Monday, March 23, 2020

New Index Finds Rising Tide of Economic Freedom

Governments around the world are responding to the coronavirus epidemic with a variety of measures that have the potential to curtail economic activity.

It’s vital that such actions be temporary and of as short a duration as possible.

Government restrictions and regulations have a tendency to outlast—sometimes for decades—the crises they were implemented to address.

Some will try, for their own political reasons, to use this crisis and others—real or imagined—to call for a fundamental restructuring of the American economy or the world economic system.

We need to put any such talk to rest.

The 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by The Heritage Foundation, shows a world more committed to the principles of free-market capitalism than ever before.

Some 124 of the 180 countries ranked in the index managed improvements in their economic freedom scores this year. The average score in the index is at its highest level in history, and the commitment to free-market reform is stronger than ever.

The reasons so many countries have adopted U.S.-style capitalism (though some call it by other names) are clear.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its socialist/communist allied governments in Eastern Europe, the world economy has more than doubled in size. Poverty rates have declined by two-thirds.

The globalization of world commerce has brought unprecedented prosperity to the developed economies of North America, Europe, and Asia, and fantastic opportunities for growth to the underdeveloped countries of the world, including China and India.

Hundreds of millions of people are enjoying better lives because their governments have embraced, at least in part, the U.S. way.

The data presented in the index demonstrate conclusively that citizens of freer societies enjoy much higher levels of per-capita income than those who live where governments control most economic activity.

They enjoy longer lives and better standards of health care and education, and live in much cleaner environments.

Countries where economic freedom is growing also have higher economic growth rates, about 1 percentage point per year higher on average. That can add 10% to a country’s living standards over a decade.

The Index of Economic Freedom has a new country at the top of the list this year, Singapore. That Southeast Asian trade and finance powerhouse is the only country to be ranked economically free in every category measured by the index.

Other economies judged “free” this year include Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland.

The U.S. comes in only at 17th place. That’s five spots lower than last year. Protectionist measures have eroded trade freedom in the U.S., and our applied tariff rates have increased by more than 50%.  That’s sure to hold back economic growth in the future, not only here, but also in countries with which we trade.

High levels of U.S. government spending and debt remain ongoing concerns.

We’re obviously going through a tough patch, and Americans’ concerns about their own health and that of our society are running high.

We count on our governments—local, state, and federal—to help us when times are tough. But we need to remember that we live in the most prosperous country in the history of the world, and the fundamental principles of economic freedom have played a vital role in making that happen.

Let’s not trifle with them now.



Politics and Fears of 'Racism' Helped Coronavirus Spread in Italy, Virus Expert Warns

While leftists in the U.S. echoed the Chinese Communist Party in branding President Trump racist for calling the coronavirus Chinese, a virus expert in Italy warned that the Italian government stalled in its response to the virus due to politics and fears of racism — and that stalling cost lives.

Regardless of political correctness, the Chinese coronavirus started in China and taking concrete action to ban Chinese travel and to isolate people coming from China has been very effective in curbing the virus's spread.

Italy's death toll overtook China's on Thursday, with more than 41,000 confirmed cases and 3,405 deaths.

Dr. Giorgio Palù, the former president of the European and Italian Society for Virology and a professor of virology and microbiology at the University of Padova, told CNN that politics and fears of racism hamstrung the Italian government's response.

The government was "lazy in the beginning... too much politics in Italy," Palù said. "There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter, coming from China. Then it became seen as racist, but they were people coming from the outbreak." This unwillingness to contain people who posed the greatest risk contributed to the devastating situation, he argued.

Yet this political correctness was not limited to Italy's national government, as Voice of Europe pointed out.

Northern Italy has been hit hardest by the outbreak, and leaders there encouraged behavior that spreads the virus. Dario Nardella, the Mayor of Florence, urged Italians to "hug a Chinese" in early February, warning that coronavirus fears were leading to racism against Chinese people. Nardella, a member of the left-wing Democratic Party, even tweeted a video of himself hugging a Chinese man.

Northern Italy now has the most cases of coronavirus. The Governor of Lombardy recently warned citizens that they must follow the curfew strictly as hospitals will soon be overwhelmed with patients.

Left-leaning media outlets in the U.S. have parroted the line that Trump's decision to call the virus the "Chinese coronavirus" is racist, even though the president is pushing back on Chinese Communist Party propaganda blaming the U.S. for the virus.

If this Italian virologist is correct, however, these fears of racism are not just overblown but downright deadly. Bad responses to the virus, however well-intentioned, can have a tragic human cost.



COVID-19 Will Change Healthcare

Reducing regulation to ensure speedier service will help millions of Americans

When terms like “social distancing” and “self quarantine” are on the tip of every journalist’s tongue, the good news can often be hard to find.

And little did we know that an act passed in 1996 would haunt us in 2020. Back then, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law, ensuring that information shared between doctors and patients is private and secure. The HIPAA website states, “Prior to HIPAA, no generally accepted set of security standards or general requirements for protecting health information existed in the health care industry. At the same time, new technologies were evolving, and the health care industry began to move away from paper processes and rely more heavily on the use of electronic information systems.”

But the technology of 1996 is not that of today. Essentially, HIPAA prevented healthcare providers and individual doctors from taking advantage of emerging information technologies — and it required patients to be in the physical presence of their doctor in order to have important conversations about their health.

Thus, the Wuhan coronavirus has made the standard office visit not only a challenge for those suffering the symptoms but dangerous for everyone else.

As Tiana Lowe writes at The Washington Examiner, “For decades, HIPAA has strangled the healthcare system, preventing providers from communicating with patients and sharing health data with other experts” and “they are forced to use antiquated electronic medical record systems and to communicate with patients primarily in person.”

This week, all that changed.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took the bold step of ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to waive potential HIPAA penalties, thereby clearing the way for telemedicine. Now, a patient with coronavirus symptoms can consult with a real doctor from home.

Two healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente and One Medical, are already offering this service to their patients. “Kaiser and One Medical can do this because patients aren’t paying to see their preferred physician,” writes Lowe. “They’re paying to get immediate, efficient care. You may wait weeks to see your private practice physician, who is financially incapable of circumventing the HIPAA stipulations that render telemedicine so difficult.”

As the nation’s coronavirus response continues to evolve, President Trump is getting rid of the red tape. Just yesterday during the daily coronavirus task force briefing, he announced that he’s directed FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn to “eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy” in order to “get the rapid deployment of safe, effective treatments” out to the public as soon as possible. As a result, Americans will soon be able to access Chloroquine to alleviate the symptoms of coronavirus.

Trump, in fact, has been battling the bureaucracy since he took office. In 2018, he signed right-to-try legislation that allows terminally ill patients to try promising drugs that haven’t yet received FDA approval. Taken together, these steps may set a precedent by making quality care more efficient, affordable, and accessible long after we’ve conquered coronavirus.

The coronavirus panic has pushed the stock market to the brink, forced universities to teach courses online, turned millions of Americans into telecommuters, and shuttered restaurants, malls, and transportation hubs. But the good news is out there, including that American healthcare has a brighter future.

If only it hadn’t taken a national emergency to make it so.




9/11-STYLE PREPARATIONS: Trump eyes grounding jets, halting stock trading, and ordering shelter in place (Washington Examiner)

MOST POPULOUS AND LARGEST ECONOMIC STATE SHUT DOWN: California issues "stay at home" order (NPR)

TRAVEL ALERT: State Department warns Americans against all overseas travel (AP)

"NOT OUR TRADITIONAL MEDICAL MISSION": Navy readies 1,000-bed hospital ships and Defense Health Agency prepares for civilian support role (Washington Examiner)

GOOD IDEA: Sen. Tom Cotton debuts plan to take pharmaceutical production back from China (The Washington Free Beacon)


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