By: Pratul Malthumkar
The duties, obligations and functions of “states” have been a topic of thorough discussion in wake of the global pandemic. Before the pandemic, states would hugely rely on external actors: international government organizations like the UN, financial development agencies like the World Bank, regional groupings, trade blocs and other multi-lateral forums.  Such an amount of engagement and exposure with external actors lowered the effort the state had to put in for innovation and development. Moreover, it reduced its preparation to confront any higher-order escalation. In the last decade, the role of states in terms of providing welfare, health and other essential commodities has been strategically taken over by non-state actors. Non-state actors, like the private corporates, are incentivised to serve the public as it enables “economies of scale” and “market penetration” for the corporates. Consequently, the government has a lesser incentive to serve and maintain the interests of the public and pumps in lesser resources to public corporate bodies due to the competition with private corporations. However, in times of crisis, that too of a huge scale, the government should re-iterate its public safety and public welfare principles. Moreover, there is a need to look at private corporations with “cautious optimism” and proactively assess the demands of the public. Ultimately, a state exists for its people, and the approach which mitigates the overall harms of the pandemic will be preferred.
Relevant IR Theory:
The role of the states can be best analyzed from “constructivism” as an ideology. Constructivism defines that states should be considerate of various actors, including their interests, objectives and behaviours. Herein, the vulnerable groups and the public are important, if not the most significant, stakeholders. Realism, another important theory, argues that states currently operate in “international anarchy”, and they must find a way to mitigate crises by themselves. It is also important to employ “realism”, as states cannot depend on other states and must view them with pessimism. Global corporates and private international firms have failed to sustain labour, and have immediately looked to meet their needs and their benefits. Constructivism also becomes coherent to this paper as the paper deals with norms and expectations. Moreover, it looks at how norms can be challenged, and new norms can be accommodated in existing structures of governance without appearing way too radical and retaining the political capital to make relevant key policy decisions. Thus, focusing on actor analysis, from a pessimistic view, we arrive at an analysis of the role of the “state” in responding to a global pandemic.
The aim of this research paper is not to assess or claim the importance of public corporations in times of global pandemic. This paper examines the marginal benefit of public corporates [or enterprises] in a bid to reclaim peace and stability in a pandemic world. International institutions like the G20 have created an apparent fallback mechanism-it appears to mitigate future crises by employing coordination and collaboration. However, such institutions have largely failed, as no definable and measurable metric for a “global response” to fight the pandemic existed . Similarly, the World Health Organization was unable to orchestrate a robust approach and was strained in its finances due to the inward policies of the developed countries. In such situations, the role of the “state” becomes definable as it shapes the intensity, nature and frequency of a crisis. The state, being a rational actor, is generally not expected to perform anticipatory analysis and does not have the social and political incentive to look beyond its current needs. Hence, the following sections aim to address this question: What is truly the relevance and impact of “states” in face of a global pandemic?
States are accused of politicisation of issues and exploiting them to reclaim power, and maintain their legitimacy in wake of growing sentiments of non-state actors (like the UN, Amnesty International, Reuters, etc.). Such politicisation also brings in staunch opinions and invites a culture whereby disagreements turn to conflicts, and conflicts turn to illegitimacy. It can thus be claimed that states are largely inefficient with their response. To aggravate this, there has been a global trust deficit, whereby governments are seen with more apprehension than corporates . Also, the analysis of the rationality of the state echoes this claim. However, despite the systemic inefficiencies, states do have a critical role to play. States cannot be at the mercy of rich, developed nations to roll out aid as such nations would put their money to Prioritise meeting internal needs. Public financial institutions, aiming to provide direct cash transfers or relief in loans have lasting effects on the economy . Because income assistance is mostly supplied to the poor, more generous income support Programmes may reduce infection rates by encouraging lower-income persons to stay at home. Finally, it has been found that an open, flexible, reliable and transparent channel has helped in the containment of the pandemic while providing re-assurances to vulnerable groups.
Thus, the existing literature has shown us that the state, in isolation, plays a huge role in the mitigating crisis, but an analysis of the efficiency of its mechanisms-namely public corporations, and their role has not been studied.
- Public Institutions understand the importance of building robust frameworks and recognise the growing incapacity of international institutions to intervene and help the public.
- They are in a capacity to serve society and target vulnerable communities. They take cognizance of the social and political capital to provide welfare for society. They realise the added populism and incentivise governments to remain favourable in the wake of a trust-deficit pandemic.
- They prioritise relevant stakeholders and understand critical foresight in wake of growing uncertainties.
Public Institutions uphold the spirit of harmony of the state and are the fundamental driver for welfare. Because public institutions are poorly regarded by the general public, the solution for political leaders rests in either decreasing public expectations of performance (politicians may promise less) or boosting institutional effectiveness (politicians can deliver more). Primarily, it is government performance which decides the level of trust in the citizens in public institutions. Public institutions have a unique benefit in that they can assess the current environment and can take regional-sensitive approaches which prove to be innovative and improve the efficiency of governance. Though there currently exists huge distinctions in the types and categories of states, for the sake of empirical analysis, it is important to understand the two kinds of states: benevolent and corrupt states. Such a delimitation is done to cogently analyze the behaviour and role of various public institutions in mitigating the pandemic. It is important to understand that in both paradigms, the underlying assumption remains static: private organizations tend to use the state as a “tool” to maximise their profits. The benevolent state, however, acts rational and employs welfare economics, and adequate interventions through incentives, to uphold the safety and security of the people. The corrupt state employs the perspective that “the means are justified if the end is met”. Such thinking just shows the aggression, envy and cynicism states confer to, as stated by feminism. Moreover, a broader concern remains that the state merely looks at “prioritizations” as a weapon to neutralize the effects of the pandemic, and does not incentivise the state the maximise welfare upon various actors. Since the state does not require the political capital to go forth and take risky efforts, it can use the pretext of the uncertainty of the pandemic to limit its preparedness and ensure it does not take on any additional burdens. The benevolent state arguably has a fundamental difference herein. It has the burden to ensure it maximizes the welfare of the people, and puts due “emphasis” on the means, though the ends might not actualize in the short term. To elaborate, the state might take public health and safety policies, using various public institutions, but cannot reach, in the end (at least in the short-term), neutralizing the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. In absence of strong responses from the public institutions, the effects of the pandemic are the most hard-hit on middle and low-income groups.
Failure of Non-State Actors:
The non-state actors have consistently found lesser incentives to remain committed to a state’s public safety. Multilateralism has failed to provide a coordinated global response. International aid and funding, especially from the G-20, has been grossly inadequate and met with bureaucratic delays. While states expected international aid and borrowings from the IMF and World Bank, they were met with virtually inadequate aid as the most developed nations approached “inward-looking” policy and focused merely on “choosing” which country to assign for the origin of the pandemic. Also, there is a lot of information asymmetry, whereby developing nation-states cannot comprehend the true nature of the crisis, and do not have the capabilities to analyze the nuances of the pandemic. Experts and other important scholars often produce a list of initiatives to be undertaken, but they do not understand the implementation challenges and implications of policy-making. Hence, the top officials in public institutions should assume “primary responsibility” for mitigating the crisis and adequate incentives should be provided for it. The biggest incentive to do so includes access to opportunities to join ministry and freedom of choice in scaling a policy due to expertise in the required domain.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the intensity and scope of public institutions of different states to provide a coordinated response to mitigate the crisis. States like “New Zealand” and “Finland” require far less targeted policies, programs and government interventions than states like “India” and “Sri Lanka” require. In essence, this means the role of public institutions in terms of utilizing their experts, framing a strategy, and coming up with pragmatic policies is moderate due to the available infrastructure on health and the social capital to bring awareness about the programs. Also, the number of vulnerable communities is far lower than that of a developing country. Still, it is important to underscore that the state should robustly track the direction of targeted welfare and safety, and must identify, if not address, any deviations impairing its functioning. Economic security and trust in public institutions go hand-in-hand, and public institutions have the political incentive to safeguard the trust of the people to retain likeability public approval . Financial institutions, especially in regions of the nationalised banking system, must operate in an accessible and transparent manner. Even if such institutions are burdened with low resource availability to achieve the same, they must at least aim for targeted benefit by employing welfare schemes, such as sending cash transfers.
Secondly, public health institutions arguably play the biggest role in situations of crisis. There should be a promotion of inter-municipal or inter-city collaboration to mitigate the crisis response . Public health institutions must consider strategic planning and public health outcomes as a “primary responsibility”. Taking such a burden invites them to be creative and understand the true root cause of the crisis. Greater coordination amongst officials in such institutions often tends to lead to better, and more efficient rollout schemes. The state plays a huge role in terms of promoting precautionary behaviour including vaccination, and in terms of developing robust responses including aggressive test check-ups and continuation of medical services. The role of the state needs to be re-emphasized due to the institutional renewal in light of the prioritisation of vulnerable stakeholders. Health security should be at the core of the response and the rollout of schemes should be proactively executed to prevent additional harm. Digitization of existing services is crucial for assisting programs and ensuring equitable distribution.
Thirdly, a crisis in confidence by the public should be met with leadership and crisis management amongst public-policy makers in India. Staunch policies like accessible and affordable personal private equipment, removing barriers for tertiary health care services during the pandemic, and provision of broad services should be employed. Necessary tools and equipment must be provided to frontline workers. Political inference is a growing problem in public institutions because leaders would like to associate themselves with success, and understand that their metrics for performance are based on the role of “public institutions too” . Effective leaders, therefore, build public trust. Public trust brings the mobility and the capacity of public institutions to make innovative and regional-sensitive policies which require active public participation for effective implementation. The final goal of any public policy is in its implementation. The marginal efficiency, of a public institution, to make a policy versus the circumstance overriding it due to external force/actors [say IMF declining aid or state governments unable to generate employment].
Marginal Efficiency refers to the added efficiency provided by public institutions in mitigating the crisis in comparison to similar action taken by private or international governmental organizations. It is shown that after a stage, the funds provided by international organizations remain questionable, and actions exercised by public institutions are effective to orchestrate both a regional and a national level response.
The fundamental burden of this paper was to show if public institutions play a decisive role in mitigating the pandemic and the justification of such a role being given by the state. Public institutions play a huge role in mitigating economic, health and social crises in the wake of the pandemic. States mustn’t be burdened with meeting the needs of all, but continue to operate in tandem with non-state actors, prioritising the actions and ensuring robustness in their response. Despite the trust deficits and bureaucratic inertia a state inherently is burdened with, the toolkits and mechanisms concerning public institutions make it robust for targeted action to be implemented. Thus, the marginal efficiency of public institutions in providing targeted relief is justified in terms of providing welfare and security.
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