COVID-19 reveals countries’ differing capacity
Published: Apr 22, 2020 07:43 PM

Photo: IC

When it comes to the prevention, control and treatment of the COVID-19, countries around the world have adopted both similar and different measures. Different ways of containing the pandemic are determined by different countries' own political systems and governance. Europe and the US have similar political systems, yet their measures to rein in the virus are disparate. This shows their different state capacities. 

In a recent interview with Le Point, the French political and news weekly magazine, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that the crucial determinant in performance during a pandemic is the state's capacity. Fukuyama was talking about popular neoliberalism in the West, which emphasizes minimal state intervention. 

Since the 1870s, neoliberalism has greatly influenced economic policies of various countries. However, after the 2008 financial crisis, Western countries generally recognized the importance of enhancing their capability to intervene in and manage the economy. 

Yet such adjustments have been slow in certain countries due to the constraints of their systems. 

The pandemic is another wake-up call to boost state capacity and it is necessary not only in economics. Western scholars are discussing the end of neoliberalism, because they have seen the importance of state capacity. 

The ability to prevent and control the coronavirus pandemic depends largely on the strength of each country. The efficiency of their resistance to the virus is different due to their different systems. The key to improving state capacity lies in how to boost the leading role of their own governance system, not breaking away or subverting the existing one. 

The strength of a government is composed of factors including the scientific nature, mobilization and execution of its policies. It is also determined by the country's cultural tradition. Therefore, there seems to be quite a few quarantine measures around the globe, yet their actual effects differ widely. This touches upon a long-term historical formation of a system. High efficiency can hardly be achieved through temporarily learning from a certain model.

How different healthcare systems handle the pandemic reflects the influence of cultural traditions, and even religious beliefs. The different welfare patterns in European countries are closely related to the religious beliefs of the European people.

The Nordic model, dominated by countries such as Sweden and Norway, is characterized by the primary responsibility of the government and the supporting role of social groups. In southern Europe, however, the role of the state is smaller and the burden falls mainly on families. Studies show that the main reason for these differences is religious belief. These differences are also shown in their way to prevent and control the COVID-19. 

From this perspective, countries are still clearly differentiated. Although countries have been linked together through globalization, how and to what extent national governments intervene depends on their own systems. As the COVID-19 epidemic spreads around the world, it is easy for countries to review the advantages and problems of their own systems.

The Chinese state capacity stands out in this comparison as we can see that China led the way in basically bringing the outbreak under control and getting through the worst.

It is not that Western countries are blind to China's success; they are subject to different systems and traditions that impede them from directly copying China. Even if they do, the effect will be just the opposite. This makes them uncomfortable. 

It certainly gave those who urged the US to "decouple" from China a chance to quickly attribute the decline of its leadership to external causes and see the institutional differences as a zero-sum game, which is a shake-up of the West's most fundamental political beliefs. 

In essence, they are shirking their responsibility to improve and enhance their state capacity.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina