Posts Tagged ‘Mike Pence’


Special mention



Those of us of a certain age remember when, during the summer of 1973, Tennessee GOP Sen. Howard Baker Jr., in attempting to defend Richard Nixon during the impeachment hearings, uttered that famous question.*

Almost a half century later, the world has learned (thanks to the Washington Post) that Donald Trump knew about the coronavirus pandemic, through daily intelligence reports, at least two months before he declared a national health emergency.

The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies. But they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.

Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans.

And, since then, according to Frank Rich, “the sheer incompetence, complete lack of planning, and rank corruption” of Trump, Pence, and “the hacks and grifters around them” have only made this nightmare worse.

As it turns out, Trump knew—or should have known—about the need to prepare for a pandemic even earlier. That’s because, in September 2019, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers (pdf) published a study titled “Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza through Vaccine Innovation.” No, it’s not specifically about the novel coronavirus but it does explore “the potentially large health and economic losses in the United States associated with influenza pandemics” in a manner eerily prescient about what the country is going through right now:

The Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) finds that in a pandemic year, depending on the transmission efficiency and virulence of the particular pandemic virus, the economic damage would range from $413 billion to $3.79 trillion. Fatalities in the most serious scenario would exceed half a million people in the United States. Millions more would be sick, with between approximately 670,000 to 4.3 million requiring hospitalization. In a severe pandemic, healthy people might avoid work and normal social interactions in an attempt to avert illness by limiting contact with sick persons. By incapacitating a large fraction of the population, including individuals who work in critical infrastructure and defense sectors, pandemic influenza could threaten U.S. national security.

The authors of the report also argue that “large-scale, immediate immunization is the most effective way to control the spread of influenza.” But, they conclude, “the predominant, currently licensed, vaccine manufacturing technology would not provide sufficient doses rapidly enough to mitigate a pandemic.” In other words, profit-making corporations in private markets simply won’t provide vaccines in sufficient quantities, rapidly enough to confront a pandemic.

It’s a classic case of what mainstream economists call “market failure”: social benefits are greater than private returns. What they mean is the the value to society of faster production and better vaccines is much larger than its private return to developers. The result is that less vaccine is produced than is warranted by the potential losses from the pandemic. And private corporations have little incentive to produce a vaccine even if it has a high insurance value at any given moment.**

Together, the combination of large potential losses from a pandemic and the low probability that private enterprises will be able to provide a quick, effective vaccine to mitigate the effects of a pandemic means that the U.S. government has to be prepared to step in and act quickly should such a widespread outbreak occur.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration was not prepared, and then, belatedly, treated the pandemic more as a public relations obstacle to be overcome than a serious health problem to be solved.

And we now know the devastating result.


*Baker, while questioning Howard Dean, hoped to show that the president didn’t find out about the Watergate break-in until later, and that therefore he was not in any way responsible for a cover-up. What emerged from the interrogation was that the president had not just known, but discussed some kind of payoff for the people involved in the break-in. This was later confirmed with taped evidence.

**Some of us predicted, and now we all know, that private corporations and markets are failures when it comes to delivering other kinds of goods, such as personal protective equipment for nurses and doctors, ventilators for patients, and masks for everyone else. And they fail both when workers are laid off (and they have to attempt to survive on unemployment compensation) and when they are not (and are then forced to labor with other workers and customers under unsafe conditions). Of course, government can’t always solve the market failure, especially when it’s run by the likes of Trump, Pence, and the swindlers and nepotists surrounding them.


Special mention

235952  235918


Special mention



Special mention