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Autocrats and the pandemic

True democracies with higher per capita incomes perform better. Ironically, the less developed authoritarian regimes had a greater sense of urgency.




Centered on political ideology, authoritarianism was once thought as the better governance model to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Such notion now seems premature. As the pandemic spread, alongside it, the responses of the various governments, from the autocratic where the SARS-Cov-2 had first germinated and quickly infected, to over great oceans, less authoritarian, more democratic if not liberal nations, the early notions changed drastically.

Perhaps authoritarianism might have been the simplest to impose during a pandemic’s early spread. Allow us to analyze that against the imperatives of the moment.

Even as basic measures to mitigate the pandemic were common to most, there were telling differences in the duration of lockdowns, the manner, adherence to science, use of force and the caliber of the authorities tasked. All these reflected the efficiencies of the political system brought to bear on a health crisis.

Borders needed to be shut and trade interests needed to be set aside. Only fools fight in a burning house. Partisanship needed to be put down. Same with the cliché democratic space that comes with any liberal political system.

The public needed to be compelled to wear personal protective equipment. Supplies had to be secured. Purchase protocols, even competitive bidding would have wasted too much time. Tests needed to be taken, hospital capacities had to be addressed. All else had to wait.

Hindsight, they say, is perfect vision. Autocrats seemed to fit the bill. A decisive leader was needed. That he would prioritize the public interest was a naïve albeit foregone conclusion.

Indulge our bipolarity. Allow us to divide the world into two categories simply for the purpose of cutting dark and thick lines between autocratic regimes versus traditional democracies.

In September 2020, The Lancet ranked the Philippines 66th out of 91 countries in terms of government responses to the Covid-19 crisis. Recently the Lowy Institute for International Policy developed a Covid Performance Index where a calculus of inputs included an analysis of political systems and governance, population, and economic development. Of particular importance were competing structures, vulnerabilities, and divergent political priorities. For example, police powers employed to indiscriminately impose strict lockdowns may restrain transmission but these paralyze productivity and create massive unemployment.

By combining the Lancet and Lowy analyses where we ranked at the bottom, we derived three hypotheses. One, authoritarian regimes bore no prolonged advantage. Liberal democracies had more successes. Their recoveries, faster and steeper. Hybrids on the other hand, appeared the least able.

Two, economies with congested overpopulation challenges were impacted more even after inputting per capita indicators to minimize methodological counting bias. For overpopulated authoritarian regimes per capita indicators were far lesser than those with more liberal, and more efficient democratic productive sectors.

Segueing to the question of economic development, true democracies with higher per capita incomes perform better. Ironically, the less developed authoritarian regimes had a greater sense of urgency. Unfortunately, with less developed, or plundered health care systems, their simplistic adherence to large-scale lockdowns and the employment of police powers on a health crisis all impact negatively over the long haul.