Dale Courtney’s column on Sweden (March 18) is loaded with errors, but the most egregious one is his claim that the “Nordics scrapped (their) welfare system decades ago.”
The truth is that they still have the most comprehensive social and health services in the world, and these serve as safety nets during pandemics such as COVID-19.
The Swedes have been hit hard by the coronavirus (more than 2,000 cases), but, in stark contrast to the U.S. where only 12 states (all blue except one) have limited coverage, every Swedish worker has paid sick leave. It is incredibly generous: 80 percent of income for a year and then 75 percent up to 550 days.
The final House bill, to which many Democrats have strong objections, will give a mere 12 weeks of paid family leave (Sweden allows 16 months) and two weeks of sick leave. With exemptions for large companies (over 500) and small ones (under 50), there are still an estimated 19 million vulnerable employees who will get nothing.
Swedish unemployment insurance is equally generous: $962 for 52 weeks, and then $842 for the next 12 weeks. In the U.S. the weekly payments range from $823 for 30 weeks in the “People’s Republic of Massachusetts” (as some libertarians call it) to $215 for 26 weeks in “Let Them Eat Cake” Kentucky.
Also crucial for handling pandemics is the availability of hospital beds. For the top four countries, the number per 1,000 is as follows: Japan (13), South Korea (12), Germany (8), and Austria (7). The average for 25 European countries is 4.8, and the U.S. at 2.8 beds ranks 32nd out of 40 nations.
In 2018, 59 percent of American hospitals were for-profit private enterprises, which do not build for excess capacity, as opposed to the large number of the world’s public hospitals, which are not driven by the profit motive and the short term, but for the long haul.
Trump has called for major cuts in the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes for Health, and U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization.
By the end of February WHO had sent COVID-19 testing kits to 60 countries, but the new CDC director, Robert Redfield, a controversial doctor associated with right-wing Christian views on AIDS, decided that the CDC would produce its own instead.
Instead of requesting all available private companies to compete, as South Korean health officials did, Redfield chose, against the urging of state and local officials, to test only one option. It failed the necessary tests, and this set back the release of viable kits for weeks.Three weeks ago, Trump declared that “anybody who wants a test can get a test,” but there is still a dire shortage of them. Now that more tests are available and as new infections are known, our rate has gone up 33 percent, the highest the world.
In early January 2017, Obama officials briefed the Trump transition team on the possibility of a novel virus spreading through Asia and then threatening the rest of the world. The Obama team later found the handouts in the trash.
In 2018 the Trump administration dissolved the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit. It was set up by the Obama administration to deal with Ebola, the swine flu, and future viruses. From January to August of last year the Department of Health and Human Services ran simulations on the possibility of a deadly flu epidemic originating in Chicago. The scenario predicted 110 million infections and 586,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. On October 19 a draft report was sent to the White House where officials did very little.
Christian libertarians such as Dale Courtney use the words “public” and “government” as swear words, but private efforts and individual charity are obviously not enough. I’m sure Courtney has championed Grover Norquist, who once wished that the federal government be so small that it could be “drowned in a bathtub.”
I shudder to think where we would be today if libertarians had their way.
Nick Gier is professor Eemeritus at the University of Idaho. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.