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Working Paper

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COVID-19, policy response, public health, redundancies, democracy, authoritarian, federalism, overlapping jurisdictions, institutions, constitutions, existential threat, Von Neumann


A multitude of government forms and institutional variations have the same aims of serving their countries and citizens but vary in outcomes. What it means to best serve the citizens is, however, a matter of broad interpretation and so the disagreements persist. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creates new metrics for comparing government performance – the metrics of human deaths, or, alternatively and as we pursue it here, the metrics of the speed of government response in preventing human deaths through policy adoption. We argue in this essay that institutional and government systems with more authority redundancies are more likely to rapidly generate policy in response to crisis and find better policy solutions compared to centralized systems with minimal authority redundancies. This is due to a multiplicity of access points to policy making, which increase the chances of a policymaker crafting the “correct” response to crisis, which can be replicated elsewhere. Furthermore, citizens in centralized and unitary governments must rely on national policymakers to get the correct response as subnational policymakers are highly constrained compared to their counterparts in decentralized systems. As policy authority is institutionally defined, these policy authority redundancies correspond to specific institutional and constitutional forms. In this paper, we provide a mathematical/formal model where we specifically analyze the contrast in the speed of policy response between more centralized and autocratic states versus democratic federations.