At the end of the ongoing global melodrama’s first quarter, it seems reasonable to predict that this will be a two-act play with the final curtain coming down in July. It will end as a tragedy, not because the outcome was preordained in a world impervious to human choices, but because men have free will. They exercise that gift from God to find, for every major problem, one solution which is “neat, simple, and wrong,” as the Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, said.
A value-neutral comparison of the response to COVID-19 by Sweden and Norway is telling. They are two neighboring nations similar in culture, climate, standards of health care, per capita income, etc. This comparison establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the security state regime in Oslo, Norway, does not produce statistical outcomes which are significantly different from the laissez-faire approach of Stockholm, Sweden, which is based on personal responsibility and willful obedience.
It is also interesting to note that both countries have proclaimed the success of their radically different approaches. In both countries, the people followed their government’s lead with no noteworthy dissent. There have been no anti-lockdown protests in Trondheim, Norway, and no mass demands for curfew in Malmö, Sweden. Norway is suffering monetary losses mostly due to the collapse of global oil prices, and Sweden’s export-oriented economy is likewise affected by worldwide trends rather than domestic developments.
Sweden has just over 10 million people and Norway about half of that; a skeptic may claim that this empirically undeniable similarity of outcomes in containing the virus is a fluke.
However, there is similar comparison we can make in the Asia-Pacific region, where there are three major nations—China, Japan, and South Korea—which have faced the identical challenge in different ways. It would be arbitrary to attach numeric values to each country’s level of authoritarian control vs. self-exercised restraint (that is the kind of scholastic futility best left to the U.S. scholars of international relations) but their aggregate result is remarkably similar. Stringent China, self-disciplined South Korea, and relatively debonair Japan do not have statistically significant differences in outcomes.
Finally, an isolated two-island country of under five million in the nether regions of the southern hemisphere, New Zealand, is a unique case. It is a rare haven of mutual trust and solidarity that has virtually eliminated the virus. As National Geographic writes:
From an outsider’s perspective, the interesting thing about New Zealand is that the country simply got on board. On day one of the lockdown, the streets and highways were empty, the shops were closed, and everyone stayed home. “I think it’s easier for us Kiwis to fall in line because we trust our leaders,” Sue Webster, the owner of the Airbnb where my wife and I holed up for almost four weeks, told me.
It is indeed an “interesting thing” that in countries where there is a sense of cultural solidarity between people and their leaders, they seem to be able to handle the challenge of the virus cooperatively.
By contrast, it is embarrassing to dwell on the scene at a recent Hasidic funeral in Brooklyn, where 2,500 mourners showed up, defying quarantine orders, or on the COVID-inspired block parties in minority neighborhoods of all major metropolitan areas in the United States.
Arguably the most blatant schism between the cult of multicultural sensitivity and reality right now is in France, where the youths of les banlieues—the low-income suburban housing districts—are flouting social distancing protocols. Ah, les jeunes…of that ethno-religious affiliation of which one dares not speak!
The northern suburbs of Paris have been hit “by an exceptional excess” of coronavirus deaths, the country’s health minister said. Surely it is the doing of the evil, white, heterosexual male, who remarkably has managed to keep so many of his victims in servitude for so long, in France and everywhere else. Something must be done!