There’s a temptation to pin Covid failures on populist leaders, says Niall Ferguson in UnHerd. Whether it’s Trump in the US, Boris in Britain, Bolsonaro in Brazil or Modi in India, they’ve been branded “stunningly reckless” and chiefly responsible for their nations’ high death counts.
But that’s too easy, for three reasons. First, countries run by populists have hardly fared worse than others. Brazil’s excess mortality rate is 34%. In liberal Peru, it’s 123%. Second, “critical decisions in a public health crisis are not made at the top”. Mistakes were often made by lowly public health officials and scientific advisers who “profoundly misjudged the problem”. Finally, “the counterfactuals of better outcomes with different leaders do not stand up to close scrutiny”. Take the claim that had Joe Biden been inaugurated in 2020, America would have fared better. The facts suggest otherwise. Look at how the Obama administration handled swine flu in 2009. More than 60 million Americans were infected. “We did every possible thing wrong,” said Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, in 2019. “It’s just purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history.” Populism is not as deadly as we think.
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