It’s been a hard year, and I am hardly alone in being glad it’s almost over. But was 2020 the worst year ever? Over at Inside Sources, I argue it was not.
COVID-19 is a novel disease. No human caught it before 2019. Scientists created effective vaccines in about a year. By comparison, smallpox has been around since at least Ancient Egypt in the third century B.C. The earliest evidence of inoculation dates to 10th century China. That’s more than a thousand years between smallpox’s first appearance and its first effective treatment—for a disease with a 30 percent fatality rate. But inoculation was rarely practiced until the 18th century, so it didn’t help very many people for its first 900 years or so.
When Abigail Adams had her children inoculated in 1776, it was still a scary, new technology for most people. It was an act of courage for her to set a positive example like that. And it took an additional two centuries for smallpox to be eradicated altogether, in 1977. Our generation’s COVID timetable is unimaginably better than with which our ancestors had to deal.
It is important for us to learn the right lessons from our COVID-19 experience. We need cultural and political institutions that are open and adaptable. These will make us more resilient against future crises, and make it easier to apply new things we learn as quickly as possible. CEI scholars spent the better part of 2020 compiling these sorts of ideas, which you can find at neverneeded.cei.org. Former CEI Julian Simon Award winner Johan Norberg offers further perspective in a recent piece in the UK’s Spectator.