The myth of authoritarian coronavirus supremacy

China wants you believe its political system stopped coronavirus. That’s a lie.

Date: Mar 26, 2020
By: Zack Beauchamp

A scene from Shanghai in February, as Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on a television. Yifan Ding/Getty Images

A lot of people seem to think that there’s a simple cure for the coronavirus: authoritarianism.

Article after article in the Western press has touted the superiority of China’s response to the West’s, using its draconian lockdown after the Wuhan outbreak to suggest that liberal democracies simply aren’t up to the harsh tasks of preventing disease spread. It’s a message that Chinese government propaganda has been only too happy to echo.

But the unanimous verdict of political scientists and public health scholars I spoke with is that the theory of authoritarian superiority in this crisis is wrong: There is no evidence that one type of political system has performed systematically better against Covid-19 than the other. China’s response, while eventually good, was criminally slow early on — as was Iran’s, another notably authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, democracies like South Korea and Taiwan had some of the best responses anywhere on the planet.

“Among all the factors, [regime type is] going to be at the bottom of the list,” says Joshua Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “You can have very poor public health practices in an authoritarian system or a democratic system.”

The myth of authoritarian superiority is not only wrong but actively harmful in two key respects.

First, it lets China off the hook for a botched early response to the coronavirus — one that likely led to the disease becoming a global pandemic in the first place. It turns what should be a damning indictment of certain aspects of the Chinese system into an ideological victory for Beijing.

Second, it gives cover to leaders of allegedly democratic states to claim dangerous emergency powers during the crisis. This is happening right now in both Hungary and Israel, where authoritarian-inclined leaders are using the outbreak as a pretense to seize powers undreamed of in normal times. The myth of authoritarian superiority could well grant unnecessary legitimacy to these dangerous moves — and thus needs to be challenged.    [FULL  STORY]