Why aren’t a ton of Swedes on their way to being dead?

Sweden is geographically close to and tightly connected via commerce and tourism with some of the world’s coronavirus hotspots, e.g., Italy, Spain, and Germany. Yet the government in Sweden hasn’t closed the schools or done much of anything else about coronavirus. Why don’t the WHO COVID-2019 situation reports show a dramatic upward trend for Sweden compared to its European neighbors?

“As the rest of Europe lives under lockdown, Sweden keeps calm and carries on” (Guardian):

While every other country in Europe has been ordered into ever more stringent coronavirus lockdown, Sweden has remained the exception. Schools, kindergartens, bars, restaurants, ski resorts, sports clubs, hairdressers: all remain open, weeks after everything closed down in next door Denmark and Norway.

Universities have been closed, and on Friday, the government tightened the ban on events to limit them to no more than 50 people. But if you develop symptoms, you can still go back to work or school just two days after you feel better. If a parent starts showing symptoms, they’re allowed to continue to send their children to school. [!]

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, believes it is counterproductive to bring in the tightest restrictions at too early a stage. “As long as the Swedish epidemic development stays at this level,” he tells the Observer, “I don’t see any big reason to take measures that you can only keep up for a very limited amount of time.”

His team at the Public Health Agency of Sweden is critical of the Imperial College paper that warned this month that 250,000 people in the UK would die if the government failed to introduce more draconian measures. A week later Johnson ordered the police to implement a partial lockdown to combat the virus, telling people they “must stay at home”.

“We have had a fair amount of people looking at it and they are sceptical,” says Tegnell. “They think Imperial chose a number of variables that gave a prognosis that was quite pessimistic, and that you could just as easily have chosen other variables that gave you another outcome. It’s not a peer-reviewed paper. It might be right, but it might also be terribly wrong. In Sweden, we are a bit surprised that it’s had such an impact.”

Is it that the Swedes have so much hospital capacity they don’t care how quickly the patients come in? No need to flatten the curve (or remind everyone you know on Facebook to flatten the curve) if an infinite supply of universal health care is available. The World Bank says that Sweden has 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000 population, less than the U.S. (2.9), Italy (3.4), Germany (8.3), or Japan (13.4). Has Sweden been hoarding ventilators? Exactly the opposite: “Sweden’s Getinge to deliver 500 ventilators to Italy as demand rockets”.

If you believe that hot/humid weather helps keep the virus in check that can’t be a factor for Sweden (high of 39F tomorrow in Stockholm). Here they are wearing jackets in summer (from my Sweden photos):

Maybe they’ve just given up? From the above article:

Tegnell even questions whether stopping the progress of the virus is desirable. “We are just trying to slow it, because this disease will never go away. If you manage, like South Korea, to get rid of it, even they say that they count on it coming back. Stopping it might even be negative, because you would have a pent-up possible spread of the disease, and then once you open the gates, there is a possibility that there would be an even worse outcome.”

While Tegnell understands that he will be blamed if Sweden ends up in a similar situation to that of Italy, he refuses to be panicked. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended up about the same way for all of us, irrespective of what we’re doing,” he says. “I’m not so sure that what we’re doing is affecting the spread very much. But we will see.”

Why haven’t we seen the effects already? If a shutdown works, Sweden should have a higher infection rate per capita than Denmark, right, since Denmark is shut down. But WHO reports show Sweden with a lower infection rate (Sweden has twice the population of Denmark).

Why don’t we read about overwhelmed hospitals in Sweden? With exponential growth, we’ve had enough time to see a difference between Germany and Denmark (schools shut afternoon of March 13) and Sweden, no?

(Maybe two weeks isn’t enough if Denmark and Sweden are like Massachusetts and don’t test people until they’ve been admitted to the hospital and are at death’s door. And then the tests don’t get reported out to the public until after they’ve come back from the lab (can take 2-4 additional days). So Sweden could have been experiencing far more infections during the last two weeks, but it wouldn’t show up in the data just yet. Though you’d think we’d see hysterical articles about the hospitals filling up, as we have been getting out of New York.)


  • From 2018: “Denmark plans to house the country’s most unwelcome foreigners in a most unwelcoming place: a tiny, hard-to-reach island that now holds the laboratories, stables and crematory of a center for researching contagious animal diseases. As if to make the message clearer, one of the two ferries that serve the island is called the Virus.” (nytimes)
  • family law in Sweden (a divorce following a coronavirus quarantine is unlikely to be profitable; alimony is unavailable and child support revenue is capped at about $2,500 per year)
  • getting to the same place, but perhaps from a less-obviously-informed-by-epidemiology perspective, “Brazil’s Bolsonaro makes life-or-death coronavirus gamble” (Associated Press): “Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has staked out the most deliberately dismissive position of any major world leader, calling the pandemic a momentary, minor problem and saying strong measures to contain it are unnecessary. “The Brazilian needs to be studied. He doesn’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping into sewage, diving in, right? Nothing happens to him. I think a lot of people were already infected in Brazil, weeks or months ago, and they already have the antibodies that help it not proliferate,” Bolsonaro said.
  • my photos from Sweden (back in the film days)

Full post, including comments

European perspective on Jeffrey Epstein, Brexit, Immigration, and Donald Trump

I spent three weeks with 471 fellow “explorers” through the Northwest Passage. Most were German, Scandinavian, or from the UK. Only 22 of us were American. Out of 150 staff and crew, only 1 was American (most were from the Philippines). Every day the ship provided us with a printed summary of news, organized by country. Thus, it turned out to be a great way to get the European perspective on current events.

[What was the racial composition of the passengers? The same as in American communities where residents hang Black Lives Matters signs and say that their top priority is racial diversity: 90+ percent white with the remainder being Asian.]

News about Jeffrey Epstein bewildered the Scandinavians and Germans. “If she wants to work as a real prostitute paying taxes she needs to wait until she is 18,” said a Dane. “But there is nothing illegal about a 15-year-old having a sugar daddy buying her whatever she wants. A 15- or 16-year-old is considered an adult in sexual matters.” Germans noted that the age of consent in their country was 14 and that prostitution, though not a career to aspire to, was legal.

A retired English lawyer doubted that Epstein had ever abused anyone: “the women kept going back.” She was scornful of the actresses who’d had sex with Harvey Weinstein and of the #MeToo movement in general. “I was the only female lawyer in my firm and then the only partner,” she noted. “I could have claimed harassment or discrimination dozens of times.” (Proof that criminal defense lawyers are right in wanting older women on juries in what used to be called “date rape” cases?)

The UK passengers were drawn mostly from the London/Southeast area and many had worked in multinational enterprises. Thus, the majority had voted to Remain, but there were quite a few Leavers. Nobody seemed to have any affection for the EU as an institution: “I voted to Remain,” said one woman, “but now that I’ve seen how the EU has treated us, if there were another election today I would vote to Leave.” The business experts noted that the EU had begun as a trade and customs union, but had morphed into an attempt to forge a single political entity. They considered that effort a failure, but the Remainers wanted to try to reform the EU from within (since reforming big centralized government has been so successful everywhere else?).

Just as with Americans, claiming to dislike Donald Trump is a mark of sophistication and intelligence. Hardly anyone wanted to admit that there was anything to like about our dictator. However, the folks who’d done business internationally said that Trump was doing exactly the right thing with respect to China and talked about how they’d been unable to get access to the market there without opening a factory and transferring technology. Others said that they thought Trump’s trade policies would be bad for Europe, but were in Americans’ best interest.

The Europeans were at least as hostile to low-skill migration as Donald Trump. They wanted a wall on Europe’s southern border. They wanted their welfare state, already stingier than ours (see Hartz IV, for example), further curtailed so that Europe would stop being a magnet for those who are helpless in a modern economy.

The Europeans who said that they didn’t like Trump also shared his fondness for low tax rates as a way of fostering economic growth. A Swedish business executive whose company has a U.S. division said that he thought U.S. taxes were currently higher than Sweden’s. He pointed out that Sweden has no estate (death) tax. What about their higher headline personal income tax rate? “Nobody pays that,” he said. “If you’re a corporate executive you will find a way to turn the income into a capital gain, taxed at 30 percent.” A Scandinavian who was generally in favor of big government earned most of his income through an Estonian corporation. As Estonia is tax free, he won’t owe any taxes on this income until he needs to get the money out and spend it, which could be 50 years from now.

It was interesting to be with people who don’t share our assumptions, but now I’m back in the land of GroupThink. From a Toyota at our local public library on Saturday:

Full post, including comments

Greenlanders and Trump

After Trump was elected, a friend said “If Trump proposes any cuts to the military, Democrats will demand a 600-ship navy.” In that same vein, while I was traveling around Greenland in preparation for a Northwest Passage cruise, my Facebook friends were defending continued white European colonialism in Greenland following Trump’s offer to purchase the island from Denmark.

What does Greenland look like? Here’s Sisimiut, one of the largest cities, population 5,500 (10 percent of the island’s total population):

Danish colonial rule was legitimized (at least by the Klaboona) in the 1930s. History from the museum in Ilulissat (posited source of the glacier that sunk Titanic):

What did Greenland residents think of the Trump offer? I asked everyone whom I met during August 2019 visits to Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat, Sisimiut, and Itilleq. There was a huge amount of enthusiasm for continued Danish rule… among those who were actually Danish, e.g., an art museum director who was born in Copenhagen to Danish parents and emigrated to Greenland roughly 25 years ago. There was zero enthusiasm for continued Danish rule among those whose heritage was “Greenlandic” (Eskimo/Inuit). People of mixed genetic heritage had a mixed opinion.

One Greenlandic gal noted “the Danes never thought about doing anything for us until Trump made his offer.” The Danes living in Denmark with whom I spoke considered the offer in “What can Greenland do for us?” terms, e.g., what were the value of the minerals that could potentially be mined. They did not mention any consideration of whether Greenlandic folks would be better or worse off under the cruel boot of the Trumpenfuhrer.

Thus, based on my sample of roughly 40 individuals, native Greenlandic folks have the same affection for European colonialism that Native Americans do for European-American immigrants.

My notes from watching short documentaries on Air Greenland (nice airline) during the inbound flight:

People want to fight the Danish and be independent. Yet young people move to Denmark. Young people leave smaller Greenland towns for Nuuk. It is a huge waste of time for Greenland kids to learn Danish; they could be a lot more integrated with the world economy if they learned English instead.

Acknowledgement that they are financially dependent on Denmark, but expressed hope that they can be self-reliant as in the past. Why aren’t the fishing rights lucrative enough for independence ? Plenty of cod back in Viking times.

Why do they have alcohol? Much coverage in the tourist promotional videos of the damage done by alcoholism. Young woman beat up a number of other girls at a bar. Had no memory and no reason to have attacked any of them. Sentenced to 70 hours community service. Industrial cheap alcohol in a place where the sun doesn’t rise for 6 months?

Some photos from the in-flight magazine and seatback video:

Note that helicopters are included within the category of “aeroplanes.” In case you were considering signing up for a dogsled ride, “Travelling with dogs is a sensual experience that penetrates travellers – and remains there”. Mira Kleist, a young diplomat, gives advice to teenagers that might not make sense in the digital age: “Just do what you want to, people soon forget.” (But Google, Facebook, and Archive.org remember, as anyone whose Harvard acceptance has been rescinded can attest.)


  • “Greenland’s exit warning to Britain” (Politico), regarding the three-year process (1982-1985) required for an island of 56,000 population to leave the European Union. (one fun thing to do on the cruise, whenever the English passengers started to talk about Brexit, was to ask Norwegians at the table if Norway would like to join the EU, a proposal that was greeted with howls of derisive laughter)
Full post, including comments

Asking museum visitors for feedback… and getting it

The (awesome) Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark holds five restored 1000-year-old ships:

The museum also features seaworthy replicas on which visitors can travel in the summer.

One fun part of the museum was the feedback wall:

Dressing up is popular:

There is some passion for American culture:

The Vikings had only two gender IDs:

“Send Them Back” stickers in the adjacent parking lot:

I wonder what would happen if American museums allowed this kind of open feedback whiteboard!

Full post, including comments

ARKEN: Copenhagen’s contemporary art museum

Some pictures from a summer visit to ARKEN, a waterfront concrete museum that opened in 1996.

The entrance…

The regular collection is heavy on Damien Hirst…

More exciting… Benedikte Bjerre built an airport conveyor system out of IKEA bed parts (she says “the work addresses our dreams and hopes of the good capitalist life and social mobility across global borders”):

The museum was doing a big show of work by Australian Patricia Piccinini:

Does your dog like to jump up and share the bed?

Can you explain this traffic accident to Hertz?

Is it fair to say that not all concepts for Little Mermaid sequels are successful?


Many of the artists claim to be concerned about “marginalised individuals and groups,” but how many of those folks will ever purchase or view a contemporary artwork?

Exit through the gift shop…

And then fold your big Danish frame into a tiny Danish car…

Full post, including comments

Danish kids absent from school for a month

The two youngest passengers on our Northwest Passage cruise were 13 and 15, public school students in Denmark. I asked the parents what kind of bureaucratic obstacles there had been to taking the kids out of school for a month. “None,” replied the dad. “The teacher said that they’ll probably learn more on this trip than in school.” Hurtigruten’s promise of working Internet on the Roald Amundsen did not materialize due to (a) limited satellite coverage, and (b) inability of the ship’s antennae to point low enough. Had the disconnected children experienced trouble in completing their assignments? “They weren’t given any,” said the father. “The curriculum in Denmark is standardized at the federal level, which can be great, but for children who are stronger than average academically it means they have no trouble catching up if they miss a month.”

[I also learned from this family that Denmark has instituted a busing system for children of immigrants. If a born-in-Denmark child does not speak Danish well, he or she is bused away from the neighborhood school, which presumably will also contain a bunch of children who speak a non-Danish language, to a school full of Danes. Where are these folks from? “Syria, after four straight years as the biggest generator of asylum-seekers in Denmark, lost its crown to Eritrea last year, but this year it is back on course to generate the highest number. … Uffe Østergaard, a Danish university academic specialising in identity history who works for both Aarhus University and Copenhagen Business School, has suggested in a Politiken opinion piece that Europe should build a wall around its perimeter… ” (CPH Post)]

Full post, including comments

Ireland and immigration

The same question of “How do you run a welfare state with open borders?” that Milton Friedman answered with “You can’t” remains a live one in Ireland: “The Irish are losing control of Ireland once again?” is a video that an Irish friend sent me. Gemma O’Doherty, towards the end, asks what the point was of fighting the British colonizers if Ireland ultimately will be primarily occupied by non-Irish. She also points out that one third of “social housing” in Ireland is currently occupied by non-Irish. (Not sure how this can be true since, as in America, there is a long waiting list for a free house (yet folks say that free housing is a basic human right! But if it is actually a right, why is there a waiting list? If it is not a right, why do some people get a free house?)).

Ireland is far more hostile to immigrants and asylum-seekers than the U.S. Voters eliminated birthright citizenship in 2004 with a constitutional amendment. Asylum-seekers are dumped into cramped apartments, forbidden to work, and forgotten about (except by Amnesty International, which criticizes Ireland for this). The Irish with whom I spoke thought this was brutal, but effective. “Nobody is coming here to claim asylum anymore.”

During a May/June trip to Ireland, employers and developers of rental property were the most positive regarding the merits of immigration, praising the work ethic of Eastern Europeans, for example, and noting which neighborhoods in Dublin were now primarily occupied by (rent-paying) Pakistanis.

Folks who were not able to make money as a result of immigration and population growth were less sanguine. They missed the cohesion of a society in which they could find common ground for a conversation with anyone anywhere in the country. A retired police officer sounded unhappy that pedestrian streets now had to be protected from vehicular mass murder, a requirement that he attributed to the decision to allow Muslims to emigrate to Ireland.

The places in Ireland where an immigrant might settle, i.e., the cities with jobs, are jam-packed already. Traffic in Dublin and on the surrounding highways slows to a crawl in mid-afternoon. Commuter trains are standing-room-only during weekday morning and evenings. There is no realistic Chinese-style plan to add a subway system. Here’s the situation close to 9:00 am on a weekday, when people should already be at work:

Housing is not affordable for median-income earners (see “Dublin’s Housing Crisis Reaches a Boiling Point”: “The city’s average rent as of March was up to €1,875 ($2,176) a month. This is a large amount for anyone on the Irish average monthly wage of €3,181 ($3,692) and completely impossible for anyone paid anything close to the minimum hourly wage of €9.25 ($10.74).”) As in the U.S., the government engages in every possible scheme to fight the result of Econ 101 supply and demand curves. Developers of new buildings have to give apartments to central planners for them to allocate. Housing bureaucrats conceive grand plans for “social housing,” never imagining that demand for guaranteed free housing could outstrip supply (as in the U.S., the best way to get hold of a “social housing” unit is to have a child and refrain from working).

It is unclear what it would mean to apply a fashionable American politician’s open borders policy to Ireland. The country is home to roughly 5 million people. If 1 out of every 1,000 people currently living somewhere else decided that it would be nice to move to Ireland, that would be 7.6 million immigrants (from a baseline of 7.6 billion) and the country would no longer be “Irish”.

The debate is pretty much the same as in the U.S., but with all of the numbers scaled down. People who want to exclude 98 percent of would-be migrants claim the moral high ground by contrast with those who want to exclude 99 percent. Nobody who expresses love and concern for migrants actually wants to allow everyone in, much less shelter any of them in his or her own home. The country’s welfare state offers citizens the ability to refrain from work for an entire lifetime and, indeed, for multiple generations. People don’t want immigrants to come in and use the system as designed, but they have signed high-toned international agreements promising not to discriminate when ladling out the welfare.


  • “Migration in Ireland a huge issue but what we need’s a solution” (IrishCentral), concluding with “As the taoiseach said, the ultimate answer lies in improving the countries migrants are coming from, whether that’s in Africa or South America.” (i.e., Ireland now has to figure out how to make Africa and South America prosperous on a per-capita basis!)
  • “Huge scale of immigration is making our housing crisis worse” (Irish Independent)
  • “In Ireland, Bid to Restore Birthright Citizenship Gains Ground” (nytimes): “The government’s opposition is based on the special relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland, said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Equality, which has responsibility for immigration matters. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its people are legally entitled to both British and Irish citizenship. The Irish government fears that people living illegally in Britain could move to Northern Ireland, give birth to a child there and obtain Irish citizenship for their child after living there for three years. The parents could then use the child’s citizenship to obtain residency anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom which, though separate countries, confer extensive mutual residency and travel rights on each other’s citizens.”
Full post, including comments

Is Irish GDP misleading?

Based on GDP per capita, Ireland is substantially better off than the U.S. It is ahead of Switzerland and Norway, though not within sight of Singapore or Qatar.

Yet the observed lifestyle in Ireland does not seem lavish or gold-plated as it does in Switzerland. A “national road” (comparable to a state highway in the U.S.) will be the width of a North Carolina dentist’s driveway. There is no shoulder and a dirt embankment or hedge will be flush to the edge of the pavement, which is also the edge of the travel lane (see “no shoulder”). Houses are smaller than in the U.S. and systems for central and water heating, etc., seem to be more primitive (one huge plus: no mosquitoes and therefore no screens on the windows!). Public transport infrastructure is better than the U.S., but nowhere near the Russian standard (commuter rail every 15 minutes!). The country does not seem to live any wealthier than southern England, for example.

Costs for labor-intensive items, such as car or aircraft maintenance, are comparable to what people pay in the U.S. and much lower than in Switzerland. Hotels and restaurant prices are also reasonable, especially when you consider that taxes and service are included.

I spoke with several Irish guys who are frequent travelers to the U.S. They think that Ireland is a better country overall, especially for young people, due to the fact that citizens come out of university debt-free and into a strong job market. So they aren’t impressed with our infrastructure, apparently. Thanks to the cold/wet climate, nearly everyone in Ireland can afford to live close to the ocean. Oceanfront property prices are approximately 1/10th of what one might pay in Florida, for example, despite the fact that the Irish property will typically be high enough above sea level (on the rocky shore) to survive quite a bit of sea level rise. (Below, a statue in Cobh that commemorates the first person to immigrate to the U.S. through Ellis Island, but when the future was plainly brighter for a young person in the U.S.)

Our government investigators are the best (look at how the Mueller investigation, in only two years, figured out that older Americans were paying younger Americans to have sex and that Americans sought to avoid paying tax!) so I hesitate to doubt the CIA’s published GDP numbers. However, the facts on the ground don’t seem consistent with the higher-than-Switzerland purported GDP-per-capita.

The Financial Times seemed to agree with this back in 2016: “Multinationals obscure real state of Ireland’s economy; Bloated GDP data blamed on difficulty of measuring their activity.”

The good news is that, whatever the actual level of GDP per capita, Ireland is growing nicely, though property prices are not yet back to their peaks (a real estate developer told me that prices for completed structures, as opposed to undeveloped land, are now roughly where they were at the 2008 peak, but that’s in nominal dollars, not inflation-adjusted).

Full post, including comments

Europeans who don’t want to go back to Europe because it is “violent”

At a recent barbecue I talked to a couple of Europeans, one from France and one from Romania. They’re living in Massachusetts now. Would they want to return to live in Europe? “No,” said the Romanian. “It is too violent.” The French woman agreed.

How was that possible? Doesn’t the U.S. have a near-monopoly on violence, at least if we are to believe our media? The answer was “no.” They both thought that their countries were ripe for essentially a civil war between the native Christian population (of which they had been part) and the immigrant Muslim population. They thought that large parts of their respective countries were already unsafe for non-Muslims and that the problems would become dramatically worse in the near future.

They also appreciated America’s service-oriented economy in which the customers usually is a priority. “You think that the French hate Americans because of the way you get treated in shops,” said the former Parisienne, “but they treat us the same.”

They considered the cost of living in Europe to be dramatically higher than the U.S., even more than could be explained by the VAT (consumption tax). “I have a friend who is a nurse and her husband is an architect,” said the French woman. “They live just above what we would consider the poverty line.”

What was good about Europe? “The vacations, the ability to relax and enjoy life, the social contacts.”


Full post, including comments