Reason Roundup

The Coronavirus Debate Was Bernie Sanders' Last Chance. He Blew It.

Joe Biden rightly noted that Medicare for All "would not solve the problem" posed by the coronavirus.


Last night's Democratic debate was possibly the last chance for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) to turn the tables against former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the party's presidential nomination. But his plan to wholly transform vast sections of the U.S. economy seems unlikely to be particularly attractive to the public right now, given the country's current sense of dread.

The coronavirus pandemic loomed large over the proceedings: Biden and Sanders bumped elbows in lieu of shaking hands, stood at podiums that were several feet apart, and delivered their remarks to an empty audience (a dramatic improvement: thank you, social distancing). Moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, and Ilia Calderon began by asking the candidates how they would deal with the crisis, and Biden attempted to reassure viewers that he would harness the full reach of the federal government to confront COVID-19.

"We need to act swiftly and very thoroughly, and in concert with all the forces we need to bring to bear to confront this crisis now," said Biden.

Sanders vowed the same but tried to pivot to his usual talking points: transformational economic change, Medicare for All, etc.

"Let's be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunction of our current health care system," said Sanders. "We are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. We're spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic."

Biden countered that Italy has a single-payer health care system and this hasn't helped the country deal with coronavirus. "It doesn't work there," said Biden.

When asked how to address the economic impact of the crisis, Sanders brought up income inequality:

We have more income and wealth inequality in America today than any time in 100 years. And what that means that in the midst of this crisis, you know, if you're a multimillionaire, no one is happy about this crisis, you're going to get through it. You're going to get everything you need. You're not worried about health care. You're not worried about income coming in.

Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. We've got people who are struggling working two or three jobs to put food on the table. What is going to happen to them? So the lesson to be learned is we have got to move aggressively right now to address the economic crisis as a result of…the coronavirus, what we have got to do also is understand the fragility of the economy and how unjust and unfair it is that so few have so much and so many have so little.

Sanders also stated that the U.S. government's job "is to tell every working person, no matter what your income is, you are not going to suffer as a result of this crisis." This is of course an impossible promise—even if the government took strong action to bail out various sectors of the economy, forgive some debts, or pay people who can't work right now, many Americans would still suffer adverse economic outcomes due to the virus.

When the debate finally turned to other matters, Sanders hammered Biden more successfully by bringing up the frontrunner's long history of bad Senate votes: on the Defense of Marriage Act, the Iraq War, etc. He was definitely a bit sharper and more focused than Biden throughout. But at this time of national crisis, Biden's comparatively comforting message seems like the better sell—or at least, more than adequate to maintain his decisive lead.

Read a full transcript of the debate here.


Economist Tyler Cowen highlights a list of proposals for funding coronavirus research on his Marginal Revolution blog:

This is (by far) the best document I have seen on what to do on the medical side.  It is about 3 pp. long and I believe it will be updated periodically.  Excerpt:

  • Consider guaranteeing top tier treatment and ICU beds for people directly working on treatments or vaccines. We need to keep relevant science labs open. (They're likely to be closed as things stand.) No doubt logistically challenging but may be necessary. Can you get scientists to keep going without this?
  • Announce $10B prizes for first vaccine and for first cure. Think about mechanics. Should there be awards for second place, too? How should collaboration be factored in?
  • Issue $1B of research grants to all competent labs and organizations that could plausibly use them. They just have to report on progress every 30 days and require that they actively share all progress with other labs.
  • Proposed structure: $100M to each of 5 companies.

Check out the rest of the post here.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been a significant obstacle in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Massachusetts General Hospital President Peter Slavin reminded Meet the Press viewers of this yesterday when host Chuck Todd thunderously demanded that Slavin explain why it had taken so long for "private facilities and university facilities" to provide COVID-19 testing.

"Well it was just the day before yesterday that we got regulatory relief from the FDA so that we didn't need to jump through all sorts of hoops," Slavin responded.

The best thing federal regulatory agencies can do to stop coronavirus right now is to speedily step out of the way. No libertarians in a pandemic? Nonsense.


  • More debate news: Biden promised to pick a woman to be his vice presidential candidate. Sanders said that he would "in all likelihood" pick a woman as well.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all events including more than 50 people be canceled for at least eight weeks. This has plenty of people wondering whether Tuesday's primaries should proceed as planned.
  • State and local governments are instructing restaurants to shut down. New York City has ordered all establishments to close, and D.C. is implementing strict occupancy limits.
  • Andrew Gillum, a former Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, announced he would enter rehab after being caught in an embarrassing incident over the weekend.
  • Missing sports? I've got you covered: