China Outbreak

Travelers pass through a health screening checkpoint at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in southern China's Hubei province, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

When does simple naiveté become paralyzing brain fog? If you’re a reader of E.J. Dionne’s column in this newspaper, you might want to ask yourself that question.

Although he rarely hits the mark, Dionne’s recent column, “Coronavirus is socialism’s best recruiter,” is beyond absurd, even for him. In my opinion, a stronger case can be made that China’s response to the “Wuhan flu” is a portent of what to expect if the socialist dream of “free medical care for all” ever comes to fruition.

The origins and nature of the coronavirus remain shrouded in mystery, clouded by secrecy and misinformation. What is clear is that the largest ruling socialist bureaucracy in the world failed miserably in handling the situation.

For those who can remember such things, it was like watching a replay of Russian “control” of the Chernobyl disaster. China let the virus spread unchecked for weeks. It not only failed to act or treat the virus seriously but censored anyone discussing it.

Chinese officials also lied about the seriousness of the situation and rejected visits from U.S. health authorities in the early stages of the epidemic. One of China’s foremost epidemiologists said that if the government had acted sooner, “the number of sick would be greatly reduced.”

This kind of bungling should not come as a surprise. Everywhere socialism has been tried, the end result has been ruled by authoritarian centralized bureaucracy, serious income inequality, and economic malaise. In this instance, China made things worse by its dystopic penchant for misinformation and censorship. Only naive, wishful thinking could lead proponents of socialism in the U.S. to think things would be different if it were implemented here.

As usual, Dionne is myopic. He has his eyes on the wrong target. The coronavirus is a tragedy, but it should not encourage a false dichotomy between extreme versions of capitalism on the one hand and socialism on the other. The common enemy of all “isms” is the paralyzing effects of plutocratic, centralized bureaucracy.

ROBERT HEBERT

economist

Baton Rouge