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The Leadership Failure that Will Cost Us Everything

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that delaying prudent policymaking does not merely result in higher marginal costs down the road. Rather, it puts us on an entirely different trajectory – one that all too easily can end in catastrophe.

NEW YORK – COVID-19’s exponential growth has already offered the public a crash course in numeracy. It is also proving to be a crash test for systemic risk. While it is too soon for the final verdict, it is already clear that the US system – not just its current leadership – will need a significant overhaul.

Taking systemic risk seriously is the ultimate governance test. Those who pass it know to shut down a city or an entire country when there are still only a few cases of a highly contagious virus present. Sara Cody, the public health officer for California’s Santa Clara County, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did precisely that in the face of COVID-19. Their decisive risk management has paid off in spades.

It also helps to have political leaders with a science background, judging by Germany’s success in managing the crisis under Chancellor Angela Merkel (a trained physicist), or Ireland’s under Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (a physician). And the fact that a disproportionate share of the most effective strategies has been implemented by governments led by women surely is no coincidence.

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