ATLANTA—Concentrated, centralized leadership at the national level – rather than decentralized decision-making at the state or local level – is the most effective way countries are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by a Georgia State University economist and colleagues.
In an analysis of data from more than 110 countries, Regents’ Professor Jorge Martinez-Vazquez of Georgia State, Santiago Lago-Peñas of the University of Vigo (Spain) and Agnese Sacchi of the Sapienza University of Rome (Italy) found that while having either democracies or autocracies does not represent a crucial difference, countries with centralized political parties (those with power to nominate local candidates and run and enforce national policy platforms) perform better than those with poorly nationalized politics. These findings hold even after controlling for other factors, the researchers said.
“Coordination at the highest level is necessary to address the presence of very large and pervasive negative externalities, of which COVID-19 certainly qualifies,” said Martinez-Vazquez. “Our research findings suggest that one of the main lessons we can learn from this pandemic experience, if not the most relevant, is the need for better cooperation and coordination of efforts by policymakers at the national, state and local levels.”
A country’s performance depends on its institutional setup, which can either facilitate or hinder coordination of the preventative policies necessary to address and contain the pandemic, they said.
“One of the most striking observations we made in our research is the extremely diverse results across countries in containing the pandemic and protecting their economies,” Martinez-Vazquez said. “We decided to look at why some are performing significantly better than others in mitigating its effects on their country’s public health and economies.”
Intergovernmental coordination practices used in Germany, Denmark and Australia, which exerted strong national leadership early in the pandemic and implemented nationwide policies, most effectively succeeded in controlling the first wave of COVID-19. In other countries like Italy and Spain, where the responsibility for public health falls among many diverse territories, the pandemic placed pressure on all areas of their health systems, from governance to the coordination between national and regional authorities and resulted in higher case numbers.
In large federations like the United States, Brazil and India, which lead the world in COVID-19 cases, many sub-national governments took actions, but those actions were not coordinated at the federal level.
Public Finance Research Cluster
Martinez-Vazquez’s main interests are in public sector economics. He has published over 20 books and numerous articles in academic journals, such as Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Public Economics, Southern Economic Journal and the Review of Economics and Statistics.
Martinez-Vazquez has directed multiple fiscal reform projects worldwide. Two such notable projects are the $20 million USAID Fiscal Reform Project in the Russian Federation (1997-2000) and the $1 million World Bank Tax Policy Review Project in Pakistan (2008-2009).