Most people around the world — except for residents of a handful of competent countries such as New Zealand, Vietnam, and Rwanda — have now spent an entire year watching their government fail miserably to prepare for and respond to a very predictable (and predicted) pandemic, for example by:
- sending masks to everyone, and promising to buy lots of masks
- testing tons of people regularly and analyzing the results
- doing contract tracing
- promising to buy tons of vaccine doses, very early
- setting up vaccination facilities, and making them trivially easy to find and use
My friend and colleague Daniel Dewey recently noted that it seems like private actors could have greatly mitigated the impact of the pandemic by creating in advance a variety of “state capacity backups,” i.e. organizations that are ready to do the things we’d want governments to do, if a catastrophe strikes and government response is ineffective.
A state capacity backup could do some things unilaterally (e.g. stockpile and ship masks), and in other cases it could offer its services to governments for functions it can’t perform without state sign-off (e.g. setting up vaccination facilities).
I would like to see more exploration of this idea, including analyses of past examples of privately-provided “state capacity backups” and how well they worked.