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Pandemics and Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted soul-searching in the West, with many proposing radical reforms to longstanding economic and political structures. But we should pause to consider the historically unprecedented benefits that the current system has given us.

WASHINGTON, DC – No one would want to repeat the past 18 months. COVID-19, climate change, and global political developments have left tens of millions of people worse off physically and financially. The news has been filled with accounts of horrifying death rates, viral mutations, pandemic restrictions, extreme weather, economic hardship, political conflict, and – now – the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government.

There has been much finger-pointing, as well as many proposals for fundamental changes to economic and political structures. Many Chinese boast that their country’s authoritarian system has performed better than the world’s democracies, and they are not alone. Harsh critiques of the West are also emanating from within its own borders.

Yet notwithstanding the severity of the current hardships, there seems to be a collective ignorance or amnesia about how much worse things were in the past. There have been epidemics and pandemics throughout history, and none has ever been addressed as quickly and satisfactorily as this one has by modern medicine. Even after accounting for the coronavirus’s disparate geographic and demographic consequences, the fact remains that people today are far better off than they would have been had the pandemic arisen in any previous era.

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