There is a common meme, true but misstated, that the rise of China 2003-2011 reduced the consumption of Americans. Behind it, though never explicitly stated, can only be the idea that newly rich Chinese consumed goods and services that would otherwise have been consumed by Americans.

The much more common statement of the view that the rise of China reduced the consumption of Americans is that the exchange of Chinese manufactured goods for American assets resulting from the U.S. capital account surplus with China transferred wealth from U.S. manufacturing workers and domestic industrial capitalists to U.S. construction workers, governments, and landlords. This is true enough. However, it does not constitute an overall consumption transfer from Chinese to Americans. Rather, it constitutes consumption transfer within the United States, e.g., from Michigan to Florida. Even the increasingly high price of U.S. assets (e.g., housing) resulting from the American capital account surplus with China could not have possibly decreased overall U.S. consumption on net. It would simply have been another within-country consumption transfer, that is, a transfer from domestic asset buyers to domestic asset owners. In a two-country model, anything other than perfectly free trade between the U.S. and China would only make economic sense by making tariff incidence fall on the producer, something only possible given very high importer levels of monopsony power (cf. economists’ optimal tariff theory).

However, the two country model does not apply for the 2003-2011 period. The rise of China did transfer overall consumption from Americans to Chinese, as well as to Russians, Saudis, and Brazilians. This was the case because the rise of China reduced U.S. export prices and increased its import prices.

Imagine three countries, the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia. There are two commodities, oil and manufactured goods. Both the U.S. and China export manufactured goods and import oil, while Saudi Arabia imports manufactured goods from both and exports oil to both. An increase in Chinese exports increases the price of oil, thus hurting Americans by increasing import prices and helping Saudis by increasing export prices. It also decreases the price of manufactured goods, thus hurting Americans by decreasing U.S. export prices and helping Saudis by decreasing Saudi import prices. This is, more or less, what happened to the U.S. during the 2003-2011 period, though I will not try to quantify the effect here. Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S., Portugal, and Italy all experienced unusually slow economic growth, while Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc. and, of course, the engine of this entire movement, China, all experienced unusually fast economic growth. Developing countries in South and Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe also experienced unusually fast economic growth due to greater credit supply during this process (Greece and Spain experienced this before 2009, but not after).

American protectionism against China in the period 2003-2011 would have worked to increase its consumption only insofar as it decreased U.S. import prices and (less plausibly) increased U.S. export prices. For this to be true, it would require a substantial amount of American monopsony power over Chinese manufactured goods, as well as smaller U.S. consumption gains from cheaper domestic prices of manufactured goods than U.S. consumption losses from more expensive imported commodities.

After 2011, the U.S. increasingly began to remedy its heavy reliance on imported oil while U.S.-China trade as a percentage of U.S. GDP stagnated, thus bringing an end to (though obviously not a full reversal of) the China shock. If the U.S. becomes a net commodities exporter, it will definitely economically benefit, on net, from the rise of China, and protectionism would be indisputably economically counterproductive.

Five myths of COVID

EDIT as of June 20: Though much of the reasoning in the below post has been proven wrong, especially Russia/Hungary/Poland having the best European responses to coronavirus (the actual best responses in Europe were in Greece, Finland, the Baltics, former Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia -the best response in Western Europe was Ireland’s), each of the five points clearly and firmly stands. I will, however, leave the post up for posterity without emendation. Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan performed terribly (though Burma, Laos, and Cambodia did very well). The general pattern of coronavirus cases as of June 17 is here. Once again, there no evidence at all populism solves anything. The virus has been controlled by democracies (New Zealand, Australia, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Uruguay, Paraguay, Tunisia, the Baltics, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, former Yugoslavia, Greece, Lebanon, Georgia), traditional monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, Brunei), hybrid regimes (Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Uganda, Cambodia), and Communist regimes (Cuba, Laos, China, Vietnam). Not a single “populist” government handled the crisis well, other than perhaps Serbia and Hungary, both of the governments of which are less “populist” and more “ethnonationalist”. “The exception that proves the rule” was much larger than I originally thought.

These are the five most pernicious myths I have seen regarding the COVID crisis from sources I regularly read. All are contradicted plainly by the facts.

1. Libertarians are at fault

The central problem in containing the epidemic in America in its early stage was a lack of testing. This lack of testing was not a natural process. It was a product of CDC incompetence and FDA overreach. America has many great healthcare companies, who would have loved to step up to the plate in the fight against COVID (as the great South Korean companies did in South Korea). They were prevented from doing so by the FDA delaying approval and the CDC deciding it would do all COVID testing for the United States, delaying the mass production of its own test, and creating testing criteria that guaranteed the virus would, unlike in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, or Russia, spread entirely undetected. The failure to contain the epidemic in its early stages in America was not primarily a failure of libertarianism or capitalism. It was a failure of socialism. Further deregulation- on state licensing, on remote diagnosis, etc. will be the most lasting consequence of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Those claiming current problems with the FDA and CDC are products of underfunding must explain how greater funding for these agencies would have fixed anything of importance in relation to this crisis. Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Korea all have smaller governments as a percentage of GDP than the United States, Spain and Italy both have larger.

The current shortages of personal protective equipment in the West are primarily a product of price gouging laws and export restrictions (and import taxes) by overzealously nationalist governments, not to mention FDA regulations on mask sterilization, not primarily failures of libertarianism or offshoring. If these restrictions did not exist and never had a chance to exist, then having redundant productive capacity for medical equipment around the world would be entirely improper. The expansion of capitalism around the world (“offshoring”) has dramatically increased the world’s capability to supply needed personal protective equipment. It is not a liability for the world in countering the pandemic, but perhaps its greatest asset.

2. Chinese lies are at fault

Of all myths of COVID, this is perhaps the least true and most pernicious. The Russian government, one of the friendliest neighbors of China, did not trust its lies one bit and unilaterally shut down travel from China even before Russia recorded its first cases. South Korea, the single friendliest country to China and Russia in the developed world, had one of the most competent responses in the world with the mildest travel bans. The United Arab Emirates, a tireless champion of China’s policies towards its Uyghur minority, had one of the best responses to the pandemic in the world and shut down travel to all China except Beijing on February 3. Italy, also friendly with China by Western standards, was one of the first countries to shut down travel with it. The less relevant countries with strong China ties- Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, etc.- all got a huge dose of coronavirus fears -and, just as importantly, a sense of identification with the struggles of China- from the messaging spread by their respective Chinese ambassadors. From this evidence, it seems much more that lack of listening to Chinese truths -and, just as importantly, lack of empathy with China was the central disease of the West. Chinese messaging primarily hurt China, mostly prior to mid-January. It had either no (Russia, Italy, the UAE) or a beneficial (South Asia) impact on China’s closest partners. The countries that had the worst responses were precisely those that have a tendency to least listen to “Chinese lies” and to least empathize with Chinese concerns.

3. Populism could have helped things

One of the best responses to the pandemic came from South Korean President Moon Jae-In. He might be considered a “populist” in a loose sense, but is closer to the opposite of the current vision of the “populist” in the Western media. Relatively China-friendly, left-wing, liberal, and skeptical of restrictions on migration, Moon’s government, unlike American authorities of both and of no parties, recognized the inevitability of the spread of the epidemic into the country and prepared for it without greatly disrupting the economy at any point by massively expanding testing and the tracing of infected. The people most responsible for the spread of the pandemic in Korea turned out to be not Chinese, but local cult members. For this, Moon was berated by the Western media, even as his approach proved to be among the most successful in the world.

Some have suggested the crisis represents the failure of parts of the West to maintain its domestic manufacturing. Say what you will, but globalization expands world production; it does not contract it. By allowing one country to manufacture medical supplies when another is down, it makes the world more resilient to disasters, not less. The only reason one would want to make products at home at higher cost than elsewhere is if countries elsewhere refuse to abide by the norms of globalization and resort to beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

Immigration restriction, another core element of populism, is at best tangentially relevant to the current crisis. While it’s certain the early spread of COVID was primarily due to Chinese immigrant communities, a future pandemic may originate anywhere on the globe. The benefits of normal global trade and travel substantially outweigh potential vulnerability to once-in-a-decade pandemics, especially to immigrants themselves.

There is only one grain of truth in the meme that populism could have alleviated the spread of the pandemic. It is this: the three most demonized countries of Europe in the Western press -Russia, Hungary, and Poland- had by far the best responses to the pandemic in Europe. But the sort of populism practiced in powerful countries aligned with imperialism, as exemplified by Trump, Johnson, and Bolsonaro, could never have countered the pandemic. Fundamentally, resistance to countering the illness relies on a sort of cultural chauvinism -as exemplified by Western advice against mask purchasing, rabid Sinophobia, and resistance to disruption in normal Western ways of life that are part and parcel of the drug of exceptionalism peddled by the merchants of imperialism in powerful countries. To these merchants of exceptionalism, the successful response of the East Asian and Arab countries to the virus did not provide inspiration for dealing with the virus in their own countries, but, rather, only confirmed the supremacy of ways of life introduced by Western imperialists- and, therefore, the mode of life existing within the core of the imperialist countries- over Chinese Communism. In contrast, the central ideology of the governments of Europe (once again, Russia, Hungary, Poland) that had the best responses to the pandemic was substantially closer to resistance against Western cultural overreach than the proud championing of Western cultural chauvinism universal among Western powerful-country “populists”.

Taiwan is the exception that proves the rule- the island is suffering a severe brain drain to the mainland, and the current government’s identity is so strongly embedded in literal Sinophobia -not hatred of Communist China, but actual, near-psychotic fear of it that any new strange illness coming out of the mainland rapidly becomes a source of concern at every level of government. Something similar can be said for Australia.

4. The media is particularly blameworthy

By polls, the media is one of the least trusted institutions on the pandemic. Though the Western media certainly had its failures, it is not the job of the media to respond to pandemics. It is the job of the media to report on them. The Wuhan pandemic was covered in fairly decent quantity in most mainstream Western sources, as was the spread of the virus to Korea, Iran, Italy, etc. Though many news sources did try to downplay the pandemic, this downplaying was assuming a competent response by the authorities actually responsible. It is not the job of the news media to replace the leaders in power, and it would have been quite difficult for anyone in January to have guessed how utterly stupid the authorities in the Western countries truly were. It is these authorities, not the media, who primarily failed in responding to the COVID pandemic. News media speculation about the stupidity of the people in power in the developed West would almost certainly have been just that, speculation, not reporting. The CDC, the FDA, the Surgeon General, the President of the United States, the Secretary of Commerce, state governors, the American public, etc., and their counterparts in Western Europe are all far more at fault than news sources giving the public information about the pandemic’s spread. In fact, many reporters did a fantastic job of covering how China contained its own crisis. Had the media been in charge of containing the pandemic, despite its flaws, I think the Western response would have been substantially superior to that in real life.

5. The danger of fear and misinformation

This is more a myth of the past, but still retains a surprising amount of currency among those more prone to trust authority. As anyone today understands, fear of fear turned out to be a substantially more damaging emotion than actual fear of the virus. The powerful today also tend to substantially underestimate how much more centralized the online media ecosystem is today than it was a decade or a decade and a half ago. There was (is) substantial concern from people in power about “misinformation” during the pandemic. In fact, misinformation from unofficial sources had almost no harmful impact on the public at all. Actual disinformation generally (and all influential disinformation) came from the people up top -the Surgeon General, the CDC, the WHO, Boris Johnson with his “herd immunity” strategy, the President of the United States, state governments, health officials, etc. It is worth remembering that the country that did most to counter “fear” and “disinformation” within its own borders was… China in December-early January. If there is anything this pandemic shows, it is the danger of trusting the people in power and of ignoring intelligent and powerless people on Internet.

The Myth of Desperation

One narrative that’s been floating around the lyin’ press throughout the past two years is that that Trump and Sanders voters were mainly driven by desperation -that one wouldn’t vote for a candidate of dramatic change if one was perfectly satisfied with one’s affairs.

Perhaps the perfect counterexample to that is the county in Michigan with the highest median household income and lowest poverty rate in the state -Livingston.

Livingston County is many things, but it ain’t desperate. It’s rich, very Republican -it went for John McCain with 55% of the vote in November 2008, and 61% of the vote for Mitt Romney in 2012- and is not the place where one would find out-of-work factory workers or coal miners discontented with their economic situation, because there aren’t much of them. And, during the 2016 primaries, the candidate there who got the most votes was Donald Trump. The candidate who got the second-most votes there was Bernie Sanders (indeed, Livingston County had a higher Bernie share in the Democratic primary than all the counties surrounding it). The candidate who got the third-most votes there was John Kasich -this county isn’t as socially conservative as the western part of the state. Nor did woke neocon Marco Rubio appeal there much -he got a lower share of the Republican vote there than in the rest of the state, and Rubio and Kasich’s vote share combined would not have sufficed to prevent Trump from winning it in the primary.

Now, before 2016, Michigan hadn’t had a real Democratic primary for ages. But it did have real Republican primaries in 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2012. And guess who won the vote in Livingston County (a solidly Republican county, it must be remembered) each time? Mitt Romney by double digits in 2012, Mitt Romney by double digits in 2008, George W. Bush by single digits in 2000 [most MI counties went for McCain at the time], and Bob Dole by double digits in 1996 (Buchanan did well in Lapeer and St. Clair, though, and nearly won the famous Macomb). Not Ron Paul. Not Mike Huckabee. Not Alan Keyes. Rich guy Mitt Romney and establishment candidate George W. Bush.

There are other examples of this. Nevada’s third congressional district. Long Island. In the general election only, Minnesota’s sixth and second congressional districts (though Trump did far worse than Rubio there in the caucuses, he did better than Romney there in the general election).

Now, yes, Trump and Sanders really did appeal more to those among the really desperate who are White, at least, relative to Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. The results of the 2016 primaries in the poorest non-Hispanic White majority congressional district in the country (KY-05) are enough to prove this. But that does not mean economic or social desperation was either a necessary or sufficient condition for Trump or Sanders support (many Whites in desperate rural areas in the South also voted for HRC in the primary).