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To Get Pandemic Response Right We Must Get our Politics Right


Pandemic response tends to be a top-down technocratic affair. Responsible decision-makers mobilize the best available science and engineering knowledge to implement social, public health, and clinical interventions on a scale that is commensurate with what it takes to manage, control, and possibly eliminate the circulation of infectious agents. But there is, as we have learned, a caveat: for this approach to work, consent and active cooperation of the people is required.

It is possible in authoritarian states to herd, cajole, and bludgeon people into submission because they lack constitutional rights protection, an independent judiciary (upholding due process and the rule of law), and a free press to report on transgressions. In organized autocracies like the People’s Republic of China, which has a well-oiled chain of command by way of the Communist Party, disease outbreaks can be efficiently contained, in contrast to poorly organized autocracies like Venezuela, where chaos fuels rapid spread.

But autocratic efficiency comes at a considerable cost to dignity, freedom, and rights.

In democracies, our preferred way of arranging our political lives, the people must be persuaded, educated, and beseeched to adhere to public health norms by appealing to the common good. In many societies, as we have seen, people […]

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