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Coronavirus and the State

Written By: - Date published: 2:52 pm, March 11th, 2020 - 37 comments
Categories: China, Donald Trump, health, health and safety, us politics - Tags:

A few weeks ago I was busily slagging off the Chinese government for its response to the virus, and doing the standard leftie thing of presuming that authoritarian states could never be as good as democratic states in responding to a pandemic, because … them be Bad Guys.

And here I get to eat crow for that (I’m not quite ready to say sorry China you were right. Let’s give it 6 months).

China is now well on the way to controlling the outbreak within that country.

Some democratic states like Italy are making a right hash of it.

The worst of all political lessons that could come out of this virus is that authoritarian and anti-democratic states are actually better at defending and recovering from a massive test than democratic ones. It would be a scorch if it became true.

New Zealand like many small island states appears to have been blessed by its splendid solation and limited port vectors, and the major alarm bells have been rung by the media to good effect. It’s pretty hard to tell whether the media can overdo it a bit in such a worldwide event.

What is particularly striking is the difference in disease control effect between the World Health Organisation and states that have been effective at it. The WHO is honestly nowhere in this. Whereas the states that still have good command-and-control systems+good state healthcare+centralised messaging are the ones recovering fastest.

Probably that’s not a good social democratic signal. But it’s a good rationale for states.

States are now underscored as the main actors in global politics and global agency.

Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in a global disease outbreak. Just witness the reaction when the recent CPAC conference looked at its messaging with realist eyes.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Coronavirus is one of the most important tests for the need to have a stronger federalised health system both in New Zealand and in the United States. If this blows up big during the election there, federalised health systems will become the scourge of Trump’s incoherent approach so far, and they will be a serious opening for National against Minister Clarke.

But the worst lesson to draw is that the U.S. response failure is only about the President. Sure, he’s:
• previously downgraded disaster preparedness throughout the federal government and in the White House itself
• downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak
• overruled or challenged the assessments of qualified scientists
• failed to coordinate an effective federal response, and
• blamed it all on his predecessor out of office for more than three years.

But at the Federal level it’s simply not been enough, too politicized, and needs further strengthening. Those are not Republican messages. Actually they are more Bernie Sanders messages more than Joe Biden lines.

But New Zealand has had a few nation-scale tests recently. Not even Act complained when the government undertook nation-building projects like the regeneration of Christchurch, the rebuild of Kaikoura, or the first bits of the responses to the Christchurch massacre.

Every once in a while overseas dorks will get rolled out that states are becoming less relevant in world affairs and that other social forces (like CPTPP, or Belt and Road, or even the Paris Accord) are undermining sovereignty and pushing the state to irrelevance. There’s nothing like a centralised health system together with stronger and stronger ‘advice” from the government’s other relevant arms, to remind us of the necessity and superiority of the state to protect its people.

After the Christchurch quakes, citizens didn’t turn to Microsoft or Amnesty International or the World Bank for help. They looked to the state to steady the ship, pressure the global insurers, and Do It (even if the urban results were not always satisfactory, and the tail of unresolved claims is a national disgrace).

Despite globalisation, states remain the central political actors in the contemporary world. To get to the politics of New Zealand: the big stuff that has altered us permanently in the last two decades has been driven and mostly funded by state direction: vast new superhighways and rail systems, rebuilt cities, fibre networks for communication, were all driven by centralised agencies … and now the Coronavirus will after it’s passed will require a re-tooling and renationalisation of parts of our health system as well.

Because information flows more freely in democracies—due in part to independent media and the ability of lower-level officials to sound the alarm without being punished—they should be better at identifying when a problem is emerging.

For democracies, however, problems may emerge when trying to fashion and implement timely responses. This deficiency may be especially severe in the United States, because the first responders and other agencies that do the real work in an emergency are mostly under the control of a plethora of state or local governments.

2020 is now the year in which only strong and coordinated states have a chance of forming a managed situation. Globalisation, and weak states, now have their terrifying limits exposed.

37 comments on “Coronavirus and the State ”

  1. Dean Reynolds 1

    Never underestimate the power of big, humanitarian Government, to do good.

  2. RedLogix 2

    Until we have uncensored open reporting from within China, Hubei in particular, I'm not believing a word the CCP says on pretty much anything.

    • mary_a 2.1

      100% agree RedLogix (2). CCP is not to be trusted.

    • Hanswurst 2.2

      And here I get to eat crow for that (I’m not quite ready to say sorry China you were right. Let’s give it 6 months).

      It's in Ad’s post.

  3. pat 3

    You may be a little premature in granting China success…there's a lot of opportunity for circumstances to change yet

  4. Ken 4

    I am highly sceptical of anything that the Chinese government tells us.

  5. barry 5

    Yes, China in general (including the CCP) have done a fantastic job at buying us the time to pontificate. That chance has been wasted by Iran & Italy and now they find that they are having to get radical for their own sakes.

    I think the press here has alternately been good and bad. They seem too ready to publish articles by people complaining that they weren't tested. This is a crisis and it behoves all people including the press, and all parties in government to follow the WHO/MOH guidelines and not muddy the waters.

    Don't criticise WHO. They have been very good, but lots of governments have ignored their advice and are suffering as a consequence.

    • RedLogix 5.1

      While I totally agree that most govts have been woefully reactive to the COVID threat, WHO really needed to call this as a pandemic weeks ago.

      Given the almost unique silent transmission characteristic of this virus, WHO should have insisted on strong proactive measures well before any positive cases turned up. This was obvious to many people paying attention at least a month ago.

  6. Mike Smith 6

    Good on you Advantage. Thanks for proving that the Standard is not a blinkered blog. Facts and evidence do matter in these days of information warfare.

    • Daveski 6.1

      Funny of course that no one trusts the Chinese government to provide "facts and evidence", most of all its own citizens. At least having a strong police presence for Xi helps prevents awkward questions

  7. McFlock 7

    Authoritarian states can react more quickly because they already use daily the powers and systems that should only be used in extremis.

    Not sure you're being fair to WHO, either. State-level responses will always be state-led. WHO helps with coordination, information collection collation and analysis, and some direct assistance, but it's not an organisation with the power to shut down an entire town or country. In a localised situation it can help coordinate other-nation teams to come in and assist local healthcare workers, but something like this is largely advisory and information focussed. E.g. all health services should be reporting cases to WHO, which will be using that data to assist with case description analyses and projections.

  8. Adam Ash 8

    New Zealand's biggest risk is the inability of its 'Leaders' to give a comprehensive, cohesive and convincing message about the situation and risks, and clear information about what individuals should do to mitigate those risks to acceptable levels. At present, our PM and supporters (and the sad gangs in opposition) have failed to speak credibly or usefully on the virus issue (tho recent tougher measures are a hopeful – albeit belated sign of change for the better). We-the-people are quite well informed, and when a government mouthpiece states something which other countries experiences have already proven false, then we justifiable cry "B** S**t", and the credibility of the message entire is destroyed.
    Careful, measured, conservative, accurate information is required, and if it is found credible then we will follow it en-masse. Non-credible messages lead to divergent actions and ultimate disaster.
    So the 'benefit' of an autocratic organisation is that it has under its control a population which is already used to a life of direct prompt obedience to official dictates. Here, we are still blessed with over four million independent thinkers, who will do as they are told only if they can be convinced by polite civil means that it is in their best interest to do so.

  9. Ad 9

    It would be particularly fitting if Trump's hotel empire collapsed down to a dwarf star due to Coronavirus, since he got into power to expand Trump hotels, and then used his power to destroy the health system that would have protected Trump hotels.

  10. theotherpat 10

    i think NZ has been far too casual in its approach because the mighty tourism dollar speaks loud……it will get here in numbers that will stagger the health system…..those who are in jobs with lots of exposure to the public will drop first and i guess too bad if you only have 5 days sick leave eh!! and as a note i think the death rate in italy is running at 6%,,,too bad if you are over 50 and have "underlying" health issues….oh wait is that most of us over 50…..but lets be positive….buy a boat and anchor in the middle of the pacific for a time and you will be foine cheeky

  11. Adrian 11

    Trump doesn't own any hotels AFAIK, he licences his name out mostly to Semion Mogilvich, the Russian Mafia Boss-of-Bosses to construct them to wash gambling, drug and prostitution money by selling and reselling the units within the vast number of front companies controlled by SM. Mogilvich is the person who guaranteed Trumps $20 billion re-loan debt to Deustch Bank to repay the original DM debt default when Trump went tits-up. A very strange arrangement that the State of New York is looking at.

    ( Semion…Soimon, shit that's eerie !.

  12. Adam Ash 12

    And Adern has just declared that she will continue to shake hands, regardless of the declared pandemic. What an awful example she sets. What use is a leader in isolation due to her own incompetence? No use at all. Who is our second in command? OMG! We are doooomed!

    • Sabine 12.1

      i take her second any day. That guy has been around, he is known and probably knows when to stop shaking hands.

      Good grief, but our selected suits are bullshitters of the finest quality, and sadly that is the only quality they have.

      • Adam Ash 12.1.1

        True Sabine. One would hope that his commitment to continuance of the horse racing industry (don't prohibit public events) – for example – doesn't get in the way of his commitment to the national good (prohibit public events).

        • Sabine 12.1.1.1

          they like to or not they will have to cancel large events. As insulated as we are by sheer distance it won't be enough. And despite all of his faults i trust the man to put country first. Also it pays to remember that he is in the group of people who are hardest hit by the virus.

          There is no way that one can fully lock down a country, goods need to leave and arrive – at the very least food, so there will always be a risk, and personally so as long as we don't fully understand this strain of respiratory disease we should maybe not shake hands. Personally i rather like hte folded hands bow look, its kind of gracious and elegant.

          This 'its just the flu' reminds me of this movie here

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death_(1964_film)

          also wash your hands, sanitzie, wipe down the handle of your supermarket trolly, think of germs on touch screens and the like. 🙂

    • Incognito 12.2

      Link?

      • Adam Ash 12.2.2

        NZ Herald, just now.

        Coronavirus: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will keep shaking hands amid pandemic declaration

        NZ Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will keep shaking hands

        • Incognito 12.2.2.1

          Ta

          I think the PM’s message is quite nuanced. Do you prefer a more black & white approach?

          • Adam Ash 12.2.2.1.1

            Yes, an unambiguous message to the nation is required, else folk will always take the easy option of behaving as usual (which requires no effort) rather than using a bit of grey matter and adopting a precautionary approach. Many will just read the headline, and continue sweaty-palm to sweaty-palm social interactions with potentially unfortunate outcomes for all concerned. This is not a time for 'nuance', this is a time for clarity and hard community-wide effort to nip this in the bud.

            • Incognito 12.2.2.1.1.1

              “I have been shaking hands, but I know that I also am really frequent with my hand washing and all of the other public health messages that we’ve been sending,” Ardern told media.

              She reiterated the importance of good personal hygiene, staying home – even if you’re a little ill – and calling your GP or Healthline ahead of going in if you’re worried you’re infected.

              I think the message is clear and unambiguous, with enough nuance. The PM doesn’t write the headlines nor the media reports in MSM.

              • Poission

                I think that Gidget still doesn't get it.

                In other news right wing gvt of Australia gives $750 to those on welfare.

                More than 6 million welfare recipients, including pensioners, carers, veterans, families, young people and jobseekers will get a one-off cash payment of $750 from March 31.

                "The biggest beneficiaries of that will be pensioners," Mr Morrison said.

                "They comprise around half of those who will receive those payments, but they also will be extended to those in family tax benefits, which obviously goes to those in earning households."

                https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-12/federal-government-coronavirus-economic-stimulus/12042972

                • Incognito

                  Who’s Gidget?

                  • Poission

                    The girl with big ideas

                    and seems against OZ policy of stimulating the economy from the bottom up.

                    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also played down the likelihood of "generic cash payments" when speaking to media after visiting Island Bay Medical Centre in Wellington.

                    "The strong message from the business community is… make sure what you do is tailored," she said.

                    "Generic cash payments wouldn't necessarily support those who might be experiencing larger-scale impacts versus small businesses, or necessarily for the time required."

                    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/411564/covid-19-robertson-tempers-expectations-over-stimulus-package

                    • Incognito

                      Right EO.

                      I thought we were discussing the PM’s handshakes but for some reason all roads lead to the economy, businesses, and economic stimulus in times of crisis. I have no influence on the direction of the economy but I do shake hands, a lot.

                      In your opinion, should the PM stop shaking hands altogether?

                    • Drowsy M. Kram

                      "Gidget", "the girl with big ideas" and "Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern", all one and the same? I belittle you not! Time to grow up?

                  • pat

                    a (poorly applied) meme

  13. mary_a 13

    And if I'm not wrong, China has gone awfully quiet of late! Why would that be? Or have I missed something?

  14. Exkiwiforces 14

    For those too young to remember this gag from yes minister on a pandemic all those yrs ago. Pretty much sums up the Oz, NZ, UK and US response to Covid19

    • McFlock 14.1

      God that show taught me so much.

      ISTR that was the Foreign Office 4-step process for international emergencies, in that case the imminent invasion(insurgency?) on St George's Island that was looking to overthrow the legitimate government.

      Resolved by the PM (contrary to FO wishes) via an immediate surprise goodwill visit by a fully armed infantry brigade – as Hacker put it "an awful lot of good will".

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    Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the significant contribution the food and fibres sector makes to New Zealand and how this Government is supporting that effort. I’d like to start by acknowledging our co-Chairs, Terry Copeland and Mavis Mullins, my colleague, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
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