It seems to me that the organs of government are hamstrung in their ability to respond to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. We, in a social democracy, based on ‘free market’ capitalism, are incapable of thinking like leaders and citizens of a directed economy. Unlike China, where Covid-19 began, we are used to doing whatever we want (or at least believing that) and being persuaded to act differently. China, on the other hand, has a highly organised state apparatus, and largely compliant population used to doing what it is told for the common good. As a consequence, at time of writing, the outbreak in China seems under control, with numbers of new cases plateauing or reducing, whereas elsewhere the numbers are going the other way – rapidly.
Our leaders, on the other hand, are used to having to persuade us to act selflessly, for the common good. As part of this process they feel they need to drip-feed us information, to give us time to come to join a consensus, to prepare. I contend that in the face of a rapidly developing pandemic this is inadequate, in fact doomed to fail. Our population, as demonstrated by waves of selfish panic buying in shops, is still in the mindset of protecting its way of life rather than protecting its life. With a situation where, for many, we are literally facing an existential threat, we need the government to adopt a war-time approach to directing the economy, in short to take control: to stop advising, and start telling, us what to do.
We also need our government to harness the talents of ‘blue sky’ thinkers, from outside the establishment, to refresh and support its ossified advising and planning. Unfortunately people with ideas are excluded from doing this by not already being ‘on the radar’. In this regard, it would be possible to open a “what if” web-based portal to government so that people can offer suggestions. There would, intially at least, be a deluge of ideas but eventually this would tail off. Meantime there may very well be good ideas for government to take forward.