The core values of American democracy are being put to the test
New York City is finally emerging from the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The streets seem crowded and the restaurants full. When I arrived on June 20, the city lifted the last of its restrictions. Many continued to wear masks. But many do not. The only places that masks seem to be compulsory are on flights and in airports.
But in no sense has the United States achieved control over Covid-19. There are three problems, which are also found in Bangladesh, although to a different extent.
There are many persons who refuse to take the vaccination
The virus will continue to spread through society as well as all over the world, giving time for the virus to mutate. Mutations that increase the transmission rate will soon spread all over the world. The slower the vaccination rate the greater the danger of harmful mutations. These can occur anywhere and may spread rapidly if the transmission rate increases significantly
There is uncertainty as to how long the protection from the vaccination will last, potentially requiring a booster shot to continue the effectiveness of the vaccine. Mutations may affect this. But no one knows the extent of this. Pfizer has already suggested a booster shot may be needed as the effectiveness of the vaccine seems to be declining.
In the United States, the rate of increase of vaccinations is declining. That is, those willing to get vaccinated have done so or will soon do so. There are many programs to reach unvaccinated persons.
Who remains unvaccinated? Quite a lot of young people, who think it is too much trouble or perhaps have some fear of adverse impact. Others exist who believe vaccines do not work. Finally, supporters of former president Donald Trump seem more likely to refuse vaccination.
An interesting political twist
If you make a list of states according to the percentage of the voters in the 2020 election that voted for Biden and a list of the states with high vaccination rates, these two lists correlate strongly.
At the state level, the percent of persons who have had at least one shot ranges from 44% for southern states to more than 75% in New England and the west coast. Sadly, Trump makes no effort to persuade people to get vaccinated and equally sadly, Biden does not give Trump credit for the successful program to get vaccines developed and manufactured rapidly.
It is part of the denial of reality by believing in secret political organizations, denying the outcome of the election, and remarkably rejecting science as a method for reaching truth. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of anti-scientific thinking on the part of Trump supporters as well as many Republicans and Democrats.
I find it frightening that so many persons are taking up beliefs that are demonstrably false. In America we can see that communities are taking up separate statements of fact. In some areas related to politics, the adoption of falsehoods and the spreading of these by political leaders is very disturbing.
The most dramatic of these is the belief that Trump won the election. There has been no evidence to support this idea. Nevertheless, Trump continues to claim this and urges his supporters to argue for this position.
The rejection of the vaccine is disturbing as, in effect, such individuals are causing harm to others. As mentioned above, the United States’ rate of vaccination is slowing sharply.
It is likely that those who believe that the virus is a hoax and the vaccine is some kind of effort to take over our minds will find this winter another wave of Covid-19 strikes in those areas where less than 50% of the population is taking the vaccine.
Still, a third is in the area of climate change where many people are convinced the end of the world is coming unless we completely change our economies.
There is simply no serious evidence to support the idea of a catastrophe; nor appreciation of the potential technology developments that will improve the situation.
The New York mayor election
The method of voting has changed for the primary to select the Democratic Party candidate from first past the post to what is called ranked-choice voting (RCV).
RCV is a method of voting developed by a French mathematician. In this voting system, the voter ranks the candidates according to her preferences. If there are four candidates then one puts a one by the preferred candidate, a two for the second favourite, and so forth until all candidates are ranked.
After the votes are counted for the number one choice, if no candidate got more than 50% the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped and the second choices of the dropped candidate are assigned to the remaining candidates. This continues dropping one candidate at a time until one candidate emerges with more than 50%. This style of voting is thought to favour candidates who are not extremists.
As an example consider an election with four candidates A, B, C, D with 2000 voters
After the voting, the results are as follows for the first choices of voters:
A - 650
B - 550
C - 450
D - 350
Total - 2000
No one won a majority; D is the lowest and is dropped. Examine the second ranked candidates for the 350 votes for D. These divide as in the following chart:
No one has a majority so Candidate C is dropped and the third preferences of 550 voters for Candidate C are examined. This leads to:
C second preferences
The winner is B.
This type of voting is being used more and more in elections around the world.
Its use in the Democratic primary is causing some confusion but it will eventually produce a winner. In New York City the Republicans are very weak and the Democratic candidate for mayor will usually always win. Thus, the primary vote is where the actual choice of the mayor is made.
America’s greatest city
New York remains the leading city in the United States. It is the centre of the American financial system. It is the cultural centre of the United States for music, dancing, opera, art, drama, and publishing.
It is a great mixing place of nationalities and ethnic groups. Despite the noise that the great cities will lose their central role, I think that this is not the case and that New York will retain its position as the centre of much of American life.
The political future of the United States
I have only spoken with a few persons so far but I have learned that the centre of American politics is rather relaxed. The media sets out the idea that there are tremendous disagreements, and groups with different political views do not mix. This is all rubbish.
The core values of American society are in place: Freedom; markets with minimum government interference; freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Modern life is extremely complicated and working out the details is a never-ending task. But these endless conflicts over details are part of the process of managing freedom for Americans.
Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.