What Price Covid?
How much has the Covid-19 pandemic cost the United States? A lot. And if, in fact, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is responsible for the virus, then maybe the PRC should be liable for its costs.
As of this writing, the American death toll from Covid stands at more than 628,000. And according to Florida-based Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys, the average settlement for a wrongful death ranges between $500,000 and $1 million. So if we were to apply that cost-range and multiply it by the number of deaths in the U.S., we’d have a dollar total of somewhere between $314 billion and $628 billion. o maybe the communist regime in Beijing owes us that much.
But there’s more. Let’s not forget that the U.S. has suffered more than 35 million cases of the disease—that’s more than 10 percent of the national population. Many of those cases, of course, required hospitalization and even intensive care for days or even weeks. The direct cost of coronavirus healthcare, plus the indirect cost of pain and suffering, reaches into the many billions and even trillions.
Furthermore, even for the non-infected, the economic damage of Covid-19 was enormous. In the second quarter of last year, the gross domestic product of the U.S. fell by a Depression-like 32.4 percent. And while the economy has since recovered, few escaped personal trauma, and many have suffered lasting financial damage.
Indeed, the economic carnage has been worldwide. According to a recent study from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, in 2020 alone, the virus clipped seven percent off world GDP, which is to say, a planetary loss of more than $6 trillion. Brookings also notes that in response to the pandemic, the governments of the world injected about $16 trillion in cash into their economies. Given the state of emergency last year, at least some of that infusion might have been necessary, and yet as we are already seeing, all that Keynesian cash will increase inflation.
By every possible measure, Covid-19 was enormously destructive. And what if it turns out that Covid-19 was not the result of some terrible act of God, but rather, the result of laboratory negligence or even the result of some sort of contrived weaponization?
Hundreds of officials and groups across America and across the world have made the dire accusation that China is to blame. Yet for the moment, we can rely just on Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a member both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, who declared in a July 20 press release:
The evidence is overwhelming that the Communist Chinese Party NEGLIGENTLY, RECKLESSLY OR INTENTIONALLY RELEASED COVID-19 on the world. Moreover, China engaged in a massive disinformation and propaganda campaign to cover up their misdeeds. Dr. Li-Meng Yan bravely defected from China to America after DISCOVERING the COMMUNIST CHINESE PARTY’S destructive and evil Wuhan bio-weapons program. I urge America and the world to wake up to the threat posed by an unchecked Chinese Communist Party. It’s time to get tough and hold China accountable for its deadly actions. [capitalizations in original]
Yet interestingly, the Biden administration doesn’t seem much interested in pursuing this line of thinking or inquiry. And why not? We might list three possible explanations:
First, as Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin explained, the Biden people don’t see the China-did-it argument as their fight. In their minds, China’s guilt is a matter left over from the Trump administration—an administration which, of course, they all detest. So why should they fight the fight championed by the loathed “former guy”?
Second, the Biden administration doesn’t want to do anything to widen the split with China because its “climate czar,” John Kerry, looks forward to working with the PRC to combat climate change. Of course, the Chinese are too busy building new coal-fired power plants to pay Kerry anything but lip service, and yet lip service seems to be good enough for Kerry.
Third, the Biden administration is deeply afraid of doing anything that would undercut its political investment in Dr. Anthony Fauci. We can recall that during the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden heaped praise on Fauci, casting him as a sort of Anti-Trump. Indeed, after Biden came into office, he raised Fauci’s profile even further; if you “trust the science,” as Biden likes to say, then you must trust Fauci.
And yet recently, Fauci has been accused of cooperating with—and even helping to finance—the Chinese regime on Gain of Function (GOF) research for viruses. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has also accused Fauci of subsequently and deceitfully covering up his involvement.
Needless to say, these allegations of “collusion” are in dispute, even as more incriminating evidence piles up every day. In the words of former State Department official David Asher, now at the Hudson Institute, “The Chinese basically sucked [the U.S. government] into its honey pot operation to gain access to U.S. technology, knowledge, and material support. Classic. Just as they have done in every sector.”
The Bidenites know that if the collusion charge against Fauci and others in and around the U.S government could ever be proved, it would be perhaps the greatest scandal in scientific history—and the resulting explosion would blow back on the 46th president.
So for all these reasons, the Biden people don’t wish to poke at Big Panda on the origins of Covid, just as the communist government in Beijing is determined not to allow a real investigation.
Yet the Biden administration’s motives need not be our motives. The rest of us can, if we choose to, assert our right to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable. Still, the question is how?
If the PRC has done harm to us and to the world, then human ethics, common sense, and perhaps even international law tell us that it should pay.
One forceful proponent of this view is Donald Trump. Back in April 2020, then-President Trump declared that his administration was “doing serious investigations,” looking at potentially seeking “very substantial damages.” Indeed, that same month last year, a Harris poll found that 54 percent of Americans thought that China should pay Covid compensation.
And in June 2021, Trump, by now out of office, quantified his demand, telling an audience in Greenville, NC, that China should pay $10 trillion to the U.S. and to the rest of the world. As he put it, “The time has come for America and the world to demand reparations and accountability from the Communist Party of China.”
Trump added that if the Chinese refused to pay, “All countries should collectively cancel all debt they owe to China as a down payment on reparations.” Since China holds $5.6 trillion in foreign debt, the forfeiture of that much money would go a long way toward compensating victims for the damage Covid has done.
In the meantime, American lawyers have already taken steps to secure damage awards from the courts. Way back on March 12, 2020, The Berman Law Group filed a national class action suit against the PRC, as well as several jurisdictions and ministries, on behalf of American claimants. And on April 8, 2020, the firm filed another lawsuit, this one on behalf of healthcare workers. As Berman put it:
This lawsuit was filed by concerned and affected citizens on The lawsuit is currently pending in the Southern District of Florida, and seeks billions of dollars in compensatory damages for those who have suffered personal injuries, wrongful deaths, property damage and other damages due to China’s failure to contain the COVID-19 virus, despite their ability to have stopped the spread of the virus in its early stages.
(Interestingly enough, the Berman firm has Joe Biden’s brother, Francis “Frank” Biden, on the payroll as a non-lawyer government relations adviser.)
Also in April 2020, Eric Schmitt, the attorney general for Missouri, filed a similar legal claim, and there have been many other private and public claims filed since.
Most observers are skeptical that these lawsuits can punch through, at least in the current legal climate. As attorneys for the big Washington, DC, law firm of Arnold & Porter wrote recently, “The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act will likely be China’s first line of defense. The act presumptively deprives federal courts of jurisdiction over civil suits brought against foreign states.” And so, the lawyers concluded, “Most cases seem to be drifting in procedural purgatory”
However, it’s possible that U.S. law could be changed to make lawsuits easier. That is, after all, what Congress did in 2016, when it passed The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, overriding then-president Barack Obama’s veto.
Indeed, in July 2020, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Civil Justice for Victims of China-Originated Viral Infections Diseases (COVID) Act, which would have amended the aforementioned Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to permit lawsuits against China. The bill never went further than the committee, and it died completely with the ending of the 116th Congress. And the new 117th Congress, completely controlled by Democrats, shows no interest in reviving the idea of Chinese liability.
Yet still, the sentiment that China should pay is strong and not just in the U.S.
For instance, in June, the Indian international relations expert Abhijit Bhattacharyya opined:
The world, including India, must compel the Communist Party of China’s government in Beijing to pay suitable reparations or damages to all nations that have been left devastated by the China-conceived Third World War, which is still raging.
And this from Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former education minister in Nigeria and also a former vice president at the World Bank:
The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe injury to Africa’s development prospects and worsened the conditions of its poor and vulnerable. . . . The continent must be accorded damages and liability compensation from China, the rich and powerful country that failed to transparently and effectively manage this global catastrophe.
In these declarations, we can see that the burden of the China-should-pay argument is starting to shift from a strictly legal case for damages to a more general political case for reparations.
And with politics, including international politics, it’s not the fine points of law that decide money flows, but rather, the overall correlation of political and geopolitical forces.
And if there’s an armed conflict or anything close, then, of course, everything’s up for grabs. For perspective, we might look back to World War One and World War Two, when the United States found itself in conflict with Germany. In both cases, the federal government seized German assets in the U.S., valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The inflation-adjusted equivalent, today, would be in the many billions.
In our time, the Treasury Department has an Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), designed to deal with exactly these sorts of situations. Of late, OFAC has been mostly focused on the rogue nation of Iran, and yet its writ could always be expanded.
So how much Chinese wealth in the U.S. is there potentially to seize? In 2016, the left-leaning research group Public Citizen estimated total Chinese holdings in the U.S. at “over $145 billion.” And just this year, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute calculated Chinese investment in the U.S., made just between the years 2005 and 2020, to be $180 billion.
In addition, China held, as of 2019, some $1.5 trillion in U.S. securities, including those issued both publicly and privately.
Of course, if Uncle Sam were ever to seize PRC assets in the U.S., China could do the same to American holdings in China; and in 2019, it was estimated that Americans had investments in China totaling $116 billion.
Which is to say, if we compare the respective dollar totals, China has more to lose—a lot more.
Yet in the meantime, the Beijing communists are anything but apologetic or conciliatory. They seem to think that the best defense is a strong offense.
In that offensive spirit, just a few days ago, when Wendy Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, traveled to China, she was met harshly. After she brought up U.S. concerns about China—with only mild interest in Covid-19 causation—her Chinese interlocutor answered with an angry volley. Said Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, “The U.S. side is in no position to lecture China on democracy and human rights,” adding that the U.S. was once “engaged in genocide against Native Americans.”
Of course, the PRC is engaged in genocide right now against the Uyghurs, and one searches for the right word to characterize the continuing and sometimes lethal Chinese communist persecution of Christians and other minorities.
Thus we can see: We are in a standoff with the PRC, and Beijing is in no mood to pay a penny.
So maybe the best thing to do is to let the investigations play out, as best we can, while assembling the rest of the world as a united front of plaintiffs. The Biden administration might not be interested, and yet the Republican Party surely ought to be interested, and that’s a start.
Down the road somewhere, a more assertive American president will be in a better position to demand justice and reparations from the PRC. And if the world is with us, we might all find a way to collect from the communist regime in Beijing.