The two biggest stories of the month are the outbreak of the coronavirus in China and the rise of socialism in the United States, as represented by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his unorthodox campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Although the two stories may seem unrelated, there are, in fact, important connections.
There has been much debate as to whether or not the coronavirus (coded as “CoVID-19” by the World Health Organization) emanated from a Chinese military-controlled bioweapons facility in Wuhan, located in Hubei Province. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is the most prominent figure pushing these claims, which appear credible. After all, Wuhan is ground zero for the outbreak of the disease.
Whether or not the disease did emanate from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is only part of the concern about the disease. A more pressing worry is whether the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is telling the truth about CoVID-19 and if Beijing really does have a handle on containing the epidemic.
Thousands of new cases of the disease have appeared around the world this week alone, and the CCP has been caught in baldfaced lies about the timing of the disease. China announced the existence of the disease to the world in the middle of January, although it has since been proven that Chinese authorities knew of the outbreak since at least December. There is even some evidence to suggest that Beijing knew about CoVID-19 even earlier than that and simply covered it up.
Wuhan-based ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang was exposed in December to the CoVID-19 strain at his hospital. After realizing he had caught some new disease, Li sent a private message to his colleagues over social media warning them of virus and encouraging them to take all measures to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, Li alerted Communist Party authorities in Wuhan—whereupon he was arrested by Chinese state security, interrogated, and made to sign a false confession stating he was engaged in “rumor-mongering.”
Li died earlier this month, but not before he managed to document the spread of the virus in Wuhan on his cellphone for the BBC.
The Chinese Communist Party has done its best to contain the truth about the coronavirus epidemic. Despite the assurances of the World Health Organization and the CCP, however, Beijing has not effectively contained the spread of the virus to the rest of the world.
The international community has continued praising (and accepting at face-value) China’s claims about the extent, origin, and efficacy of its response to the outbreak. Representatives of both WHO and the Trump Administration have assured the public that China’s strict quarantine measures may have prevented a pandemic from occurring and that the disease should be stunted by April, as warmer weather sets in.
Of course, none of this is accurate.
The fact that the CCP’s first response to the disease was not to alert the world but, instead, to arrest those medical professionals who were trying to warn the government about the disease—or that Beijing waited more than a month after the first warnings were supposedly issued from Wuhan—should prove how hollow are the paeans to centralized authority that Western elites so love.
Far from being “on top of things,” the CCP has been playing a dangerous game of catch-up.
And while it is by no means a fait accompli that freer, more decentralized society such as the United States inevitably would be any better at keeping the coronavirus contained, the fact that China has been held up as an effective alternative model to the Western system should be now called into question.
Too Much Centralization Kills
When power is too centralized and the individual is too marginalized in favor of group dynamics, such as is the case in the “socialism with Chinese characteristics” system that Beijing so loves, there is no guarantee of success. In fact, the Chinese response has now become so draconian that scores of healthy Chinese citizens in Wuhan are being placed in hospitals right alongside those who are clearly infected with CoVID-19.
Better safe than sorry, the Beijing authorities say. Safe for whom? Not for the citizens they risk exposing.
Of course, it is likely that the Chinese authorities cannot trust their own tests to determine whether or not someone is infected. In fact, China’s initial field tests for determining infection were woefully inaccurate. What’s more, the great centrally planned Chinese system was unprepared for this disaster (at least as unprepared as we decentralized Westerners are)—there has been a dangerous facemask shortage in China, for example.
Moreover, there is an ongoing shortage of the field kits that doctors need to conduct screenings for potential infections. Chinese authorities have also been caught playing with the accounting practices for cataloging the number of sick people.
So, when WHO tells the public that the disease may have been stemmed based solely on the CCP’s accounting practices, it’s wise to doubt the accuracy of the data.
Yes, the number of infected over the last week in China has “dropped,” but not necessarily because the virus has stopped spreading. The Chinese have simply changed their reporting methods, likely in order to manage perceptions and mitigate political damage at home and abroad.
Bernie Sanders’ Socialist Revolution in America
Which brings us to Bernie Sanders.
Here is a candidate who, for decades, has decried the decentralized and freewheeling capitalist system of the United States as inefficient and unfair. Certainly, the rise of shareholder capitalism in recent decades has led to some grotesque imbalances between the few haves and the many have-nots. All of this helps explain why the two populist candidates for president, Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders, are also the two most popular running in 2020.
The key difference is that President Trump believes in the basic fundamentals of the capitalist, decentralized order that has built America while Bernie claims to want to emulate the Nordic countries (all while lauding the authoritarian models of Cuba, the Soviet Union, and yes, China).
Coordination during a crisis is key. It turns out, however, that living in a system where all or most of the means of production are state-controlled—which Sanders has explicitly endorsed—is no more helpful in a crisis such as a global pandemic than the purportedly less efficient decentralized, capitalist Western model of government.
The great debate of the 21st century will be between those who want greater centralization and those of us who believe a decentralized network approach to society is the best solution to our woes. The centrally planned Chinese system has managed to catapult that country from agrarian backwater to a potent economic and military power in just two generations. Yet, there are still many weaknesses that the central-planning model will be unable to address: stanching pandemics (to say nothing of protecting individual rights) is one of them.
Americans who support Bernie Sanders’ approach to government should take heed: far from being superior to the decentralized approach, the centralized planning model has a tendency to stamp out innovation and relies solely on brute force to sustain itself.
The decentralized approach promises a higher survival rate in a crisis event while at least offering the potential to respect individual rights. The centralized approach, while promising greater and “scientific” control ultimately does little in the way of actually stemming a crisis. In reality, it merely prolongs it.