– May 6, 2020
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In response to my piece on Masks in Sweden, I received the following fascinating note, by James Cooper, reproduced with his permission, which compares the attitude in Sweden with that in the United States. I think readers will find this very interesting.

Dr. Klein,

Thank you for your recent article on Sweden’s response to COVID-19. I would just like to add my thoughts to the ongoing public discussion. I am an American living in Stockholm. I have been living here for 17 years and am fluent in Swedish. I am from Northern Virginia. 

Regarding this article, I will just point out that the American people have been buffalo’d into a very binary way of thinking – there are only two possibilities when dealing with COVID-19 – complete lockdown or nothing at all. This is also referred to as TINA (There Is No Alternative).

For many of my American friends, they find it difficult to understand that there are many possibilities in between the two extremes. In fact, a more nuanced approach not only makes more sense, but is more sustainable. That is precisely what the Swedish approach is all about.

If you look at the numbers, you will see that there is negligible risk to those aged 4-50 years old. This group also happens to represent the most economically productive group in society as well as the group that spends the most money. So why shut them down?

The response I get from friends is that they must be shut down because otherwise people will die. This is an emotion based argument. 

The reality is that in Sweden all at-risk people have been asked to self quarantine. If they do that, how will their lives be threatened by allowing the under-50 crowd to go out, with some social distancing guidelines? 

Keep in mind that if you live with an at risk person, or you are a primary caregiver for an at risk person, then (in Sweden), you are expected to self quarantine; or at least go to extreme social distancing. 

I myself had some concerns about whether I was in the risk group, and I took the precaution of keeping my kids home from school until such time as I could get a more definitive answer from my doctor. My kids’ school fully supported me in this approach. 

So, I go back to my American friends and ask, how can allowing the under-50 crowd out with social distancing put the at risk population in danger? Yes, it requires people to take personal responsibility and to actively work to protect those at risk. And, assuming this is followed, then those at risk can be expected to be reasonably protected.

Why did they have a complete lockdown in the U.S. in the first place? We were told that it was meant to flatten the curve so that the hospitals have a chance to deal with the patient loads. Mass lockdown simply pushes the problem out in time, to be dealt with later. Yes, over the next 18 months, at risk people will get the virus and there will be many that die. This is in large part unavoidable. I suspect that in the end we will see similar numbers within a range across all Western countries. This will play out over 12+ months. 

If we can accept that statement, then we would need to admire Sweden for taking an approach that does not further burden its economy, does not destroy people’s God given right to freedom, while also working to protect those at risk, and augmenting immunity.

Americans have been Buffalo’d into TINA (“There Is No Alternative”). The reality is that there are a wide range of responses and one size does not fit all. There are sophisticated approaches that can be deployed which do not necessitate the destruction of our economy and the financial decimation of people and their families.  

What NYC does should not necessarily be followed in Iowa. Iowa might look more like Sweden and NYC more like Helsinki. 

All of the criticism and “hate” directed at Sweden is emotional and not following evidence based science. One wonders why people are reacting the way they are. 

Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B Klein

Daniel Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he leads a program in Adam Smith. He is also associate fellow at the Ratio Institute (Stockholm) and chief editor of Econ Journal Watch.

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