February 17, 2022

Covid-19 And The Subversion of Democracies

An excerpt from, "COVID-19 and erosion of democracy" by Jacek Lewkowicz, Michał Woźniak and Michał Wrzesiński, Economic Modelling, January 2022:

The public policies made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated social life and democratic processes (Kortum et al., 2020). In fact, these political actions are considered a serious threat to democracy, as governments may try to limit democratic rules under the cover of pandemic management. On the other hand, well-managed lockdowns and other means of government interventionism may lead to increased satisfaction with democracy or trust in the government (Bol et al., 2020). Politicians are under high pressure to make rapid and high-stakes decisions, and the literature suggests that democratic governments are more effective in managing catastrophic situations, such as pandemics or famines, than authoritarian regimes (Petersen, 2020). However, it should be noted that the role of governmental lockdowns in many countries is not significant, and their existence has a little effect on virus transmission rates (Atkeson et al., 2020). Moreover, a strict lockdown policy is usually not associated with lower mortality, but it does cause economic havoc (Bjørnskov, 2021). Nevertheless, the literature suggests that less stringent lockdowns can bring similar epidemiological effects with fewer negative economic effects (Bendavid et al., 2021).

An excerpt from, "Surveillance, Security, and Liberal Democracy in the Post-COVID World" by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Cambridge University Press, November 2020:

Because the pandemic started in China—the world's largest autocracy—the People's Republic of China (PRC) has had a head start in crafting its model of pandemic response and promoting that model around the world, meaning that the first-mover role is held by an autocracy. It is also a decidedly illiberal autocracy that was—prior to the coronavirus outbreak—already actively pursuing a techno-surveillance state of remarkable ambition at home, exporting those technologies around the world, and pursuing a position of nascent dominance in global standard-setting and regulation of emerging surveillance technologies. Pre-existing concern about these steps in the PRC, combined with the expanded use of surveillance as a global component of pandemic response, and Beijing's willingness to advertise itself as a model of pandemic response for other countries have raised alarms among policymakers and pundits about the future of civil liberties and democracy. This article suggests that some of these concerns are warranted. China's position in the international system makes it more likely that illiberal approaches to governance will spread, and the pandemic has contributed to violations of democratic standards and human rights in a number of countries. 

An excerpt from, "Covid's Impact On Democracies: Did The World Lose Freedom's Fragrance?" NDTV, January 6, 2022:

For the most part, Europe has avoided upheaval by maintaining a balance between the need to protect public health and defend civil liberties.

Raul Magni-Berton, a French political scientist who studied the Covid restrictions imposed in around 40 European countries, cited France and eastern European countries as having the strictest curbs.

His study showed that the countries with the greatest respect for individual freedoms were the oldest continuous democracies, such as Britain or Switzerland.

His research also concluded that restrictions tend to be lighter in countries with coalition governments like the Netherlands or where power is shared between the central government and regions like federal Germany.

"How many people are you forced to negotiate with? That's the question," Magni-Berton said.

An excerpt from, "The effect of Covid on EU democracies" by Sophia Russack, European Policy Institutes Network (EPIN), May 3, 2021:
In times of crisis, there is a general trend towards a loss of power by parliaments to the benefit of the executive, which employs, for example, decrees and statutory instruments to deal with the state of emergency. These decrees exclude any parliamentary approval and hand over all decision-making power to the executive (in Italy, 97% of the time, Parliament was not involved in executive decisions related to the containment of the pandemic, for example). 

Decisions are primarily being made behind closed doors, with little opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. Some national parliaments have a say in extending the state of emergency/alert, however, but hardly ever in the substance of crisis management. While it is understandable that a government would take the reins at a time of crisis, the breach of the principle of division of powers is also a threat to democracy.

. . .

There is the question of trust in the political elite, but also in ‘elites’ in a wider sense, which includes the scientific community. One stand-out characteristic of this pandemic is the heavy reliance of politicians on (external/autonomous) experts, such as medical doctors, virologists, epidemiologists, and public health experts, etc. This collaboration necessarily limits exchange with the public and the scrutiny of parliaments. While is it is necessary to gather expert opinion, it is dangerous from a democratic point of view to design political decision-making in too technocratic a fashion. Public trust is based on acceptance of the potential accuracy of science and the notion of a government being able to draw the right (political) conclusions from scientific findings.