Global dissatisfaction with democracy at record high (Cambridge)

According to a report released in January 2020 by the Bennett Institute (Cambridge), many large democracies are now at their highest-ever recorded level for democratic dissatisfaction, including the UK, US, Brazil, Mexico and Australia. Many large democracies are now at their highest-ever recorded level for democratic dissatisfaction, including the UK, US, Brazil, Mexico and Australia A report released in January 2020 by the new Centre for the Future of Democracy at the Bennett Institute, University

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Sonia Sodha: Nudge theory is a poor substitute for hard science in matters of life and death

How appropriate is behavioural economics as a basis for making public policy? Sould it be called ‘science’? What does the evidence tell us? Published in The Guardian on 26 April 2020, this article is a thoughtful contribution to the current debate about about the extent to which some government responses, notably that of the United Kingdom, have been influenced by behavioural science/economics, and whether this has been appropriate in all the circumstances. Read the full

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David McCoy: Faith in coronavirus modelling is no substitute for sound political judgment

David McCoy is a professor of Global Public Health and director of the Centre for Public Health at Queen Mary University of London. In this article published in The Guardian on 10 April 2020, he makes some important observations on the relationship between the scientific and non-scientific elements of COVID-19 decision-making; the inherent limitations of modelling – particularly when dealing with a novel virus about little is known. The article touches on many of the

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Peter Cluskey: Is ‘herd immunity’ a health policy or a by-product of spreading infectious disease?

In an article published 5 April 2020 in The Irish Times, The Hague-based Peter Cluskey focuses on the issue of ‘herd immunity’ in the Dutch context. Is “herd immunity” – the idea that a virus may be allowed to spread through a population at a controlled pace generating group immunity as it goes – a healthcare strategy or simply a by-product of the spread of infectious disease? In fact, it can be either. The difference

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David Runciman: Coronavirus has not suspended politics – it has revealed the nature of power

In an article in The Guardian, David Runciman shows how the pandemic has removed “one layer of political life to reveal something more raw underneath”. He writes, “As Hobbes knew, to exercise political rule is to have the power of life and death over citizens. The only reason we would possibly give anyone that power is because we believe it is the price we pay for our collective safety. But it also means that we

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EU Parliament Think Tank: The Economy and the Coronavirus

This paper provides a summary of the recent Standard & Poor’s (S&P) economic forecast for the euro area (assessing the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak); some recent analyses of the macroeconomic effects of the coronavirus; and some policy recommendations made in the public domain to mitigate these negative effects. The S&P summary On Thursday, 26 March, the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) published an economic forecast for the euro area and the UK, assessing

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Damian Carrington: UK Strategy to address pandemic threat not properly implemented

The UK’s biological security strategy, published in 2018 to address the threat of pandemics, was not properly implemented, according to a former government chief scientific adviser. Professor Sir Ian Boyd, who advised the environment department for seven years until last August and was involved in writing the strategy, said a lack of resources was to blame. Other experts said there was a gap between pandemic planning and action, and that the strategy had stalled. Boyd

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Martin Gak: Economy v. human life is not a moral dilemma

A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is faced with two mutually exclusive choices and urgent reasons to choose each of them. And in the case of COVID-19, medical personnel are being faced with the moral dilemma of deciding which person lives and which person dies; not choosing will likely result in both patients’ deaths. Choosing between saving human lives and saving business ventures poses no such moral dilemma; lives and money

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Martin Wolf: Could a health calamity unacceptable in China be acceptable in the UK or US?

Published in The Irish Times (and The Financial Times) on 24 March 2020, Martin Wolf focuses on the choices decision-makers face, writing that COVID-19 is not just an economic challenge, it is an ethical one. Making the right decisions requires that we understand the options and their moral implications. We now confront two fundamental sets of choices: within our countries and across borders. In high income countries, the biggest choice is how to aggressively halt

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Jonathan Freedland: As fearful Britain shuts down, coronavirus has transformed everything

Writing in The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland reflects on the speed at the which the national life of the United Kingdom has been sompletely transformed. Each day has brought news that, in normal times, would constitute an epochal, ground-shaking development but which, in the current climate, has struggled for airtime. …a Conservative government has torn up 40 years of small-state, free market doctrine… [t]hat represents a profound political shift. Just as there are no atheists on

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George Monbiot: Our politics isn’t designed to protect the public from COVID-19

Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot sees some common threads in the approaches to COVID-19 of the UK, US and Australian governments. The worst possible people are in charge at the worst possible time. In the UK, the US and Australia, the politics of the governing parties have been built on the dismissal and denial of risk. Just as these politics have delayed the necessary responses to climate breakdown, ecological collapse, air and water pollution,

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Herd immunity or herd culling? Shades of Bentham, Spencer and Galton stalk government COVID-19 responses

Seeping faintly through the pronouncements and policies of some government responses to the coronavirus pandemic are the vapours of older belief systems; a whiff of utilitarianism, the scent of social Darwinism, and the fetid reek of eugenics.

Closer examination of the UK government’s ‘herd immunity’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that it’s not too farfetched to connect contemporary politics with these ostensibly outdated ideas.

The capacity of governments to respond appropriately to crises has never been more important. How will they respond to greater crises? Where will they find their moral moorings?

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