Ian Bremmer: America's Average Coronavirus Response

How is the United States doing so far? We're not the best; we're far from the worst. Overall, about average.

To understand how countries are responding to COVID-19, look at the whole government: federal, state, local. Is the government working effectively with the private sector? Look at the healthcare response; fiscal; monetary. Ensure that the virus is contained and people are treated. Make sure the economy continues to function. Finally, are people listening. Given a strong government response, people aren't paying attention, it gets worse. You need alignment & compliance.


The US response on the healthcare side has been late and comparatively ineffective. US already underinvested in healthcare infrastructure, particularly Red States and rural areas with under-served populations. Lack of testing, wasted time, inability to understand the level of spread - real potential of healthcare systems in the US to get overwhelmed.

When Dr. Fauci suggested 100,000 or 200,000 deaths in the United States - an extraordinary number (context of a normal flu season: about 2-4 times vs last year) - it implies that healthcare systems don't get overwhelmed. It implies 20 to 50 million total cases in the US; people who need ICU treatment get it; they have personnel to provide ICU treatment. That may not happen in New York, New Orleans. Compared to most developed countries, the US healthcare response has been substandard.

The private sector response has been strong, ensuring active efforts to develop a vaccine, drugs, to get testing up to speed quickly. The American corporates have done better than the European corporates.

On the monetary and fiscal side, the US has outperformed the scale, scope, and immediacy of the bipartisan 2008-2009 response. Also well-beyond Europe, Japan or South Korea. It's necessary - shutdown of global supply and demand will last at least 3 months. That's a big deal.

All together the Americans are responding slightly better than average. It's not Italy on the bad side, not Germany on the good side. Not South Korea on the good side. Closer to France, the United Kingdom. The UK was late in talking about shutdowns, lockdowns and social distancing. Put the US in context of other rich states.

Put the US in the context of poorer states, which can't afford economic shutdowns like the wealthy world. They can't physically social distance because the average citizen doesn't have space to keep other people distant. The governments don't have the healthcare system to take care of those who will need treatment. The good news: most emerging markets have had comparatively limited explosions of cases so far. In part because they don't have the same level of globalization, people transiting from all over the world, China, Europe, the US. One of the reasons for limited African cases is because they're comparatively deglobalized. But they're not testing much. The exponential rise of cases will be on the same path as the US and in Europe. Turkey, Brazil, Mexico.

International support for those countries isn't there. 3 weeks ago, we got $50 billion in support from the IMF for emergency funding, expecting 3-5 countries to ask for it. It was 81 countries, as of this weekend. Expecting 100+ this week. The money won't be enough. They'll need 10% of GDP in fiscal relief. It's not going to come domestically. It's probably not coming internationally.

Criticize the US response for lack of international leadership. The US has done virtually nothing. No coordination with other countries in data, responsive communications. No good advance information to allies. No good coordination with China. Historically, in major crises, the US takes a leadership role, not always in a productive way. After 9/11, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - money spent, human consequences, failed wars. But the Americans took a leadership role. 08-09, as well. Today, complete absence of American leadership internationally. That's where the Americans fail.

The response from the US has been slightly better than average. If you focus on Trump, the response has been lousy.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

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Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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