We need well-funded government systems if we are going to address wicked problems!
It’s March and the social media feeds are full of stories about toilet paper and disinfectant wipe shortages. It’s hard to watch the panic brought on by the coronavirus and not wonder if we haven’t all gone crazy! On the other hand, we all have the thought in the back of our minds, what if we become Italy? What would that mean for me?
So, let’s look at what happened in Italy as compared to South Korea. As Reuter’s reported on March 12[i], “In Italy, millions are locked down and more than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus. In South Korea, hit by the disease at about the same time, only a few thousand are quarantined and 67 people have died.” What did those two countries do differently?
The answer was simple, South Korea did, “aggressive and sustained testing” of the virus, using high tech methods. South Korea responded with a carefully planned and well supported virus containment plan. Italy did not. Neither has the US. In fact, the US is limiting testing and even resisting testing. This in itself is disturbing, but really it is a symptom of an even bigger problem.
Countries as large as the US need a complex public infrastructure to deal with large “wicked” problems, such as pandemics. For some the call for small, local government and defunding of our large infrastructure has an appeal. I understand why we like to keep things local. I believe in “buy local and think global”.
However, there is a difference between making sure we have a good balance between state and federal powers (a healthy federalism) and defunding our government, shutting down needed agencies, villainizing the public administrators (otherwise known as the swampy bureaucrats) and eliminating public infrastructure.
We need a healthy, functional government. One that is well-funded and ready for crises such as pandemics, natural disasters, environmental challenges as well as outside aggressors. We are clearly seeing how the lack of a strong public structure impacts the reaction of the people in a country. When your country fails you in an emergency, its natural to feel panicked. However, that doesn’t mean we need less government. It actually means we are not providing enough government to meet our needs.