Paul Krugman | How China Lost the Covid War – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Do you remember when Covid was going to establish China as the world’s dominant power? As late as mid-2021, my inbox was full of assertions that China’s apparent success in containing the coronavirus showed the superiority of the Chinese system over Western societies that, as one commentator put it, “did not have the ability to quickly organize every citizen around a single goal.”

At this point, however, China is flailing even as other nations are more or less getting back to normal life. It’s still pursuing its zero-Covid policy, enforcing draconian restrictions on everyday activities every time new cases emerge. This is creating immense personal hardship and cramping the economy; cities under lockdown account for almost 60 percent of China’s G.D.P.

In early November many workers reportedly fled the giant Foxconn plant that produces iPhones, fearing not just that they would be locked in but that they would go hungry. And in the last few days many Chinese, in cities across the nation, have braved harsh repression to demonstrate against government policies.

I’m not a China expert, and I have no idea where this is going. As far as I can tell, actual China experts don’t know, either. But I think it’s worth asking what lessons we can draw from China’s journey from would-be role model to debacle.

Crucially, the lesson is not that we shouldn’t pursue public health measures in the face of a pandemic. Sometimes such measures are necessary. But governments need to be able to change policy in the face of changing circumstances and new evidence.

And what we’re seeing in China is the problem with autocratic governments that can’t admit mistakes and won’t accept evidence they don’t like.

In the first year of the pandemic, strong, even draconian restrictions made sense. It was never realistic to imagine that mask mandates and even lockdowns could prevent the coronavirus from spreading. What they could do, however, was slow the spread.

At first, the goal in the U.S. and many other countries was to “flatten the curve,” avoiding a peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Then, once it became clear that effective vaccines would become available, the goal was or should have been to delay infections until widespread vaccination could provide protection.

You could see this strategy at work in places like New Zealand and Taiwan, which initially imposed stringent rules that held cases and deaths to very low levels, then relaxed these rules once their populations were widely vaccinated. Even with vaccines, opening up led to a large rise in cases and deaths — but not nearly as severe as would have happened if these places had opened up earlier, so that overall deaths per capita have been far lower than in the United States.

China’s leaders, however, seem to have believed that lockdowns could permanently stomp out the coronavirus, and they have been acting as if they still believe this even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

At the same time, China utterly failed to develop a Plan B. Many older Chinese — the most vulnerable group — still aren’t fully vaccinated. China has also refused to use foreign-made vaccines, even though its homegrown vaccines, which don’t use mRNA technology, are less effective than the shots the rest of the world is getting.

All of this leaves Xi Jinping’s regime in a trap of its own making. The zero-Covid policy is obviously unsustainable, but ending it would mean tacitly admitting error, which autocrats never find easy. Furthermore, loosening the rules would mean a huge spike in cases and deaths.

Not only have many of the most vulnerable Chinese remained unvaccinated or received inferior shots, but because the coronavirus has been suppressed, few Chinese have natural immunity, and the nation also has very few intensive care beds, leaving it without the capacity to deal with a Covid surge.

It’s a nightmare, and nobody knows how it ends. But what can the rest of us learn from China?

First, autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody can tell them when they’re wrong. At a fundamental level there’s a clear resemblance between Xi’s refusal to back off zero Covid and Vladimir Putin’s disaster in Ukraine.

Second, we’re seeing why it’s important for leaders to be open to evidence and be willing to change course when they’ve been proved wrong.

Ironically, in the United States the politicians whose dogmatism most resembles that of Chinese leaders are right-wing Republicans. China has rejected foreign mRNA vaccines, despite clear evidence of their superiority; many Republican leaders have rejected vaccines in general, even in the face of a huge partisan divide in death rates linked to differential vaccination rates. This contrasts with Democrats, who have in general followed something like New Zealand’s approach, if much less effectively — restrictions early on, relaxed as vaccination spread.

In short, what we can learn from China is broader than the failure of specific policies; it is that we should beware of would-be autocrats who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they’re always right.”    -30-

Extreme Heat Will Change Us – The New York Times

“ON A TREELESS STREET under a blazing sun, Abbas Abdul Karim, a welder with 25 years experience, labors over a metal bench.

Everyone who lives in Basra, Iraq, reckons with intense heat, but for Abbas it is unrelenting. He must do his work during daylight hours to see the iron he deftly bends into swirls for stair railings or welds into door frames.

The heat is so grueling that he never gets used to it. “I feel it burning into my eyes,” he says.

Working outside in southern Iraq’s scalding summer temperatures isn’t just arduous. It can cause long-term damage to the body.

We know the risk for Abbas, because we measured it.

By late morning, the air around Abbas reached a heat index of 125°F SHOW CELSIUS, a measure of heat and humidity. That created a high risk for heat stroke — especially with his heavy clothing and the direct sun.”

This link might have full access:

Inside the Saudi Strategy to Keep the World Hooked on Oil – The New York Times

“. . . . . Saudi Aramco has become a prolific funder of research into critical energy issues, financing almost 500 studies over the past five years, including research aimed at keeping gasoline cars competitive or casting doubt on electric vehicles, according to the Crossref database, which tracks academic publications. Aramco has collaborated with the United States Department of Energy on high-profile research projects including a six-year effort to develop more efficient gasoline and engines, as well as studies on enhanced oil recovery and other methods to bolster oil production.

Aramco also runs a global network of research centers including a lab near Detroit where it is developing a mobile “carbon capture” device — equipment designed to be attached to a gasoline-burning car, trapping greenhouse gases before they escape the tailpipe. More widely, Saudi Arabia has poured $2.5 billion into American universities over the past decade, making the kingdom one of the nation’s top contributors to higher education.

ImageMen in long, white robes and keffiyehs entering a domed tent.
Visitors to a Saudi forum at the United Nations climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month.Credit…Kelvin Chan/Associated Press
Saudi interests have spent close to $140 million since 2016 on lobbyists and others to influence American policy and public opinion, making it one of the top countries spending on U.S. lobbying, according to disclosures to the Department of Justice tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics.” . . . .

What One Importer’s Legal Fight Says About the  – The New YorkPower of Cargo Giants Times

Peter Goodman reported this article from Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

“Like the rest of the e-commerce world, Jacob Weiss was contending with excruciating difficulties in getting his goods — mostly furniture — across the Pacific from factories in China.

It was April 2021, and the global supply chain was rife with dysfunction because of the pandemic. At ports in China, Mr. Weiss’s usual ocean carrier, Hamburg Süd, was refusing to accept some of his shipping containers at his contracted rates, saying it had no room on its vessels.

These sorts of complaints had become commonplace, given shortages of containers and crippling traffic jams at ports. Most importers avoided conflict, fearing reprisals from the carriers. But Mr. Weiss had his lawyer fire off a menacing letter, demanding that Hamburg Süd “immediately honor” his contract while threatening to file a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission.

Here was a minnow picking a fight with a whale. Mr. Weiss’s company, OJ Commerce, is modest in size. Hamburg Süd is a subsidiary of Maersk, a publicly traded Danish conglomerate that is the second-largest container shipping company on earth, with annual revenues exceeding $61 billion.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT2h ago

Great reporting, thank you Peter Goodman. Now I’d like a serious discussion or rounddtable about what can be done about this problem. It seems like many big problems return to, in part, a US Justice system that favors the rich over the poor, but then there is the fact that this was also an anomoly of the pandemic. How do we make the playing field more level. I wonder if the US government could use a part of the Justice Dept or some other agency to fast tract a decsion, and if they find the small American business has a claim, to fund its legal challenge against the giant corporation. David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

Reply6 Recommended

Surrounded by Threats, Japan Rethinks Decades of Military Dependency – The New York Times

Motoko Rich and 

Reporting from Tokyo

“Over nearly seven decades, Japan has relied on commitments from the United States, its most important ally, for protection in the event of an enemy attack. Japan hosts the largest contingent of overseas American troops and regularly conducts drills with them. It has purchased more American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets than any other country outside the United States.

Yet now, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine challenges long-held security assumptions and as threats from China and North Korea multiply, Japan is starting to rely more on itself, a shift that could quietly alter the balance of power in Asia.

The country’s governing party is pushing to increase Japan’s defense budget drastically, develop more military hardware domestically and redefine what it can do with those weapons under the pacifist Constitution in place since the end of World War II.

By asserting its own deterrent power, Japan — the world’s third-largest economy — could become less a military protectorate of the United States and more an equal partner. That could help fulfill the desire of American leaders for Japan to serve as a stronger military counter to China, as Beijing uses its rapidly improving armed forces to menace Taiwan and send ballistic missiles and coast guard ships into Japan’s territorial waters.”

Thomas L. Friedman | How China Lost America – The New York Times

“When future historians look back on 2022, they will have a lot to choose from when they ask the question: What was the most important thing that happened that year? Was it Brexit, Chexit, Ruxit or Trumpit?

Was it the meltdown of the world’s sixth-largest economy, Britain, fueled in part by its reckless 2020 exit from the European Union? Was it the demented attempt by Vladimir Putin to wipe Ukraine off the map, which has decoupled Russia from the West — what I call Ruxit — creating havoc with worldwide energy and food markets? Was it the near-total infection of the G.O.P. with Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen — Trumpit — which is eroding our democracy’s most cherished asset: our ability to peacefully and legitimately transfer power?

Or was it China’s drive under President Xi Jinping for Chexit — an end to four decades of steady integration of China’s economy with the West, an end symbolized by the abbreviation popularized by my colleague in Beijing Keith Bradsher to describe where Western multinationals today think about putting their next factory: “A.B.C. — Anywhere But China.”

It’s a tough call. And just listing them all together only tells you what a hinge of history 2022 has become. But my vote goes to Chexit.”

Farhad Manjoo | Biden Just Clobbered China’s Chip Industry – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Semiconductors are among the most intricate tools that human beings have ever invented. They are also among the most expensive to make.

The latest chips — the sort that power supercomputers and high-end smartphones — are densely packed with transistors so small they’re measured in nanometers. Perhaps the only things more ingenious than the chips themselves are the machines that are used to build them. These devices are capable of working on almost unimaginably tiny scales, a fraction of the size of most viruses. Some of the chip-building machines take years to build and cost hundreds of millions of dollars each; the Dutch company ASML, which makes the world’s only lithography machines capable of inscribing designs for the fastest chips, has produced just 140 such devices over the past decade.”

China’s Heat Wave Strains Its Economy – The New York Times

Tiffany May and 

“Faced with China’s most searing heat wave in six decades, factories in the country’s southwest are being forced to close. A severe drought has shrunk rivers, disrupting the region’s supply of water and hydropower and prompting officials to limit electricity to businesses and homes. In two cities, office buildings were ordered to shut off the air-conditioning to spare an overextended electrical grid, while elsewhere in southern China local governments urged residents and businesses to conserve energy.

The rolling blackouts and factory shutdowns, which affected Toyota and Foxconn, a supplier for Apple, point to the ways that extreme weather is adding to China’s economic woes. The economy has been headed toward its slowest pace of growth in years, dragged down by the country’s stringent Covid policy of lockdowns, quarantines and travel restrictions, as consumers tightened spending and factories produced less. Youth unemployment has reached a record high, while trouble in the real estate sector has set off an unusual surge of public discontent.”

Tanya Gold | Britain’s Liz Truss Is Finished – The New York Times

Ms. Gold is a journalist who writes about Britain’s politics, culture and everyday life.

“PENZANCE, England — For 40 days, Prime Minister Liz Truss of Britain has ridden a roller coaster of ridicule.

Her “mini budget,” on which she hung her free-market credentials, was a disaster: Bond yields rocketed, the pound tanked, and the markets, far from gratified, were distinctly upset. To mitigate the damage, she reversed a tax cut for high earners — and was rewarded with more mockery. At the Conservative Party conference, protesters played loud clown music, and the police refused to intervene, as sure a sign of a failing administration in Britain as the storming of the Winter Palace in Russia.

Embattled, Ms. Truss raged against the “anti-growth” coalition, opponents of her supposed revitalization of the British economy through tax cuts. It is a remarkably capacious coalition, with room for King Charles III (who last week greeted her with the chilling words “Back again. Dear, oh, dear”), the BBC and most of the Conservative Party. To judge from the polls, which put Labour 33 points ahead of the Conservatives and Ms. Truss’s approval rating at minus 47, the country is in that camp, too.

On Friday, things got worse still. Ms. Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng, her chancellor and friend, and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt, a Tory moderate who has torn up the rest of her economic platform with the performative solemnity of a disappointed teacher. The dreaded letters of no confidence are flooding in, and Conservative lawmakers are talking about changing the leadership rules — she is supposed to have a year’s grace — to dethrone her. Ms. Truss may limp on, but she is without power. For all intents and purposes, her prime ministership is finished.”

David Lindsay:  Excellent essay and comments. Here is one of my favorite comments:’

Jack Sonville
Florida  8h ago

For almost 40 years, since the days of Thatcher and Reagan, tax cuts have been the Tory/Republican cure-all for every ill. All of this in spite of the fact that data has shown they do not drive the massive growth promised. How about a new economic idea from that side of the aisle? The only new other idea out of the Tories over the past few decades has been Brexit. How’s that working out? Where’s the massive growth that was supposed to generate? But at least that is some semblance of an idea with a theory behind it (however flawed). Over the past few years, in the absence of any coherent policy on virtually any topic, Republicans here have pretty much only touted three proposals other than tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations: Repealing the ACA to, in effect, cancel heath care subsidies for tens of millions; eliminating a woman’s right to privacy over her own body; and the notion that every election they don’t win must have been fraudulently rigged. despite no evidence, simply because they say so. It’s hard to be optimistic right now, for either country.

3 Replies141 Recommended

With Leaps and Bounds, Parkour Athletes Turn Off the Lights in Paris – The New York Times

“PARIS — After taking a few steps back to get a running start, Hadj Benhalima dashed toward the building, pushed against its wall with his foot, propelled himself upward and stretched out his arm.

At the peak of his leap, he flipped off a light switch, more than 10 feet off the ground. A click sound rang out, and the bright lights of a nearby barbershop went off instantly.

“Oooh,” his friends cheered, as Mr. Benhalima, a thin 21-year-old dressed all in black, landed back on the sidewalk. It was the second store sign he had turned off on a recent nighttime tour across Paris’s upscale neighborhoods. Many more would follow as he soared up and dropped back down across the city.”