Reason Roundup

Trump Was Warned in January and February That Covid-19 Could Kill Millions, Cost Trillions

Plus: Trump's rumored stake in hydroxychloroquine, Supreme Court "destroys Fourth Amendment jurisprudence," the 21st century crisis case for libertarianism, and more...


"There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls," trade adviser Peter Navarro warned in a memo to President Donald Trump way back on February 23. The next morning, Trump told Americans "the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA."

Navarro's February memo followed up on one from January 29. In the earlier memo, Navarro wrote that the economic cost of doing nothing could be as high as $5.7 trillion and suggested that more than half a million Americans could be killed by COVID-19.

A little more than a week after this memo, the Trump administration gave "nearly 18 tons of donated respirator masks, surgical masks, gowns and other medical supplies to China." And throughout the next few weeks, Trump continued to downplay the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat.

Navarro was persistent. In his February memo, he expressed an urgent need for at least $3 billion in appropriations to help prevent, contain, and treat the coronavirus. He said now was not the time to be worried about costs but to start stocking up on ventilators, personal protective equipment for health care providers, and other pandemic-related supplies.

"We can expect to need at least a billion face masks, 200,000 Tyvek suits, and 11,000 ventilator circuits, and 25,000 PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators)," Navarro wrote.

It would be around another three weeks before federal agencies started stocking up.

Read Navarro's memos in full on Axios.


The Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have been buying hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that Trump has been pushing as a COVID-19 cure despite a lack of evidence for its efficacy.

"It appears to be the first time that the BOP has purchased the drug," reports The Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay. He points out "the use of taxpayer money on hydroxychloroquine by the two agencies came in spite of a heated debate among policymakers and medical professionals about the drug's effectiveness in treating the virus, and the possibility that a sudden surge in demand for the drug could diminish the supply for those who use it to treat other ailments such as malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis."

In the midst of this, rumors about Trump's alleged financial stake in hydroxychloroquine have started swirling, with help from Ian Sams, Kamala Harris's former communications director. "Trump himself has a financial stake in the French company that makes the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine," Sams tweeted last night, citing The New York Times as his source.

The Times article stated that "Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in [drug maker] Sanofi," which sells hydroxychloroquine under the brand name Plaquenil.

Both the Times and Sam use vague language and omit specifics, making the matter sound potentially nefarious. It turns out that one of the many mutual funds that the president's family trusts invests in holds significant stock from Sanofi.

"The suggestion that this is significant is a huge stretch," tweeted lawyer and vocal Trump critic George Conway, husband of Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser.

Mutual funds consist of diverse securities packaged together and managed by a fund adviser; it's not as if Trump owns stock in Sanofi directly. What's more, Sanofi makes a lot of different drugs, and its patent on Plaquenil has run out. That means hydroxychloroquine is hardly a big money-maker for the company, and there are abundant other sources where one can get versions of the same drug.


SCOTUS sides against due process. A Supreme Court decision yesterday on police and traffic stops "destroys Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that requires individualized suspicion," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the court's only dissent. More here on the case and ruling, from Reason's Damon Root.


From 9/11 to COVID-19, 21st century crises keep making the case for libertarianism. "Over the past month, we have seen a torrent of governmental incompetence that is breathtaking in scale," Scott Sumner writes at The Library of Economics and Liberty. "In contrast, the private sector has reacted fairly well, and has been far ahead of the government in most areas."

Sumner's post comes in response to a Financial Times article which suggested that with 9/11, the Great Recession, and now this new coronavirus outbreak, "one need not be of the left to interpret the century so far as a vindication of the state."

Ha! But, alas, the Times piece is not meant to be funny. And so, Sumner offers a rebuttal:

The US government largely botched the response to both 9/11 and the 2008 banking crisis. After 9/11, they created counterproductive agencies such as the TSA and the department of Homeland Security, and of course they also invaded Iraq. These actions did far more harm than 9/11 itself. They responded to the banking crisis of 2008 with an ultra-tight monetary policy that caused NGDP to fall at the sharpest rate in 60 years, which caused far more harm than the banking crisis itself. These are not the examples to cite if you are trying to discredit libertarianism.

This time around the failures have largely revolved around regulations and trade policies that have greatly slowed the rollout of much needed testing, and also reduced the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). Adequate testing and PPE are viewed by experts as the two key factors in controlling the epidemic (beyond social distancing). Governments can play a useful role in pandemics, but in this case our government failed to do so. They did not encourage social distancing until it was too late. They disbanded the federal department aimed at addressing pandemics. They failed to stockpile needed equipment such as surgical masks. Then they banned the importation of such masks (until just a few days ago), and put tariffs on needed parts for ventilators. They inhibited the domestic manufacture of needed equipment. They fought against price gouging, which actually helps during a crisis. They prevented private sector actors from doing much needed testing for coronavirus. They had numerous burdensome regulations than deprived the health care industry of needed labor, or prevented it from shifting to needed locations. They spread misinformation and outright lies, even as they (correctly) criticized China's government for doing the same.

(All bold from the original post.)

Read the whole thing here.