A 500 Year Flood?
I am writing this the day after Easter. As of today, the United States has 557,663 cases of COVID 19 and 22,116 deaths. Globally, there are 1,864,829 reported cases and 115,286 deaths. It is obvious that the U.S. has a disproportionately high number of cases and deaths. Why? The Trump administration is floating the argument that other countries are underreporting intentionally or otherwise, but even if this is partially true, we are not where we should be considering our wealth and advanced medical technology.
On Easter Sunday, the CBS program “60 Minutes” had a lengthy segment dealing with the virus. Among the guests was Peter Navarro, one of Trump’s leading trade advisers. Among the questions put to Navarro was why the U.S was so very inadequately supplied with ventilators and medical personal protective equipment. Navarro explained that the manufacture of the PPE had left the U.S. as multinational corporations sought to reduce their costs of labor, and I also believe that he said foreign governments subsidized at least some of these companies to incentivize them to move their companies there. His point was that the U.S. no longer had the ability to manufacture this gear in sufficient quantity and had to rely on foreign suppliers. Navarro, of course, said that Trump was doing a great job and that this was the equivalent of a 500 year flood that nobody could predict or prepare for. The only trouble with that claim is that “60 Minutes” discovered a memo written by Navarro himself long before this pandemic which predicted exactly what we are experiencing now. Navarro’s memo was uncovered after his interview, so the interviewer, Bill Whittaker, did not have the opportunity to question Navarro about it. That is a shame.
Navarro did have a very good point about our multinational corporations. They are heartless and ruthless in their relentless pursuit of profits. They will always go where they find the cheapest labor, the greatest government subsidies, the lowest taxes, and the least safety regulation. They will always claim that their sole duty is to their shareholders and that the duty is to provide the greatest “shareholder value”. They act in every way like they are stateless unless and until they need help from the U.S. government. After they get the help, such as they received in the recent trade negotiations with China, they immediately revert to their stateless, soulless status. You may recall that Ross Perot predicted in the 1980’s while he ran for president that this is exactly what would happen if NAFTA was approved. He was right. Our manufacturing jobs did leave, first to Mexico and then to China and other Asian countries.
But, and this is a very big but, didn’t Navarro and Trump already know this, and if they didn’t, how can they possibly defend their ignorance? Surely it was someone’s job to know what basic medical protective gear we needed in a pandemic and how much? Surely it was someone’s job to be prepared. Can you imagine that the “500 Year Flood” excuse would suffice if this was a military crisis?