Did American Exceptionalism Make the Pandemic Worse?
Over the past week, we’ve gotten more bad news about the coronavirus.
More than 4.3 million Americans have now been infected. More than 150,000 have died.
And the mainstream media keeps telling us that – with more infections and deaths than any other country – the United States has done a uniquely bad job of handling the outbreak.
That’s Bravo Sierra.
There are many reasons why the U.S. has more COVID cases than any other country. And few have much, if anything, to do with the way we’ve handled the pandemic.
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The first reason is the U.S. is the world’s third most populous nation, after China and India.
Plenty of countries have higher coronavirus mortality rates per capita, including Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Sweden. But we have more total cases because our population is much larger.
Also, Americans tend to be older, and the elderly are most vulnerable to the disease. (That’s why Italy was also hard hit.) The median age of citizens in India, for example, is just 28.
Also, America has a largely urban population and the virus spreads more easily in densely packed areas. (In many developing countries, nearly two-thirds of citizens live in rural areas.)
Another major contributor is that 42% of Americans are obese. Obesity is highly correlated with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer. These preexisting conditions make Americans more susceptible to the disease.
Despite these undisputed and apolitical facts, on Wednesday, The New York Times quoted Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University.
She had her own take on why we have so many coronavirus deaths here: “National hubris and belief in American exceptionalism have served us badly. We were not prepared to see the risk of failure.”
We have the greatest number of cases not because our population is large, elderly, urban or obese.
It’s because we deceive ourselves that the oldest democracy, biggest economy and primary defender of the free world is somehow exceptional.
(Glad that San Francisco State has a “medical anthropologist” – whatever that is – to set us straight.)
There has been government incompetence in response to the pandemic, at both the state and national level.
But government incompetence is hardly new. Nor is it confined to the U.S.
Critics say we haven’t done enough testing. But we’ve done 50% more testing than Europe.
Critics say some states – like Florida, Texas and Arizona – reopened “too early.” But New York has more than three times as many COVID deaths as Florida, Texas and Arizona combined.
The virus is also spreading in states – and nations – that opened more slowly.
Japan, Hong Kong and Israel are among dozens of countries that recently reported record numbers of new cases, after they “crushed the curve” of infections.
The real problem?
All over the world, young people have figured out that they are unlikely to die or even get seriously ill if they contract the virus.
If you’re under 45, the coronavirus is less lethal than the seasonal flu.
(If you’re over 45, it’s more lethal. But let’s remember that prior to the pandemic the majority of Americans couldn’t be bothered to get an annual flu shot.)
Too many young people have ignored the CDC’s recommendations to social distance and wear masks. They are contracting the disease and passing it on to their more vulnerable elders.
Not just here but in many other parts of the world. That’s why so many states – and countries – are rolling back the reopening of bars and restaurants.
The coronavirus remains a serious health and economic challenge to be sure. But wouldn’t it be nice if the media provided more context or a nuanced perspective?
For example, it either overlooks or underreports that…
- The median age of death from COVID-19 in the U.S. is 78.
- Nearly half of all deaths occurred in nursing homes.
- Approximately 40% of those infected show no symptoms.
- Only 0.04% of cases are children.
- Despite a spike in cases, the death toll is still down more than 60% from the mid-April peak.
It’s hard to fathom why so many so-called “experts” insist that we should shut down the economy again and start over.
But it won’t happen. And equity investors should know it.
About Alexander Green
An expert on momentum investing, value investing and investing based on insider activity, Alex worked as an investment advisor, research analyst and portfolio manager on Wall Street for 16 years. He now runs the wildly successful Oxford Communiqué, ranked as one of the top investment newsletters by Hulbert Digest for more than a decade. He is also the author of four national best-sellers: The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio, The Secret of Shelter Island, Beyond Wealth and An Embarrassment of Riches. He shares his wisdom in his free daily e-letter, Liberty Through Wealth.