COVID-19 in the US

I’m thinking about how the pandemic will play out in the US. I think the experience of Singapore provides an illustrative example. Singapore did a good job of controlling the pandemic early on. The government took steps to put testing in place, identify and quarantine the infected, supply protective equipment so everyone could be masked in public, etc. And it worked, new cases dropped to near zero.

But Singapore isn’t just a prosperous, modern country, it also has a large pool of poor foreign workers, an underclass that doesn’t get government services, by design they get poorly treated and their problems ignored. COVID-19 is spreading among these people in Singapore now. The government wasn’t monitoring them and didn’t know this was happening until the outbreak was extensive. These people weren’t tested, weren’t supplied with protective equipment, and live and work in conditions that are crowded and allow disease to spread freely.

But all these people live in one country, and if the pandemic spreads in one segment of the population, it will spread everywhere, and this is how Singapore’s response failed.

The divide isn’t as stark in the US, but the US has always been a country with a prosperous segment of the population and large patches of underclass–people whose problems are ignored. Basic services are available to those with enough money, everyone else suffers their absence. The US government is organized to ignore the problems of the underclass–they don’t get health care, they are forced to work while sick and into old age. You can see this attitude in the federal government’s response–we have some testing, enough for the people who matter. Not enough protective gear for everyone, so it is distributed commercially–those with money can buy it.

What does this mean for the US response to COVID-19? It means that instead of a national effort, to test, treat, and protect everyone in the country, the US has been focusing on the upper class. Leaving some segments of the population where COVID-19 spreads freely. But the US has one connected population, there are plenty of contacts between people in different classes. The disease doesn’t respect the class boundaries, and so it will spread back to the upper class. A disease can’t be contained by a net with large holes.

So that’s the US response to the pandemic–rather than make a national effort, the US will take its usual approach. This will fail, and the pandemic will continue spreading. Better dead than egalitarian!

I expect the economic response will follow the same outline, and the US will focus on bailing out the ruling class and will choose to have a long and deep depression rather than have the government help everyone out and lift us out of the depression.

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