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Epidemiologist: Individual Responsibility Is Flattening Sweden's COVID Curve

2 ¾ min

Sweden may be on to something. Bloomberg reports:

Sweden’s unusual approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic is starting to yield results, according to the country’s top epidemiologist.

Anders Tegnell, the architect behind Sweden’s relatively relaxed response to Covid-19, told local media the latest figures on infection rates and fatalities indicate the situation is starting to stabilize.

“We’re on a sort of plateau,” Tegnell told Swedish news agency TT.

If Tegnell’s characterization turns out to be true, it will be quite a vindication for Sweden, which has been widely denounced for bucking the trend among governments of imposing draconian “shelter-at-home” decrees that have crippled the world economy and thrown millions out of work.

While fear of the COVID-19 pandemic has driven the citizens of many countries around the world to be extremely trusting of their governments’ information, predictions, advice, and edicts, the Swedish government flipped the script by placing its trust in its citizens. As the Bloomberg report puts it (emphasis added):

Sweden has left its schools, gyms, cafes, bars and restaurants open throughout the spread of the pandemic. Instead, the government has urged citizens to act responsibly and follow social distancing guidelines.

The Swedish people have lived up to that trust, and have appreciated it:

Yet overall, Lofven’s strategy has won the approval of Swedes, and his personal popularity has soared.

“I have very high confidence in the Swedish authorities that manage this,” Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in a phone interview. “It’s a hard balance to strike, but I have full confidence in the measures that Sweden has taken.”

Volvo, which was forced to halt production across Europe and furlough about 20,000 Swedish employees, will resume production at its Swedish plants on Monday.

“Our measures are all based on individuals taking responsibility, and that is also an important part of the Swedish model,” Samuelsson said.

Measures based on individual responsibility used to be part of the American model, too, as codified in the Bill of Rights. Yet we have developed a culture of reflexively giving up that responsibility and those rights whenever we get scared: of terrorists, of economic hardship, of a virus. As the economic devastation from our latest collective panic attack mounts, we are seeing how counterproductive that cowering posture can be.

If we are going to recover from this anytime soon, Americans must rediscover our founding principles. And people all around the world must insist that their governments place at least as much trust in its citizens as Sweden has. But to do that, we must first learn to trust ourselves as a society of individuals. And to do that, it would help to learn some economics: especially the concept of spontaneous order.

As FEE’s Jon Miltimore wrote in his detailed article on Sweden’s approach to COVID-19 earlier this month:

There’s a tendency to believe that free markets and cooperation work, except in difficult or “complex” situations that call for more assertive means.

The great Leonard Read saw the flaw in such thinking.

The more complex the economy, society, or situation, Read observed, “the more we should rely on the miraculous, self-adapting processes of men acting freely.”

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This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

[Image Credit: Flickr-Danko Durbić, CC BY 2.0]

Image Credit: [Image Credit: Flickr-Danko Durbić, CC BY 2.0]
Dan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is the Director of Content at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the editor-in-chief of FEE.org. He co-hosts the weekly web show FEEcast, serving as the resident “explainer." Dan is a prolific essayist, having written widely on economics, politics, foreign policy, education, and self-improvement. In addition to an extensive FEE archive, his work has been published by The Mission, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, David Stockman’s Contra Corner, and many other popular web sites. He wrote a weekly column for Antiwar.com. Dan is also the main writing coach for Praxis, a professional-development bootcamp that serves as an alternative to college. At the Mises Institute, Dan was editor of Mises.org and launched the Mises Academy, the first ever free-market economics online learning platform. Dan has delivered speeches for FEE, Praxis, the Mises Institute, Liberty on the Rocks, America’s Future Foundation, and more.

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Sean
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According to the Johns Hopkins infection map: Sweden: 15.322 cases, 1,765 deaths. Other Nordic countries: Norway: 7,191 cases, 182 deaths Finland: 4,014 cases, 141 deaths Denmark: 7,695 cases, 370 deaths So, Sweden has double or triple the number of cases as any other Nordic country and has 10 times the number of deaths. The number of cases is less significant in that it is strongly dependent on number of tests done. I'm a big proponent of individual responsibility myself, but the facts here do not support the conclusions made in the article.
 
 

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ScientistInSweden
Well said Sean, this article is so far from the facts of the matter that it seems to fall into the category of propaganda. Sweden currently (9th May) the 13th worst for deaths worldwide. The situation looks worse for Sweden if latest projections turn out to be accurate, we've plenty of data now to model the effects of shutting down vs. not shutting down, Sweden seems to have placed all their bets on herd immunity, which may not be possible without a vaccine. https://covid19.healthdata.org/sweden
Bonnie
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I have decided to wait until all countries open back up, and then see what happens in second( and potentially third) wave(s) and what the data shows before choosing a side in this debate. It is simply too early to tell. Another issue is that the Spanish flu was relatively mild in 1917 but it was lethal in 1918, and took down young people too. There were at least 3, and perhaps 4 or 5, waves. This can also become a factor. Viruses mutate constantly, with each host, and we have no idea what may happen with this one.
 
 

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Zabelisa
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The problem is that the tests are wildly inaccurate and do not specifically refer to covid-19. The tests are designed to amplify any corona viruses. There are many of those already circulating. Any similar symptoms will be lumped under the covid-19. So if there are clusters in health care facilities the chances of people being infected is exponential. Sweden may have a larger and older population as compared to the other Nordic countries. And bigger facilities where more people are likely to die anyway. This equation is more complex than just comparing death numbers.
 
 

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ScientistInSweden
It's true that the equation is more complex, this is probably the best attempt to collate all factors and model them mathematically, and although Sweden may only be 13th in the world for highest number of deaths now, it looks like it may well get a lot worse by August, if these projections are accurate - they are from a reliable academic source in the USA: https://covid19.healthdata.org/sweden
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alpha60computers
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Granted Sweden's population is roughly twice that of its Nordic neighbors, that is still a death rate that is roughly five times that of Norway and Finland and double that of Denmark. This is not a success by any objective measure. I think any proponents of this approach need to ask themselves – what percentage of a population should be considered expendable to save a country weeks or months of discomfort? Is human life not sacred and worth defending? Job losses and business closures are not permanent, but death is.
 
 

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Taiji218
Many job losses are going to be permanent, as many companies file for bankruptcy. Also, deaths by suicide, domestic violence and alcohol/substance abuse are rising the longer the lockdowns continue. Are not these deaths permanent? Are not these lives sacred?
ScientistInSweden
Sweden currently has the 13th highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world. It's far higher than most other European countries, the only European countries with higher death rates are the ones who didn't lock down early. Facts matter... https://aatishb.com/covidtrends/
Kristie Lazenberry
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Even under the governments strict guidelines here in the United States, I see individuals, here, in the U.S. completely ignoring them. I see no attempt to distance themselves when I go to the store by a majority of the shoppers. So, I don't know if bringing it back to the individual will work any better. I truly would like to think so, but I'm just not seeing it at this point.
 
 

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