The Political Economy of the Response to COVID-19: The EU and the Rest of the World

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760). This special issue belongs to the section "Contemporary Politics and Society".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2021) | Viewed by 30483

Special Issue Editor

Department of European and International Studies, King’s College London, London WC2B 4BG, UK
Interests: international political economy; European political economy; the political economy of international migration; Brexit and the city of London; the political economy of Italy in the Euro
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear colleagues,

The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted in China’s Wuhan city at the end of 2019 has precipitated a global crisis comparable to that of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Just four months after Chinese public health officials identified the genome of the virus, 4.2 million people around the world have been infected and more than 287,000 have died. The future trajectory of the pandemic is uncertain. Unless and until there are scientific breakthroughs in the area of vaccines and anti-viral cures, it appears that (at least within the present balance of political and class forces) the avoidance of further catastrophic loss of life can only be accomplished through massive and comprehensive economic shutdowns in the context of depression-era levels of mass unemployment, comparable declines in GDP, and the acceleration of geopolitical rivalries.

COVID-19 is caused by a novel viral strain that has not been previously identified in humans. According to the World Health Organization, the key to controlling the pandemic is the relentless pursuit of the most rigorous approach possible including monitoring, testing, and quarantine. China has by most accounts largely succeeded in containing the virus’s spread within its own borders. Following the model of China, most states responded with policies and actions designed to control and contain, closing borders and moving citizens through various combinations of exhortation and legal measures into quarantine. This strategy has enabled South Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan to significantly decrease the number of COVID-19 patients.

The Western response has been very different. Most Western states were unprepared to face the pandemic, and delayed the imposition of rigorous approaches. Many of them are struggling to sustain these approaches when faced with popular resistance. Thus, at the present time Europe and the United States are at the center of the pandemic, although Western states have also pursued a variety of different strategies.

Given the substantial variation in state responses, it is imperative for students of international relations and public policy to investigate and comparatively analyze the strategies and policies of states as well as the role played by national and transnational scientific communities. To this aim, the contributors to this volume will address the following questions:

  1. What are the key factors that account for the variety of national responses to the pandemic?
  2. What has been the relationship between scientific communities and power? To what extent has scientific knowledge been subordinated to the logic of power in general and economic power in particular?
  3. In what ways do national and international responses to the pandemic reflect the neoliberal order in general, and the neo-liberal organization of public health in particular?
  4. Is the return of the state here to stay, and is this a good or a bad thing? Will the political management of the crisis lead to more authoritarian forms of neo-liberalism, or will state intervention in the public sphere serve to revitalize social democratic ideas and policies?
  5. Is the tension between fighting the pandemic and democracy substantive and real, or are appeals to democracy and liberty largely excuses designed to justify limits on state intervention? Where does privacy fit in this context, if at all?

Prof. Leila Simona Talani
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • The political economy of states’ response to COVID-19
  • Neo-liberalism and the state
  • Epistemic communities
  • Scientific knowledge and power
  • Authoritarian neo-liberalism
  • COVID-19 and democracy
  • COVID-19 and state intervention

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

14 pages, 299 KiB  
Article
Making the Best Out of a Crisis: Russia’s Health Diplomacy during COVID-19
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(2), 53; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11020053 - 29 Jan 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3921
Abstract
The article considers how Russia has reacted to the pandemic, especially in terms of foreign policy. Although internally the management of the pandemic has led to a further limitation of citizens’ freedoms, externally it has been exploited to improve the country’s image and [...] Read more.
The article considers how Russia has reacted to the pandemic, especially in terms of foreign policy. Although internally the management of the pandemic has led to a further limitation of citizens’ freedoms, externally it has been exploited to improve the country’s image and strengthen its leverage through tactical activism and political generosity. Russia’s strategy has been articulated in two phases: first, immediate aid to countries in need in order to channel the idea of a benevolent state, directly or indirectly discrediting other countries or organisations; second, the geopolitical use of vaccines. The article stresses the relationship between science and foreign policy and analyses Russia’s health diplomacy strategy, underscoring its opportunities and challenges through the analysis of two case studies (Italy and Belarus). From a methodological perspective, the article mainly refers to foreign policy analysis (FPA), using concepts such as soft power, health diplomacy, and geopolitics. Full article
11 pages, 301 KiB  
Article
COVID-19 Point Blank: Language, Migration, and the Pandemic as a Political Issue
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(2), 35; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11020035 - 20 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2118
Abstract
The current pandemic is sustained in dichotomies and distancing, as most of us awkwardly have recently experienced. Moreover, COVID-19 has definitely put the spotlight on social inequalities that are underpinning our society and it has highlighted the escalation of the state surveillance capability [...] Read more.
The current pandemic is sustained in dichotomies and distancing, as most of us awkwardly have recently experienced. Moreover, COVID-19 has definitely put the spotlight on social inequalities that are underpinning our society and it has highlighted the escalation of the state surveillance capability and new forms of oppression too. The discrimination ingrained in our societies, built on a historically defined regime of racialized oppression and structural disadvantage of racialized citizens and migrants, was produced well before the coronavirus, but it is now casting a different shade, reinforcing forms of exclusions, highlighting the pandemic as a political issue. Hence, this paper addresses a range of political perspectives of the lived experiences in and through social space with examples of narratives in language which capture the everyday political experiences of the pandemic within Europe. The kind of language used and its profound effect on the growing discourse regarding COVID-19 is the main focus in this paper. I here explore the intertwining of language and politics during the pandemic and bring out the countervailing narratives that seem to be in constant tension. I then ask where this takes us, not only in terms of scholarship and expansion of knowledge, but also with a pragmatic edge to it, trying to figure out how is it possible for us to achieve some sort of cognitive shift in our approach in order to learn from this challenge and from this new perspective. Methodologically, as well as looking at existing data, references to attitudes in general are made. A theoretical discussion on migration and language, and the kind of intersection between them, is offered, from the point of view of critical theory, before pointing to the metaphors used, the implications they allow, and how all these fit together, in the form of a concluding discussion. Metaphor or not, the power of language in its ramifications of articulations about the pandemic and the idea of distance underlines COVID-19 as a deeply political issue. Full article
15 pages, 285 KiB  
Article
The Politics of the COVID-19 Pandemic in India
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(10), 381; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10100381 - 12 Oct 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 5998
Abstract
India responded to the COVID-19 measures abruptly and in a tough manner during the early stages of the pandemic. Its response did not take into consideration the socio-economic life of the majority of people in India who work in the informal sector and [...] Read more.
India responded to the COVID-19 measures abruptly and in a tough manner during the early stages of the pandemic. Its response did not take into consideration the socio-economic life of the majority of people in India who work in the informal sector and the sheer diversity of the country. The imposition of a nationwide lockdown using the Disaster Management Act 2005 enabled the Union Government to impose its will on the whole country. India has a federal system, and health is a state subject. Such an overbearing role on the part of the Central Government did not, however, lead to coordinated action. Some states expressed their differences, but eventually all complied with the central guidelines. The COVID-19 pandemic struck at a time when an agitation was going on in the country, especially in New Delhi, against the Citizen Amendment Act. The lockdown was imposed all of a sudden and was extended until 31 May. This led to a humanitarian crisis involving a large number of domestic migrant workers, who were left stranded with no income for survival and no means of transport to go home. Indians abroad who were intending to return also found themselves trapped. Dissenting voices were silenced through arrests and detentions during this period, and the victims included rights activists, students, lawyers, and even some academics. Power tussles and elections continued as usual and the social distancing norms were often compromised. Since COVID-19 containment measures were carried out primarily at the state level, this paper will also selectively draw on their experiences. India also used the opportunity to burnish its credentials as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ by sending medical supplies to over a hundred countries. In the second wave, there were many deaths, but the government was accused of undercounting them and of not doing enough to deliver vaccines to Indians. This paper will deal with the conflicts, contestations and the foreign policy fallout following the onset of the pandemic and the measures adopted by the union government to cope with them, with less focus on the economic and epidemiological aspects of pandemic management. This paper looks at previous studies, press reports, and press releases by government agencies to collect the needed data. A descriptive and analytical approach is followed in the paper. Full article
13 pages, 281 KiB  
Article
The Response to COVID-19 by the Italian Populist Government: Is It Populism or Neo-Liberalism That Makes the Response to the Pandemic Inadequate?
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(9), 336; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10090336 - 07 Sep 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3362
Abstract
The COVID-19 crisis caused unprecedented disruption in terms of human losses, economic damages, social isolation, and general malaise. It seems that, although the advice of the scientific communities to adopt rigorous measures of track and tracing, mass testing, and lock down was often [...] Read more.
The COVID-19 crisis caused unprecedented disruption in terms of human losses, economic damages, social isolation, and general malaise. It seems that, although the advice of the scientific communities to adopt rigorous measures of track and tracing, mass testing, and lock down was often considered at odds with economic performance, eventually it was precisely that kind of advice that avoided the economic debacle. This article will try and find out the reasons why Italy was more efficient and effective in implementing the measures suggested by national and transnational scientific communities. The article will do so by answering the following questions: (1) What are the political determinants of the different state responses to the pandemic? (2) Why have epistemic communities’ receipts to exit the COVID-19 crisis been ignored in some countries to follow a misguided economic logic? (3) Has the state response to the crisis anything to do with the importance of neo-liberalism and neo-liberal forces in the organization of the economy or have populist countries been less efficient than others as suggested in the recent literature on the subject? Full article
22 pages, 447 KiB  
Article
The Paradoxes of the Pandemic and World Inequalities
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(9), 332; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10090332 - 06 Sep 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3032
Abstract
While causing over 150,000 deaths in Africa, the spread of the COVID-19 virus did not produce the expected hecatomb. Clearly, the crisis is not over and with the emergence of new variants, the death toll could increase significantly. So far, however, COVID-19 has [...] Read more.
While causing over 150,000 deaths in Africa, the spread of the COVID-19 virus did not produce the expected hecatomb. Clearly, the crisis is not over and with the emergence of new variants, the death toll could increase significantly. So far, however, COVID-19 has caused fewer African victims than elsewhere. Explaining this reality remains difficult and speculative. It appears, however, that a major reason might be the continent’s very young population and the fact that it enjoys relatively low levels of obesity. These two factors have played a significant role in the high COVID-19 mortality rate in the most affected industrialized countries. In addition, many African countries have learned how to deal with health emergencies from their past experiences with other major pandemics. A final and more controversial explanation of the low death rate in the region is that in their fight against malaria, Africans have used hydroxychloroquine—a medicine that has allegedly curbed the effects of COVID-19—on a mass scale and for generations. COVID-19 has also had crippling consequences for the continent’s already debilitated economies and raised poverty to alarming levels. The pandemic has also highlighted the persistence of narrow nationalistic interests, as well as the massive inequalities of wealth and power that structure the global system. This is evident in the very uneven worldwide distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. Full article
18 pages, 374 KiB  
Article
Sweden and Coronavirus: Unexceptional Exceptionalism
Soc. Sci. 2020, 9(12), 232; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9120232 - 15 Dec 2020
Cited by 23 | Viewed by 10133
Abstract
The aims of this article are, first, to describe the Swedish authorities’ strategy for dealing with the sudden onset of novel coronavirus in early 2020 and, second, to explain why that strategy differed markedly from those in nearly all other European countries. From [...] Read more.
The aims of this article are, first, to describe the Swedish authorities’ strategy for dealing with the sudden onset of novel coronavirus in early 2020 and, second, to explain why that strategy differed markedly from those in nearly all other European countries. From an early stage, the Swedish government delegated decision making to the Public Health Agency, and its goal was to mitigate the effects of the virus rather than to suppress its spread. Society was never closed down in the same way as elsewhere. Using data from media reports and other publications, we argue that the agency was insulated from pressure to change course, even as the number of deaths associated with covid-19 rose far above those in Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, by four conditions: (1) the structure of national public administration; (2) an outburst of nationalism in parts of the media; (3) the uneven impact of the virus; and (4) a political leadership that was willing to delegate responsibility for policy almost entirely. We conclude by briefly comparing the coronavirus strategy to previous episodes of Swedish policy exceptionalism. This emerging pattern, we suggest, raises normative questions about the functioning of Swedish democracy. Full article
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