In my last post, I expressed hope that China and the US would work together to control the spread of COVID-19. The Chinese government has permitted WHO officials into the country, but it’s not clear how much information they are getting. Unfortunately, Beijing has not allowed CDC officials to enter. It looks like Beijing is a little more forthcoming about the coronavirus than with past health crises, but not much.
The information-sharing problem is rooted in competing views on liberty and a free economy. Most Americans want the truth even if the news is bad. We reject the idea that the government should withhold information for our good. We are suspicious of politicians who tell us to trust their judgment.
But socialists believe that individuals cannot be trusted to make correct decisions. They either lack the information necessary or good judgment to do so. Socialists trust “wise” central planners to make decisions in the best interest of society. Government officials might need to control information about the coronavirus and other “threats” so that citizens don’t “panic” or take other measures that might threaten the nation.
Although it has changed a lot in the last three decades, China officially remains a communist nation, and most Chinese are socialists. America was built on freedom in speech, the press, religion, and economic pursuits. Modern China was built on central planning and control. The popularity of Democrats like Sanders and Warren suggests that some Americans do not understand their heritage of liberty or are willing to trade some of it for what they think is security. Nonetheless, the spirited debates we have and see in the media remind us that most Americans still value freedom.
Politics aside, most Americans demand honesty and openness about COVID-19 from government and health officials. Perhaps most Chinese agree, but it’s impossible to know for sure because it is not possible to accurately gauge Chinese public opinion. We do know that China’s leaders do not agree. The unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis reminds us that significant differences between the two nations remain.
Ben Franklin said it best: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”