7 Comments

I agree that "state capacity" is too clumsy a concept for good social scientific uses.

But the first lesson to draw from the COVID episode isn't that states have the wrong priorities, but that they can do some things and not others. Big modern democratic welfare states can borrow and transfer money on a huge scale, and know they can. Discovering treatments for previously unknown diseases is far more difficult and hit-or-miss.

I'm also far more favorable to the COVID response. The nice thing about what the federal government did in 2020-2021, compared to 2008-2009, is that it mostly just gave away cash direct to citizens. Citizens knew what to do with it. It didn't go to waste. It prevented a recession and pole vaulted us into a booming job market, at the cost of some inflation which, however, didn't hurt the real economy much, if anything the opposite. The COVID response got us out of the Great Recession/Great Stagnation like World War II got us out of the Great Depression. And that wasn't an accident. The political class kind of knew what to do, but they needed a disaster as a pretext.

As for "auditing the state capacity literature," who has time for that? It's more practical to ignore it.

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They don't need more money to alleviate poverty they just need to spend less buying the votes of the over 65 crowd. Alleviating poverty not a priority.

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What was the biggest risk factor for Covid - age and obesity? Can’t do much about the former, but we were locking down gyms and forbidding people from going outside to exercise in the sunshine while keeping liquor stores open?

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My first reaction was, post hoc ergo propter hoc. But that's wrong, it’s even worse! Post hoc ergo propter hoc attributes the cause of a phenomenon to something that merely happened before it. In this case, the “cause” did not even happen!

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Even worse, the state could have done the randomized controlled trials around lockdowns, masks, and vaccines that would have _actually_ answered those debates (as far as I know, any RCTs done on any of these were of insufficient size or duration).

I find the lack of these studies microcosmic of all governments' inherent, cosmic incompetencies, and yet they have the gall to yell "Science!" at people. The whole totalitarian regime was essentially started by the terrible models out of England.

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“Capacity” is different from “resources”. You could have a trillion dollars and still lack the capacity to build a 20 story apartment building on the UC Berkeley campus.

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