Spanish lessons from the pandemic
Vicente Moreno // 8 April 2020
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is by no means over, in Spain we can already start to learn some lessons that will ensure the same mistakes are not made again if we are ever unfortunate enough to face a similar situation in the future. The Spanish central government’s awful situation management has been apparent throughout, to say nothing of problematic objectives that put its citizens lives at risk. Despite this, at least some aspects of Spain’s response have been commendable. The circumstances have brought to light both good and bad intentions, as well as solutions.
The constitution allows the government enough powers to manage public health and emergencies such as the current pandemic. Despite these capabilities, the government has exercised its powers in the worst possible way. It has often reacted slowly, which resulted in Spain becoming the country with the worst-developing infection figures in the world. Faced with this negligent administration, however, the response of civil society has been exemplary; thanks to this and this alone, it is possible that we will be able to slow the spread of coronavirus in Spain.
Epidemics involve sudden changes in both the economy and society, which happen far more quickly than under normal circumstances. Suddenly, huge amounts of resources need to be allocated to health services, which involves major policy changes. Significant, unusually quick adjustments have to be made to the way health workers are kept informed and also retained in employment. With that in mind, theorists of the Austrian School of economics have argued the practical impossibility of centralised economic management as information fails to circulate when the state directs everything; the whole chain that encourages businesses and consumers to co-ordinate with one another is broken. The coronavirus is no exception to this rule, and here information and incentive are key.
Along the same lines, the key problem in the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Spain has been the centralisation of information. We have all looked on the government as having a monopoly on the truth, believing the central administration to be the only source that can say with any certainty that we would be okay and that nothing would happen. But not everyone believes this, after all, this argument—supported by much of the left at the moment—is simply not true. With Spain being a free and decentralised country, many people warned far in advance of the gravity of the situation, although the government and its immediate circles hastened to disagree, stating that “everything is under control”.
On the ground, health workers are trying to save lives with the resources they have; many companies have made themselves available to assist, even offering up whole networks of logistics services. Many citizens, faced with the government’s ineptitude, decided themselves to stop the spread of the virus by protecting themselves at home (in effect, taking refuge in their private property). Moreover, regional governments – as in Madrid – tried to take action before Prime Minister Sánchez did. It is apparent, despite problems with information centralisation, that society has come up with really important sets of measures of its own accord.
How would things work in a world with more decentralisation, freedom and individual responsibility? In the first instance, the state would not have a monopoly on truth. Market competition would cause information on the virus to flow through many channels, facilitating comparison and bringing the truth closer together. A private health system would have an incentive to cure, functioning on supply and demand, and providing a much better service for it. On the other hand, insurers would try to curb the contagion of their clients in order to avoid high costs, which would even encourage them to be conservative when it comes to infection prevention measures. This would create a whole network of individual responsibility that would enable the virus to be stopped much more quickly and efficiently, without so much cost to the economy.
This crisis must help civil society to see itself as capable of dealing with any problem, whatever the scale. The public have proved themselves to be more than equal to the state’s problematic administration – it is civil society that will actually stop the virus.
We ought to claim more freedom and responsibility for ourselves and be aware that we cannot entrust everything to the government, less so when it is steered by such incapable politicians. In this way, we would allow information to flow freely, to compete and to generate the required incentives. This would make it far easier for everyone to take charge of their own lives rather than abandoning themselves blindly to state paternalism – this would put a stop to any virus, collectivism included.
The original article was published by Civismo. The English version was translated by Louis Kill-Brown.
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