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.