“Why Democracies Do Better at Surviving Pandemics”

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the debate over whether authoritarian states are gaining the upper hand across the world. In contrast, democracies are showing capacity for innovation and adaptation.

Seriously? When I first saw the title, I thought it was satire. It’s downright Orwellian along the lines of war is peace and freedom is slavery. I had to ask myself what the authors have been smoking. Speaking of which, the inability to see the world objectively is the result of the beholder wearing ideological blinders. I see why Bill Hayton fits in so well at the Chatham House. They all appear to be on the same ideological page. Either don’t mention Viet Nam, even thought it’s been spectacularly successful at containing COVID-19, or trash it because the author is grinding some anti-Viet Nam ax.

The same question with which I concluded a recent article, linked below, applies to the mindset reflected in this piece: The question on many people’s minds is Who’s your Daddy, USA and UK? Below is food for thought for the two co-authors.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

I’m afraid you utterly failed to make your point in this article.  I have to confess that the teaser, ” In contrast, democracies are showing capacity for innovation and adaptation,” made me wonder which parallel universe you inhabit.  It reminded me of a slogan from a 1984 US commercial that was subsequently used by former Vice President Walter Mondale in his primary campaign against Sen. Gary Hart, “Where’s the beef?”  

Your article is a gross oversimplification.  You paint all of the “usual suspect” countries with the same “democracy” brush when in fact there are considerable differences between them in general and regarding how they have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g., your country vs. Germany.  The USA, Brazil, India, the UK, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Germany rank 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 11th, and 12th in total number of COVID-19 infections, a rather dismal record. Where’s the “capacity for innovation and adaptation” in those countries? 

It’s debatable whether the US is really a (functioning) democracy, at least at the national level, as opposed to an oligarchy, which research and plenty of anecdotal evidence have shown. 

You forgot to mention Sweden, also a “democracy” but with a very high per capita rate of both infections and deaths.  Hardly a role model, in this respect. 

I’m surprised you didn’t mention Viet Nam, a compelling case in point and glaring omission. As of this writing, Viet Nam has a total of 352 cases, 23 of which are active, and 0 deaths. (There has been no community transmission since 16 April. The only new cases are among repatriated Vietnamese who are in quarantine when they test positive.) Speaking of which, have you read this essay of mine, a lengthy response to the hit piece written by your colleague BH and published by (surprise!) Foreign Policy?  Vietnam Criticized for Its First-Round Victory Over COVID-19  

I also recommend that you read this 20.5.20 Brookings Institution article Reopening Vietnam: How the country’s improving governance helped it weather the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the conclusion, which states that (my boldVietnam’s improving governance and central-local policy coordination have helped it weather the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the reopening of its society and economy ahead of most peers. These key features likely remain critical as Vietnamese leaders grapple with balancing the need to support businesses with ensuring public health. As we collectively seek to glean lessons from the global efforts to combat the pandemic, Vietnam’s story moves beyond the simple distinction of regime type to challenge us to think deeper about bureaucratic capacity and responsiveness within all forms of government.  

Could it be that the political systems of countries dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic are irrelevant? Something for you to think about.  On the other hand, if it contradicts your narrative, i.e., if it requires you to remove your pro-UK, pro-US, pro-Western blinders, you probably won’t.  

Keep in mind that I actually live in Viet Nam, unlike BH, the quintessential armchair journalist who writes about it from Colchester and London.  I’m sure your organization can do much better when it comes to finding someone with Viet Nam and SE Asia expertise who doesn’t have an ax to grind.  Or maybe not.  Again, it’s all about the narrative and the interests you and your organization represent.

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