I have an idea: let’s do whatever South Korea does

They sure seem to do something right. I haven’t seen any evidence that their economy has been significantly harmed, either.

My daughter-in-law Ji and grandson Knut are currently stuck in Korea — passport issues for a four-year-old and tight control over travel — and I don’t know, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be trapped in a country with an effective government and rational health care. They also seem to have sound childcare policies.

The bad news is that his father is stuck in Fort Lewis, Washington, apart from his family.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Sweden in nowhere as good as South Korea, but the statistics that were revealed yesterday 17.00 shows the rocket-like spike of omricon has stagnated.
    A very slight reduction of confirmed cases, a very slight reduction of patients in hospital, both milder cases and intensive care.
    The overall level is still very high but there is some tentative optimism.
    I hope USA may see a similar sudden halt.
    Of course, this requires distancing and continued vaccination, otherwise the end of the spike will be delayed.
    Locals here started complying with the covid advice when the scary runaway chain reaction was obvious to everyone.
    A good big scare is useful.

  2. PaulBC says

    It’s “Asian collectivism.” We Westerners just loves us our freedoms so much that we would never stoop to solving a problem at a societal level.

    I’m being sarcastic, but if you cut through the bullshit, you will hear many Americans and Europeans stating precisely this thesis: that the high rate of disease and death provides that we are just that much better than all those sheeple in East Asia. Also, there’s a good bit of racial essentialism thrown in to suggest that we couldn’t succeed like South Korea even if we wanted to.

    Which is complete bullshit. To be honest, I think the Enlightenment (thanks Locke et al.) sold us a bill of goods about individual rights. Yes, they’re important. But I think we now have a lot more empirical data on where some of the ideas fail in practice. When political philosophy results in a massive death count, I think it is worth asking whether that is in fact a bug and not a feature.

  3. maireaine46 says

    I am so glad he and mom are in a safe place. Wish your son could join them. Once again, USA and UK are lousy at protecting their citizens in the name of “freedom”. What was all that about Western “Civlization” being superior??
    Your grandson is so cute, as is your granddaughter.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    The death philosophy trumpeted out by Fox News and its media clones (and the British gutter press) will naturally kill people. The billionaire owners of these media are safely isolated in their estates, why should they care as long as denialism can help their political allies?
    (För Germans, see the media owned by Axel Caesar Springer and his children)
    Nor should you ignore the genuine stupidity, arrogance and ignorance of these ruling elites – Trump and Johnson are perfect examples.
    Consider the arrogance of the corporate Democrats and their opposition to any new policies. They are the good guys! The bad guys have no problems leading entire nations off the cliff edge.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    (Addendum) …so I am not giving up on western pluralistic societies yet. The problem is every generation have to re-fight the battles for non-corrupt governance.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    PaulBC @ 2
    We have the “freedom” to kick a hibernating grizzly in the ass and see what happens. This is where the deligitimation of science and the contempt for knowledge have brought us.
    The fifty-year campaign to sow distrust against “big government” has been very successful. Before the culture wars, even conservatives accepted collective action might be necessary during disasters.

  7. PaulBC says


    What was all that about Western “Civlization” being superior??

    I thought the saying was that “It would be a good idea.” (Attributed to Gandhi but I am unclear on whether that’s ever been verified.)

  8. numerobis says

    It was already clear that this century is when Asia — China in particular — takes the spotlight. COVID just accelerated the process by a bit.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    I haven’t seen any evidence that their economy has been significantly harmed, either.

    I heard that supply chain issues are hitting South Korea so hard they are reduced to eating mint chocolate flavored chicken.

  10. PaulBC says


    It was already clear that this century is when Asia — China in particular — takes the spotlight. COVID just accelerated the process by a bit.

    I’m not sure. In fact it’s not an exaggeration to say I am heartbroken by the direction Xi Jinping is taking China. For context, my wife is Chinese born. One of my favorite memories is visiting in 2004 and meeting some of her former colleagues. The optimism was palpable. I almost wanted to move there though I never made a serious plan.

    Deng Xiaoping was bad enough (see June 4 1989) but there appeared to be a coherent social contract: economic and personal freedom will not be infringed, but this comes at the cost of political freedom and expression, which remains tightly controlled. That’s not the Western model and I don’t agree with it, but China looked like a potentially successful natural experiment. (FWIW, my wife agreed with that take on Deng vs. Xi.)

    It’s quite clear that Xi intends to break this contract and suppress personal freedom as well. He has also reneged on the agreement that Hong Kong would have some kind of autonomy till 2047. There is also the persecution of Falun Gong and the genocide of Uyghurs, though these predate Xi as far as I know. I think life is still pretty good for culturally typical Han Chinese (it was in 2004) which is not enough in terms of human rights, but I also suspect this will get worse over time.

    So, on COVID in particular. I admit I was impressed by the construction of emergency hospitals two year ago. I can’t even imagine the US marshaling that much construction effort that fast. This was when we were doing our banana republic antics of putting a medal on Rush Limbaugh and pretending we could keep the pandemic out. It made me step back and think “Who exactly is the superpower here?” It sure looked to be China, not our empire in rapid decline. Also, China has managed to keep COVID rates stunningly low. I don’t think it’s enough to say “well at the cost of freedom”. I mean, Xi has overreached in many ways, but if we’re willing to fight wars to “protect freedom” we ought to accept other collective actions. (Back to the subject, I think S. Korea is a much better model.)

    I think Deng’s pragmatism (black or yellow cat doesn’t matter as long as it catches the mouse) is what made China stand out in the first place. Certainly, there’s no reason for optimism that the US can lazily hold onto superpower status. However, China looks on the verge of moving from a morally ambivalent experiment to something more like a huge autocratic state. It could shape the 21st century. I sure hope not though!

    One problem with the Western COVID catastrophe is it looks like one more reason for people to claim democracy does not work, which is what Xi would like to be the takeaway. I think democracy does work, but I also think we need to get a lot better at it instead of spinning clear failures as successes.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    Damn. Just as I am bragging, I learn Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson has tested positive for COVID. She is the third party leader to get covid since Wednesday.
    In my defence, politicians move about in public more than the ordinary Joe.

  12. PaulBC says

    birgerjohansson@13 Didn’t Sweden start out with a no-lockdown policy? I was surprised at its success, but it definitely had a very different aim from S. Korea and other nations that tried to minimize the spread as much as possible.

  13. hemidactylus says

    @12- PaulBC-
    It’s not so much democracy where one could impose majoritarian rule over a recalcitrant COVID denying minority, but those pesky rights thingies we have fetishized. In his brick The Conservative Sensibility George Will gets into the dichotomy a bit and bemoans the progressive bulldozing over the Founders in the Wilson era. A far more intellectually sophisticated and challenging version of the trope Glenn Beck had mined before. I got bored with Will and fast forwarded to David Rohde‘s In Deep which focused too on the rise of executive power but starting more with Nixon, Barr, Cheney, etc than demonized bugbear Wilson. Don’t know yet what Will does with that more recent part.

    Anyway long-running paranoia about the administrative state (a leftish target too in a different idiom) and fetishization of rights has made dealing with the pandemic quite difficult in Western liberal states, especially the US. I guess responsibility or the more social orientation depicted of some Asian cultures are not applicable here. We are exceptionally self-centered and paranoid delusional as a society.

    The CDC may be a technocratic bureaucracy but apparently their great demonic illuminati powers are not very effective due to checks and balances (SCOTUS, Senate) and weirdly named Federalism where power devolves to states and local municipalities (except in the case of Florida for the latter with an overbearingly nutty executive and Trumpist legislature).

  14. PaulBC says

    Reginald Selkirk@15 My impression was that it wasn’t catastrophic out of the gate. Hence my surprise. I guess Sweden also made a course correction at some point.

  15. jrkrideau says

    IIRC, South Korea like Taiwan, Vietnam, (and Hong Kong ?) read the first Chinese CDC report to WHO on Jan 01, 2020 and immediately started emergency pandemic procedures.

    They had screening, quarantine, and testing operations up and running almost instantly. They remembered SARS and had not stopped maintaining and funding their pandemic programs.

  16. Walter Solomon says


    They remembered SARS and had not stopped maintaining and funding their pandemic programs.

    I wonder if the perception of SARS shaped policies outside of Asia too. I remember the 00s quite well. SARS was basically a not-so-subtle racist punchline in the US. It was fodder for all sorts of standup routines (“We had a potluck at work and my Asian coworkers brought the SARS…er… I mean sauce.”).

    You can look at all of the “kung flu” jokes from the former guy as proof that COVID wasn’t given the grave attention it warranted. That and the fact that the sociopath was more worried about how the pandemic made him look as opposed to how much of threat it was to the citizens of the US.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    Walter Solomon @ 19
    Sadly there were several sociopaths in charge of several countries who thought magical thinking would stop the pandemic. The three worst were Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro.
    When a democratic system is captured by such pathologies the result is a pro-covid government.

  18. PaulBC says

    Walter Solomon@19 Despite East (and South) Asians being viewed as “model” minorities and often stereotyped as math geniuses, there is a breathtaking amount of racism in American cultural attitudes, only easier to get away with politically than racism against Black people (which I concede is a different and more pernicious problem, but not my subject here). It really gets me angry that hatemongers like Tom Cotton have a senate platform.

    It’s very clear that to many people being “white” remains a badge of superiority, though they need to work a lot harder explaining how they’re superior to those who are outwardly more educated and financially successful. Which is why you hear all the essentialist bullshit about Asians being more collectivist, more docile, less creative etc. And this has not gone away.

    If anything, the success of Asians in America probably makes it even more important for many white people to lean on the simple fact that they’re white, because that’s all they got.

  19. Walter Solomon says


    The three worst were Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro.

    And, of course, karma being fictional and justice non-existent, all three of these useless humans had the best medicine had to offer at their disposal. Bolsonaro apparently has been infected three times. If there were any fairness at all in the universe, these men would’ve been the first casualties.

    PaulBC @21:

    I believe racial stereotypes, whether “positive” or not are just another form of racism. The mistake, often made by POC themselves, is waving aside these less hateful stereotypes as either being beneficial or, at least, harmless. As you said, no one winced when people claimed Asians excel at math or Blacks naturally have more rhythm or are “cooler” than other races but it comes from the same mentality from which negative stereotypes arise.

    Recently I saw some footage of Joe Rogan — who is more popular than he is bright — praising a mixed race person for having a “Black body and white brain.” Rogan literally believes Black and white brains are somehow different. And you know his followers, who view him as a guru, are just eating this nonsense up.

    I agree with you that whiteness is considered a badge of superiority. It’s tarnished a little but it still has power. This is not going change any time soon because as time goes on the world is becoming more and more culturally homogenized and the culture that’s the most influential is Western culture. White people are inextricably linked to Western culture more than any other race. So, counterintuitively, even if a non-white art form, e.g. hip hop, becomes a global sensation, it’s still (correctly I might add) seen as Western and, therefore, in some sense, “white.”

  20. magistramarla says

    Nice to see an updated picture of Knut. He’s growing into a tall and handsome young man.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    But, don’t you remember? The South Korean government actually went so far as to propersecute a church whose leaders kept them to their holy mission of lord-praising!!1!

    Imagine what would happen if Baby Jesus got really mad at his own (formerly) favorite country…

  22. Derek Lactin jon says

    I’m currently in Korea and have been for many years. The reasons for the low rate are many, but two stick out to me:
    1) People take their responsibility to society SERIOUSLY. It’s a Confucian thing. Almost everybody has been vaccinated (including myself), masks up, and distances.
    2) SK has only one operational international airport (Seoul/Incheon), so gatekeeping is easy.

  23. KG says

    Actually not the highest death rate – Belgium, Italy and a number of east European countries have more dead per million. UK has the highest total nmber of Covid deaths.

  24. raven says

    Bolsonaro apparently has been infected three times. If there were any fairness at all in the universe, these men would’ve been the first casualties.

    Trump and Boris Johnson have also been infected.

    To be fair, the president of Tanzania had the idea of simply declaring that the Covid-19 virus pandemic didn’t exist. Shortly after that, this older guy with comorbidities died of…the Covid-19 virus.
    Reality and viruses don’t care what you believe.


    When Covid-19 arrived in Tanzania, Mr Magufuli called on people to go to churches and mosques to pray. “Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly,” he said.

    He declared Tanzania “Covid-19 free” last June, saying the virus had been eradicated by three days of national prayer.

    He also mocked the efficacy of masks, expressed doubts about testing, and teased neighbouring countries which imposed health measures to curb the virus.

    How did that work out, President Magufuli? Oh right, you can’t answer because you are dead.

  25. sapcote77 says

    I don’t think South Korea’s success in dealing with coronavirus has anything to do with ‘Confucionism’ or with its citizens having a higher degree of collective responsibility. I see little to no social distancing here (I’ve lived in Seoul for 20 years). Go to any of the night life areas on any day of the week and you’ll see what I mean. The govt has also been rightfully criticized – inconsistent rules related to its ‘Living with Covid’ policy; discriminatory covid testing requirements for foreign residents etc. The key to the country’s relative success is the healthcare system – unlike in the UK, it hasn’t been decimated by decades of govt cuts. Mask usage hasn’t become politicized. People wear masks because they know they work, and there’s been no suppy chain issues in purchasing masks. Unlike in the UK, the Korean govt didn’t outsource everything to private companies with zero experience in purchasing medical equipment. You also don’t have scientifically illiterate shock jocks on the radio cutting up masks and declaring them to be useless (unlike in the UK).