Governance in Hard Times

We are in the middle of a tough time. Solving our problems will be easier if we keep and improve our republic. We connect the dots next.

It is a tough time. We are suffering from three supply-side issues, each pushing up price inflation. First, the COVID pandemic broke many of the world’s suppliers and shippers. Second, the Russian war against Ukraine is seriously harming global supplies of fuel, wheat, and cooking oil. Third, the closure of just one baby food factory created massive shortages due to a lack of competition from other firms. Many parts of the country are also facing severe weather-related events. The western states, in particular, are suffering a decades-long drought.

We can help each other through crises. When a country is hit by a disaster, terrorism, or an invasion, the harm is usually located in just a few places. The pain can be reduced or even reversed if the other parts of the country are willing and able to share their resources. Experienced personnel. Goods and services. Money. Charity can go a long way. A similar logic holds for economic crises. Not all people or firms are hit equally by inflation or recession. Those hit the least can help those hit the hardest.

Governments can help too – or hinder. National governments are uniquely positioned to plan for crises and to encourage, coordinate, and facilitate the large-scale transfers of resources needed to manage crisis when they emerge. Not all governments can or do.

Liberal republics have a good track record when it comes to managing crises. Governments worldwide manage crises best when they operate with all of the core elements of a liberal republic – backed by a competent bureaucracy. For example, one study found illiberal regimes tend to spend less on earthquake mortality prevention, especially when they have weak ruling parties and/or a lot of corruption.1 Another study looked at the number of people who needed help after a wider range of natural disasters. They found the number of people harmed by a natural disaster was higher in countries with autocracies and weak bureaucracies.2

And, of course, liberal republics work best when citizens are willing to hold their officials to account for the quality of their problem-solving – rather than the quality of their populist, partisan posturing.

There you have it – liberal republics are better at managing crises than illiberal regimes, and liberal republics solve problems best when citizens vote for problem-solvers.

If you would like to learn more about democracies and republics, and other forms of government, please click here.

Photo credit: New Zealand Red Cross. Christchurch, 2011.

  1. Keefer, P., Neumayer, E., & Plümper, T. (2011). Earthquake propensity and the politics of mortality prevention. World development, 39(9), 1530-1541.
  2. Persson, T. A., & Povitkina, M. (2017). “Gimme shelter”: The role of democracy and institutional quality in disaster preparedness. Political Research Quarterly, 70(4), 833-847.

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