There are zillions of reasons why some countries have (so far) successfully dealt with the pandemic, while others have not. These causal elements are so intricate and interdependent that they cannot be disentangled from each other, but for the sake of shedding some light on this, let us offer three intriguing, emerging correlations underlying relative success. They may seem simplistic, but they say something and offer interesting lessons for businesses and investors.
1) Women Leaders – So far, countries led by women have six times fewer COVID-19 deaths than those led by men. They also seem to be recovering faster. Three main reasons could explain this “women leadership premium.” (1) They did not underestimate the risks and acted fast. (2) They focused on preventative measures. (3) In policy terms, they’ve always favored wellbeing—a source of greater resilience (Denmark, Finland and New Zealand come to mind as exemplary in that domain).
There is a strong, positive correlation that exists between women leadership and wellbeing policies. Looking forward, we can, therefore, expect positive wellness surprises to come from governments led by women. The four-day workweek is a case in point. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has suggested that it could be one of the sensible economic responses to the pandemic. For years, labor experts have professed that shorter weeks (four days just sounds right…not shorter) make employees more productive and raise their subjective wellbeing. In the post-pandemic era, four-day workweeks would have the added benefit of keeping a business open for customers throughout the week while also keeping it safer in terms of social distancing measures. Another woman PM, Nicola Sturgeon from Scotland, immediately supported the idea, adding that it would also help with childcare challenges, therefore broadening the wellbeing and economic appeal of such a measure.
2) Populism – The fallout from COVID-19 tends to be harsher and deeper in countries led by populists, including Brazil, the US, the UK and Russia. A core feature of populism lies in the rejection of expertise. For COVID-19, this translated into ill-preparedness and the late adoption of social distancing measures.
3) Size – Governance seems to be easier in small countries, which is not as obvious as it seems, and suggests that diseconomies of scale were penalizing larger ones. Singapore, Israel, Taiwan, Iceland and South Korea have done much better than the US, Brazil, India and Russia—and in a less “invasive” way than China.
And note: There are many unsung COVID-19 winners ignored by the Western-centricity of the international media. Ghana, Senegal, Mongolia, and Uruguay are a few examples and all great successes. In Europe, the winner is Denmark. It was one of the first countries to close and one of the first to reopen, proving that acting fast and decisively was the most appropriate strategy in dealing with the pandemic. Denmark did everything that Sweden (the focus of international attention) did not: closing its border, schools, restaurants, etc. Today, it has much fewer cases of infections and death (a fourth) than its neighbor, and its GDP for the year is expected to do better than that of Sweden’s (-5.3 percent versus -7 percent).