The Politics of Pandemics: Democracy, State Capacity, and Economic Inequality

Mon, Apr 5, 2021, 12:00 pm
Virtual Only – Zoom Link Forthcoming

Photo of Mauro Guillén

Mauro F. Guillén
Zandman Professor of International Management
The Wharton School

What political features make epidemics more likely and deadly? Do they affect the speed with which governments implement containment policies? This paper is the first to explore the effects of democracy, state capacity, and income inequality on epidemic dynamics. In democracies, greater transparency, accountability, and public trust are expected to reduce the frequency of epidemics and shorten response time. State capacity has the same effects because of the government’s greater organizational ability to formulate and implement policy. Finally, income inequality has the opposite effect because it exposes an impoverished part of the population to the pandemic, controlling for overall standards of living. Empirical tests using data on epidemic outbreaks in 146 countries since 1995 and on the COVID-19 global pandemic show that state capacity reduces the number of epidemics and enhances the government’s response through effective policymaking. Democracy has no systematic effects on the occurrence of epidemics. Inequality increases their frequency. The main theoretical implication is that state capacity is a bulwark against the occurrence and ill effects of crises and emergencies, while economic inequality exacerbates them.