We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“There must logically be a point at which the cost of the containment measures, in terms of human welfare and even of fatalities, outweighs the cost of the virus.”

Daniel Hannan.

More thoughts on what the virus might bring about

Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs likes to make various political/economic predictions, such as on Facebook, and he claims much of our political landscape has changed in ways that shred traditional markers on the map, saying that much of the argument now is no longer between those who want a Big State or a Small One, but about culture and identity. I like and agree with a lot of what he says, but I also think that the recent crisis, and the shock of what it says about the powers of the State, might – I hope – jolt people into realising that we libertarians, banging on about autonomy, property rights and so on, aren’t as irrelevant as is fashionable to claim. The Big State/Small State difference still counts for a lot. This argument should be made. Free societies, as we can point out, are often better at stepping up to change and emergencies than states often are. Not everyone worships at the altar of socialised medicine. And boy, have we learned the value of free press and scrutiny, if only by seeing what happens in China, when those things don’t exist.

Consider, even Formula 1 motor racing, that symbol of toxic masculine love of going very fast in noisy cars, is using its technical skills to meet the pandemic challenge. Libertarians should point out how entrepreneurial gusto, not the clunky hand of Whitehall, is what needs to be celebrated. And we certainly need to challenge the narrative of how marvellous China has been in locking things down. Turns out that it has been a shitshow.

Dr Davies has given a list of trends and forces he thinks will accelerate and turn as a result, and some of his predictions make me alarmed, others less so. Here are some of my own predictions. Dear readers: do add your own.

Here goes:

A big push to divert supply chains from China; more diversification around this. Maybe some pullback from just-in-time inventory but I don’t expect a total shift – the losses in efficiency and living standards are too big.

Less business travel and some tourism via air; more requirements that passengers carry medical data with them. Airport security to increasingly entail “medical security” and there will be demands that airports are more hygienic with cleaner air systems.

Continued “re-shoring” of some manufacturing. It is happening already because making stuff locally is getting easier with modern tech.

There will be pressure to monetise the enormous amounts of public debt. We could have a Japan-style stagnation lasting for two decades. Not sure if we get hyperinflation. Expect more commentary about gold, the need for hard money, etc.

Far more telecommuting and remote working. Some central business districts will have to adjust; some skyscrapers will struggle to fill up.

Suburbs and cars are back: who wants to live in a cramped city and rely on unhealthy, crammed public transport if you can live in a nice house, work from home and have a garden? The anti-car lobby has lost – people are glad they have cars. Issue: will the planning system free up to allow lots more homes with gardens etc to be built? I hope so.

The “woke” agenda is losing a lot of steam. It was happening already. Even remote learning will dent traditional educational attendance and power structures. That is a good thing.

The European Union and other transnational organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have been useless, and it turns out in the WHO’s case, all too cozy to China over Taiwan.
Some red tape will be rolled back; if people are going to have to put up with more nannying and state control in some areas they will want liberalisation elsewhere. Look at how some regulations have been canned to deal with the crisis. That could become permanent.

The actions of UK and other police in this pandemic have caused very bad publicity for the cops. It was bad already. It is getting worse.

Scientists who claim to have all the answers and claim the science is “settled” will encounter even more resistance. In a funny way this virus is bad news for the dark Greens. Extinction Rebellion’s vision of life has been rammed down people’s throats these past few weeks.

Attacks on Big Tech and demands for anti-trust will wane. The internet has had a good crisis. It kept us going.

The value of people with vocational skills, earned without vast sums of student debt, will appreciate; the education “bubble” of arts grads with high debt/lower salary will burst. This will also hurt the “woke” culture and the nonsense of what’s been happening on our campuses. Identity politics is not going away without a fight, however.

Classical liberals/libertarians haven’t really woken up fully to how much the victories of the 80s, 90s and even some of the Noughties have been compromised, sometimes by sheer complacency. We need to wake up, to do more of the intellectual heavy lifting. I hope the present situation galvanises more thought, activism and writing.

Celebrity culture looks to be on the back foot. It may return, but the Hollyweird culture is in really serious trouble. Crappy remakes of films, Weinstein, etc, etc.

People might actually be healthier: all that focusing on taking a daily walk, eating at home, thinking about “underlying health conditions”, might have a positive effect. It is a wake-up call.

Mainstream religions might get a revival. I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

Public sports events, though, will attract sell-out crowds. Imagine if you are a rugby, cricket or football fan and denied the ability to see your teams and in the case of Liverpool, for example, robbed of the ability to be the unchallenged winner of its season. Those fans will be desperate to go back.

Discussion point

Now that the idea of “herd immunity” has been attacked, even though it seems lots of scientists seem to support the idea, does that mean it now makes sense to challenge claims that “the science is settled” on a particular topic? Just thought I’d ask.

Samizdata quote of the day

“President Trump can’t do right by some critics no matter what he does. For three years he’s been denounced as a reckless authoritarian, and now he’s attacked for not being authoritarian enough by refusing to commandeer American industry. The truth is that private industry is responding to the coronavirus without command and control by the federal government.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. Unfortunately, no-one is likely to find a cure for Trump Derangement Syndrome this side of the heat death of the universe.

I have taken the liberty of adding this excellent comment by Ross Clark, in the Daily Telegraph today. He seems to be one of the saner voices out there:

The year 2020 has already brought many firsts: never before has the British population been confined to home, nor has a UK government previously offered to pay the wages of private sector staff. But here is another: it is the first time that Donald Trump has stood out as a rare voice of reason amid a cacophony of panic.

At any other time, and coming from anyone else’s mouth, the statement “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” would hardly raise an eyebrow. It is surely a principle which ought to be baked into all government policy. But, no, it aroused instant condemnation from the President’s critics.

As for his hope that he could get the economy roaring again by Easter, it led to an eruption from senators who appear to be enjoying the global emergency, are who have no doubt sensed that coronavirus could be the black swan event that succeeds where impeachment failed.

Sure enough, Trump has not bathed himself in glory over coronavirus, foolishly calling it a ‘hoax’ at one point. But he is right to recognise that there is a balance to be struck between fighting the disease and maintaining a functioning economy. So far, much of the developed world has embarked on a course which pursues the former to the total exclusion of the latter.

Last week, our own government published a dossier of the modelling which has informed its policy on coronavirus. There was plenty of epidemiological evidence in there, yet not a single paper modelling the economic effects of a lockdown. It is merely assumed that what will almost certainly be a steeper decline in economic output than either the 2008/09 crisis or the Great Depression can be put right by oodles of public money, much of it printed by central banks.

I am sceptical: what is this crisis going to do to the entrepreneurial spirit of millions who invested time and their life savings to set up businesses only to find them forcibly closed by the government? It is going to take a long time to recover that.

The most foolish remark you hear made in these situations is “lives are too important for money”. As Trump quite rightly points out, unemployment will itself cost lives. So, too, will social isolation. There are 7.7 million Britons who live alone, many of them elderly. There will be a serious cost to life now that enforced confinement will reduce them to the point of invisibility.

In any other situation, the Left would be jumping up every five minutes to claim that poverty costs lives. How often have we heard this fanciful figure that Tory ‘austerity’ has cost 130,000 lives over the past decade? That is nothing compared with the toll we face from mass unemployment.

Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management at Bristol University, calculates – in a study which has yet to be peer-reviewed – that if a lockdown causes the economy to shrink by more than 6.4 percent then the recession will have cost more lives than coronavirus itself. I would say a 6.4 percent shrinkage in GDP is on the seriously optimistic side.

We don’t normally seem to have a problem balancing the needs of medicine with those of the economy. We could save lives by going into lockdown every winter – the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that seasonal flu kills between 300,000 and 650,000 people annually.

But we don’t because we know the economic havoc would be even worse. Covid-19 is a serious disease, and one to which we began this year with no resistance. But its most damaging effect has been to destroy our ability to make a trade-off between medicine and the economy.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Two decades of the precautionary principle as the key policy tool for managing uncertainties has neutered risk management capacities by offering, as the only approach, the systematic removal of any exposure to any hazard. As the risk-averse precautionary mindset cements itself, more and more of us have become passive docilians waiting to be nannied.”

David Zaruk, writing in an online science website which I hadn’t come across before until a commentator on this blog flagged it. Thanks!

Germany and Italian COVID-19 data – and why they’re so different

Is there something about being Germany which protects the body against coronavirus Covid-19? Probably not, I would guess. In which case why do the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute show that the country has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 0.3 per cent, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures from Italy seem to show a CFR of 9 per cent? To say there is a vast gulf between those figures is an understatement. If nine per cent of people who catch Covid-19 are going to die from it we are facing a calamity beyond parallel in the modern world. If only 0.3 per cent of people who catch it die from it, this pandemic may yet turn out to be no worse than seasonal flu, which as I have explained here before is estimated by the US Centers for Disease Control to kill between 291,000 and 646,000 people a year without the world really noticing. According to John Hopkins University, which is collating fatalities data, 15,308 have died to date.

Ross Clark, Spectator (behind paywall).

A couple more:

Germany is almost certainly behind Italy in this epidemic. But the main difference between Germany and Italy lies in those countries’ respective attitudes towards testing. Germany has carried out far more enthusiastic testing of the general population – there does not seem to be a central figure for this, but the German Doctors’ Association has estimated that 200,000 people across the country have been tested. In Britain, it is 64,000 people. On the other hand, German hospitals do not routinely test for the presence of coronavirus in patients who are dying or who have died of other diseases. Italy, by contrast, is performing posthumous coronavirus tests on patients whose deaths might otherwise have been attributed to other causes.

It stands to reason that the more people who are tested, the more accurate a picture we will have of the mortality rate, the transmission rate and other metrics which will determine the eventual path of this pandemic. To underline the uncertainties behind the data from which policy is currently being made, the Royal Society of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine the other day estimated the number of people in Britain who already have or have had Covid-19 at between 6,000 and 23 million. That is a pretty broad spread with hugely different implications. If only 6,000 have the disease in Britain, socially-distancing the population or locking down society might have a purpose. If 23 million have the disease, it is pointless – it already has ripped its way through the population but without killing more than a tiny percentage.

What we really need is a huge effort to test a large randomised sample of the population to see how widespread the infection is. Hopefully, that will soon happen. But in the meantime, I am minded to think that the more accurate picture of Covid-19 comes from the country which has conducted the most tests: Germany.

The more I read, the more it seems to me that randomised testing, as Clark writes, is crucial, not least in reducing hysteria and the effects that hysteria is having, and will continue to have, on our society and business. The costs, in terms of stress, the destruction of businesses and so much effort, needs to be weighed.

I have come across a few comments on social media, of the passive/aggressive sort, that “it is so amusing to see all these experts all over social media on epidemics” – the implication being that the mass public should shut up, “stay in your lane” and let the men/women in white coats take charge. The problem with this however is what happens if the experts disagree, or if their policy advice causes so much damage, including to the liberties and welfare of the citizenry, that a democratically elected politician has to make a judgement call? We don’t, rightly, outsource vast coercive powers to everyone who claims to be an expert on something. That’s not how it is supposed to work.

Destroying our economy to save the NHS?

This is probably one of the few places in the internet, never mind the regular media, where people can get to debate the wonders of socialised medicine without being under the burden of proving that they are not evil. In the UK, we have had since the late 1940s a healthcare system that dominates the field, with a relatively small private sector. The National Health Service, funded from tax and run as a monopoly, with politicians and civil servants allocating resources, was modeled, as so many post-war institutions were, on the idea of state central planning. The narrative of the time was that planning was the way to go, unlike all that messy, chaotic “laissez faire” that had been associated, however wrongly, with the Great Depression and so on. (Here is a good paper on the NHS by the Institute of Economic Affairs.) I can also recommend this book, by James Bartholomew on the many problems with the UK welfare state.

The NHS, like many of the other socialised medical systems in much of the developed world, faces the monstrous coronavirus. And so much of the current policy approach – the UK is going into more of a lockdown as of this weekend – is designed, so it is said, to flatten the potential surge of infections and deaths, so that the NHS and other systems don’t collapse. The cost/benefit calculation is being made that it is better to smash the world economy, to force millions into idleness, possibly for months, and tide them over with cash payments funded from vast amounts of debt, than it is to allow the NHS/other to be forced into a nightmare of running out of resources. In some ways I can see the merits of preventing a horrendous surge in deaths; I also think that saving the NHS and other models of healthcare is a sort of virility test of today’s Welfare States. Nothing can be done to admit they have limits, even if that means economic damage on a major scale.

That cost/benefit calculation may look just about defensible now, but what about in two months’ time, particularly if there is no real sign of a deceleration in the virus, but if the struggle to buy even basic household necessities leaves a lot of people in real hardship? I assume that farmers and others in the food production business are not being told to stay at home, but such is the level of madness about this situation that I wonder. I’d like to know how locking people in their homes for months is going to be enforced.

There are also health considerations to be taken into account by such a lock-down, particularly if it goes on for months on end. Humanity is not designed for prison, and those of us in relatively free societies (“relatively” being the operative word) will move from being restless to downright homicidal of this goes on into the summer and beyond. There aren’t enough police to keep everyone cooped up in their homes.

Those bastards in the Chinese Communist Party have a lot to answer for. And yes, COVID-19 began there, and it shows how derelict some of our media/political class has become that is frowned upon to point that out. (The anger is rising, and will have major consequences for our geopolitics.) It would be rather ironic to think that something unleashed by a Communist state, whether by accident or whatever, has put such pressure on Welfare State societies in the West.

Final point: I was due to give a talk tonight at Brian Micklethwait’s place about the recent calls for anti-trust assaults on the Big Techs such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, and I was going to look at parallels with the campaign to break up J D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil more than a century ago. One thing you can say about Rockefeller, was that as well as being a brilliant businessman, and philanthropist in the area of healthcare, among others, he also understood the importance of integrated supply chains in commerce. He’d have looked at our current predicament with interest.

The death clock

A few years ago I remember the arrival of a sort of clock that measured the terrifying rise of the UK’s public debt, a pile that has got much heavier and scarier as a result of the splurge of spending enacted by the new UK finance minister last week. The idea of some dial on the dashboard of our lives, so to speak, which rises constantly, or maybe eventually slows and reverts, is an interesting one. In the media, some newspapers seem to have these daily counts of the number of people dying of coronavirus. On some of the TV channels there is a scrolling feed at the bottom of the screen (I saw this on Sky News, which is arguably even worse than the BBC these days) do this. It was rather like the tickers for the level of the S&P 500 or the latest cricket scores from Lords.

A writer on Linkedin, whom I quote from here but I won’t name as I am not sure I have permission, has written this, and I do sort of sympathise:

Is the news going to report every single death which include a majority of elderly people each day death by death? Many have cancer or asthma or weak immune systems or underlying health issues and many may be on respirators in assisted living or hospitals so how do we know the real cause of death? Smokers who harmed their lungs. Rx’s that damaged lungs and organs such as the heart. Every person is different. The news or government doesn’t report the 109 Americans who die everyday or the 660,000 deaths of individuals from cancer each year. How about the 47,000 plus individual deaths by suicide and illicit drugs? How long is the scare mongering going to linger on? Will be it be until July or August or longer? Viruses and diseases are always popping up…Influenza, Asian Influenza 1950’s, Hong Kong flue 1960’s, Meningitis, AIDS, Mers, Sars, Swine Flu, Ebola…..We don’t know what else may have contributed to the death. Just sayin’.

Of course the State should not in any way ban or try and interfere with such reporting, whether it is crass, hysterical, or sober. At least in the West the media is covering this outbreak heavily, whereas in China, as appears to be the case, people who blew the whistle on what was going on have been punished or just disappeared.

Random thoughts about our predicament

With the virus encouraging more people and businesses to develop online, remote working models, it is going to put a premium on things like high-speed, reliable internet, video, two-way video, etc. And paradoxically, that means digital viruses are even more a threat (and often come from the same places as the biological ones, such as China). So I expect that spending on cyber-security, as well as developing more resilient business models (diversified supply chains, closer-to-home manufacturing of essentials such as medicines), and leaner, more scalable medical services, will increase. That should happen as a free market response, rather than because the State wills it.

This virus will be used to bash free trade, encourage protectionism, and so on. But the verities about the division of labour and comparative advantage remain. Complete self-sufficiency cannot be squared with a high standard of living; autarky means a cramped, sclerotic world. There is a reason that the 1970s sitcom, The Good Life, was indeed a comedy because it took the piss out of the idea of freeing oneself of a complex division of labour. It brings enormous costs.

Protectionism, like its twin, anti-trust, are often the playthings of sore losers in business, and hit the consumer or smaller-scale entrepreneur. We should not lose sight of the enormous gains made since the end of the Berlin Wall and wider expansion of trade.

The current disruption should encourage a more clear-eyed understanding of the risks of doing business with dictatorships and closed societies such as China, and a need to find alternatives where possible. Wholesale theft of intellectual property can no longer be tolerated as easily as in the past. How to deal with that remains a difficult question.

On the need to avoid undue risk, it is worth pondering the following: According to the US broadcaster Tucker Carlson, 95 per cent of generic drugs used in the US are imported from China, although I am not sure what he uses as a data source for this. Most good investors understand the need for good portfolio diversification, so the same surely will apply to supply chains after this virus episode.

The developments might also encourage, or they should, a more self-reliance culture (people should learn first aid, store more non-perishable foods at home and other necessities), and in countries where people have not become too sheeplike, encourage a more robust approach to self-defence and respect for property. Imagine what happens if looting breaks out in certain situations.

Another takeway: this horrible episode has put certain rather silly (at least they are to me) concerns into perspective: PC pronouns for certain genders, “woke” remakes of action films like the much-delayed Bond film, “cancel culture”, etc. It might even remind people that screaming that the world is coming to an end unless we switch off industrial civilisation RIGHT NOW is so silly, and so monstrous, that it blunts the public to legitimate worries out there. Greta needs to put a sock in it, and go back to school and hit the books. And the man formerly known as Prince Harry simply must, for our sanity, fuck off.

The curiously underwhelming 2020 edition of International Women’s Day

OK, did anyone notice International Women’s Day? Get any emails? Read any stories about issues that concern women around the world, ranging from employment law through to their treatment in certain parts of the world? Well I did, but I was struck by how low-temperature it all was. The press releases that I received had a sort of “they are just phoning it in” quality.

Because whatever else one can say about this event, in recent years it appeared to loom quite large in my life in the media/wealth management world. There is usually lots of commentary about “pay gaps” (a fertile area for the misleading use of data, not to mention a lot of questionable assumptions). Not so much this year. It all felt a bit, well, lame. And it is not just because of COVID-19, although that obviously is a part of it. Certain harsh facts of reality have broken through our “woke” obsessions. (The virus appears to hit men harder than women, which violates a prime directive of modern feminism, that no evidence should be provided that suggests men and women are different other than in strict issues around making babies, unless the difference is to show that men are more “toxic”, reckless, etc.)

The day – 8 March – was also a Sunday, so a curiously odd day for such an event when a working day might make more sense (well, Sunday is a working day in Muslim nations, but not in the West for most people).

I don’t know whether there is just plain exhaustion out there about the endless claims that men wield all the power, have the best jobs, are “toxic”, that films, music, TV, the sale of services, etc, are all about men, and that this all needs to change. The truth in fact is that in much of the West, this process of complaining about men has gone on so long that fatigue is setting in when the rhetoric does not quite stack up against reality. According to consultancy and research firm Frost and Sullivan, women owners will account for 40 per cent of all registered businesses worldwide this year. In my financial services industry, they account for an increasingly important client base in terms of assets under management. This is particularly the case in regions such as Asia.

To take a more philosophical turn here, those of us on the classical liberal/libertarian end of the spectrum should remind folk that our starting point is that life isn’t a zero-sum game. If women succeed more in business or in sports, it is not at the expense of men, nor should it be. Also, if the percentage share of women in occupation/area A is greater than, or less than, that of men as a share of the total population, that is not ipso facto proof that something terrible has happened, and that this must be corrected. For it ignores how entirely free acts at the individual level can have an impact that might appear “disproportionate” at the macro one. At no stage was deliberate worsening/bettering of group intended, because this was not done with reference to a group outcome in the first place. What the “proportionate share” egalitarians would demand is that none of us should interact with another person unless we have gone through some sort of meta-choice process of sifting through a pre-approved “menu”, whether it is hiring an employee, checking out a date on a dating app, etc. For example, how many people should a guy choose from before making a “fair” choice of a woman to go out with and who should set this sample? If he chooses, to stick with the dating example, to say he does not want to date single mothers or those who paint their hair green, or who are clinically obese, or rail-thin, or whatever, who is to say that he should not? And if the man in question decides to stop using such apps, do the old-fashioned thing instead and meet women in bars or social events, who on earth is in a position to screen that?

I think a failure to understand things like this is behind bad ideas such as the State seeking to mandate how many women/others should sit on company boards, regardless of how that effectively violates freedom of firms to hire and invite whom they want. Even if adverts for certain jobs forbid certain likes and dislikes being expressed, as anyone knows preferences can and are still expressed in who gets a job. It is very hard to control this; the best “solution” to this issue is to have as competitive a labour market as possible: capitalism is the best solvent of irrational dislikes/likes of people, because it is a cost.

Back to more current matters, it does appear that for all the supposed march of identity politics, some countries are, much to the dislike of some, resistant if the quality of candidates is poor. Consider the US. The country in November faces a choice between the incumbent, whom we are told is a moron, Orange Man Bad. And yet the ladies haven’t made much of a dent. The best that the Democrats can come up with at this point are two ageing male Lefties, one of whom is a largely – as far as I know – unrepentant Communist and fan of Fidel Castro, and the other a creep with allegedly wandering hands who might have early-stage dementia. The women on the Democratic race, such as Elizabeth Warren (who absurdly played a native American Indian identity card, and got hammered for it), and Kamala Harris, fell by the wayside as their flaws became all too evident. (OK, Tulsi Gabbard is just about hanging on, but not for long. None of them, to be blunt about it, is a Maggie.)

IWD has caused people from different parts of the ideological spectrum, by the way, to claim that this or that group/viewpoint they dislike has “hijacked” it. Take this example from Progress, the UK magazine, in 2016, and more recently, from the Daily Telegraph.

Of course, if you want to wind certain people up, as I do in my less mature moments, one way to say that we should mark IWD is to salute the rise of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, even if you aren’t that sold on her points-based approach to immigration.


Samizdata quote of the day

Every generation goes through tremors when something new arrives. Elvis’s hips. Pinball. TV. Rock ’n’ roll. Videogames. For the most part, everyone turned out OK. Sure, we’ve all gone down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks and insect-fighting videos. So what? We’re bored.

Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal (behind paywall). He’s criticising what he sees as “hysteria” in the attacks on social media, putting them in the same bracket as alarms over things like heavy metal music and its effects on young people, and so on.

Viruses and globalisation

The virus outbreak in China and the clampdown on travel and other activity by a Communist country is inevitably going to cause some political commentary about the implications, and it already has. One comment I am bracing for is how this proves how dangerous globalisation can be because of extended supply chains, long-haul flights, etc. In fact I expect some on the Green, anti-trade side might make such points. What the episode shows is that all advanced societies need “firebreaks” that can be imposed – hopefully by public consent for a limited period – (I mentioned firebreaks in my previous item about the Australian bushfires). There may also be lessons to come out about local food and hygiene, as well as what is done to immunise young children and so forth. This echoes what I wrote the other day about how forest fires in Australia got more deadly because the “immunity” of the forests was undermined by neglecting to do controlled burns and thin out dead trees.

But it is wrong in a broader sense to say that viruses are a point against greater human interaction via trade in general. One might as well draw the conclusion that we should all live in sealed boxes. When the Black Death raged, it killed a huge number in relative terms of the population in affected areas, and other plagues in early history have been as deadly, and yet most people at the time did not travel far from home. Some did of course, and human cities were dirty and unsanitary. But overall, the world of the 14th Century wasn’t as globalised in terms of human interaction as it is now.

Let’s not forget that trade also increases options when a population is hit by a local disaster. Take the case of food supply if the local produce goes wrong. Lack of imported food access was fatal for Ireland in the 1840s because Corn Laws hampered imports of wheat into the country.

It is true that people who even friendly to the free market economy and global trade use words such as “contagion” to describe how an issue in country X can affect a nation Y, and so on. (Some have even claimed that Chinese savings “surpluses” helped cause the 2008 financial crisis by funding the US housing binge. And writers such as James Rickards have even attempted to defend protectionism and capital controls on the same basis that one might defend a fire safety door.)

There are also implications for the effectiveness or otherwise of “transnational” organisations (aka “tranzis”), as this article at Pajamas Media states.

China is still a deeply oppressive place in many ways, and the disaster today is grim, and worrying. But bear in mind dear reader how far that nation has come since Mao, one of the greatest mass murderers in recorded history, has gone. The virus breaking out is horrible, but far less horrible than anything that bastard brought about. China is now much richer, and has the resources to tackle this plague. I wish them well.