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The white man’s disease?

Summary:
With all of the controversy regarding President Trump’s use of the term “China virus” (which he recently discontinued), people have overlooked the extent to which the epidemic has recently gone from being primarily an East Asian problem to a Western problem. You may have seen graphs showing incidence by country, using circles of varying sizes. But those show cumulative totals, not current incidence. The following graph shows active cases: East Asia and South Asia combined (Afghanistan to Japan) have roughly 4 billion people, slightly over half the global population.  But their active cases are far lower, something closer to 20,000, if I’m not mistaken.  The current global total is roughly 460,000.  Africa has an even lower caseload than Asia. It’s true that

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With all of the controversy regarding President Trump’s use of the term “China virus” (which he recently discontinued), people have overlooked the extent to which the epidemic has recently gone from being primarily an East Asian problem to a Western problem.

You may have seen graphs showing incidence by country, using circles of varying sizes. But those show cumulative totals, not current incidence. The following graph shows active cases:

The white man’s disease?

East Asia and South Asia combined (Afghanistan to Japan) have roughly 4 billion people, slightly over half the global population.  But their active cases are far lower, something closer to 20,000, if I’m not mistaken.  The current global total is roughly 460,000.  Africa has an even lower caseload than Asia.

It’s true that reported caseloads are biased by a lack of testing in some countries.  But if anything, removing that bias makes the West look even worse.  Daily totals of death from coronavirus are now in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, whereas deaths each day in East and South Asia add up to just a few dozen.  That’s barely 1% of the global total, despite having half the population.  And of course the epidemic started in China, and first spread to other East Asian locations such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

It actually makes little difference whether the virus originated in a Chinese bat or an Italian bat, or even a lab somewhere.  What matters is the location where people are dying by the thousands.  Perhaps President Trump should call it the “Eurovirus”?

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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