- Sweden Implemented the Relaxed Strategy Craved By the American Right
As the outbreak started to hit Scandinavia, Norway restricted outdoor gatherings to no more than five people and encouraged those inside to keep 6 feet away from each other. Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders as it also shuttered schools and restaurants and limited outdoor groups to 10 or fewer.
Sweden’s government, by contrast, said it was okay for up to 500 people to meet outside. Schools for children 16 and younger would remain open, as would other establishments from restaurants to hair salons.
When asked why Sweden’s strategy deviates from other countries’, Sweden’s influential former state epidemiologist Johan Giesecke quipped, “That is because everyone else is doing it wrong.” He went on to explain how he could be so confident: ”I think we will manage the epidemic without destroying the economy more than necessary. The absolutely most important thing is to protect the elderly from getting infected. I think we succeed quite well in that. It lies in the Swedish national character to do as one is told.”
2. Sweden’s Death Ratio Is Among the World’s Worst
With 79 deaths for every million citizens, the only countries among the Top 100 populated countries that surpass Sweden’s death toll are Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Holland, and Belgium. The country behind Sweden is Ireland, with a death toll approximately two-thirds the rate of Sweden. Italy and Spain, of course, are the countries considered to be experiencing disaster.
Holland is especially notable because it is a high-population density country whose officials took an approach only somewhat less relaxed than Sweden; they kept their stores open through the last week of March, drawing the anger of some Belgian officials who blame Holland for their problems.
The United Kingdom’s botched early ‘herd immunity’ strategy is infamous, and sent Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intensive care.
If the Swedish approach was meant to demonstrate that it was possible to avoid joining such company without imposing severe restrictions on citizens’ lives, so far it is failing.
3. Sweden’s Death Ratio Is Even Worse Than It Looks
But there is more: the countries experiencing heavy death tolls tend to be very densely populated. Among the Top 100 most-populated countries, Holland ranks fourth for population density. Belgium ranks ninth. Italy ranks twenty-second. Spain is forty-sixth. France is thirty-second. The United Kingdom ranks fourteenth.
Sweden is eighty-fifth.
4. Sweden’s Economy Is Tanking Worse Than America’s
The Washington Post reports:
Nor is there much indication that the Swedish economy is weathering the storm better than comparable countries. The drop in the stock market and the rise in unemployment are roughly in line with other advanced economies. According to official Swedish estimates, Sweden’s GDP is expected to contract by 3.4 percent this year, which is better than the 5.5 percent decline projected in a euro zone dragged down by Italy and Spain, but worse than the 2.9 percent decline prognosticated for the United States. If these prognoses are accurate, the Swedish experiment might indicate that the economic effects of the pandemic cannot be escaped by a laissez-faire approach, but that the crash is mainly driven by declining global demand, disruption in production chains, and a collective fear and loss of confidence among billions across the globe.
That’s why Fed officials say that the economic damage has far more to do with the fears over the virus than with the shutdown orders; if we open the economy too early and there is a spike in cases, then fear will prevail and the destabilization will start all over again:
Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin said the economy can’t bounce back until people feel comfortable to go out again to restaurants, baseball games or concerts. He sees parallels to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and how unsafe people felt to fly until the government enacted major security overhauls. There will need to be some sort of equivalent for the pandemic, whether it’s a vaccine or an antibody test.
This is in line with a new poll today showing nearly three-quarters of sports fans saying they do not want to attend a game again until they know there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.
5. A Lesson
The American right from the beginning of this crisis has been full of self-styled ‘skeptics’ — businessmen, anti-government pundits, Donald Trump apologists who disbelieve anything reported by the ‘mainstream media’ and think this is all about trying to ruin his best talking point for re-election, citizens who flatter themselves that they are ‘just asking questions’, and so forth. They want to believe that the shutdown orders themselves are the cause of our economic malaise; that we could make most of this suffering go away if we wanted to; that we do not really have hard choices to make; that we can have our cake and eat it, too; that we are not really in crisis and that this is a manufactured problem brought about by fear and hype.
It only it were true.
If we really want to mitigate the economic devastation brought about by this once-in-a-century crisis, we can funnel enough money to individuals and small businesses to keep them afloat until we have a viable, consistent treatment, or else a vaccine. The coronavirus crisis is not a crisis of choice. But the economic devastation brought to individuals heavily is a crisis of choice. The question is whether we have the will to help our people, or whether even in times like this, concerns about ‘tightening our belts’ and ‘not spending beyond our means’ will prevail.