The Political Economy of Pandemic Policy, COVID-19 and Climate Change Why Market Fundamentalism and the Trump Administration Fail to Protect Public Health and the Economy

Posted: 2 Nov 2020

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 20, 2020


This paper makes a simple point about the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for many spheres of life in the 21st century.

• The U.S. had one of the worst policy responses in the world to the pandemic, certainly among the large, high-income democracies, including Asian (e.g. South Korea), European (e.g. Germany), and other nations (e.g. Australia).

That response was driven by a view of political economy that rejects the idea that society can impose social responsibility on its members, even under the most dire of circumstances. This political economy rests on a belief that markets perform perfectly when government gets out of the way and the pursuit of individual interests is synonymous with the public good. Currently called market fundamentalism, it was known as laissez faire economics and social Darwinism for well over a century.

The paper refers to the Trump administration and it supporters. Although the overwhelming majority of Trump administration supporters were Republicans, some were not. Indeed, a few were very vocal about it, like Larry Hogan, the Republican Governor of Maryland and the Chairman of the National Governors’ Association. Hogan’s critique outlined many of the key facts about the Trump administration response to the pandemic that will be documented and demonstrated in this paper. In typical fashion Hogan’s comments were dismissed by the Trump administration, but Hogan defended himself.

He argued that the Trump administration was
1) slow to act,
2) failed to take implement policies that could have saved many lives,
3) downplayed the importance of the virus,
4) pressed to reopen the economy too soon,
5) focused on “his reelection plans,
6) disregarded the science,
7) ignored the facts and data presented by its own experts,
8) made misleading statements about the state of testing,
9) competed with the states for medical equipment,
10) flip-flopped on who was responsible for the response,
11) incorrectly placed the blame on Obama,
12) attacked the South Koreans, who actually had a much better policy response.
13) Trump he said was his own worst enemy and
14) failed to understand that controlling the virus first was the key to reopening the economy

The report integrates over 140 detailed studies prepared in the past six months, embodying significant resources expended by four types of institutions.
• Official documents of multinational and national public health and economic institutions,
• academic publications and papers,
• trade and issue specific press and association reports, and
• detailed accounts from investigative journalism

The paper integrates these longer studies and 115 shorter articles by 100 journalists representing 50 news organizations.

The mid-July disputes between the Trump administration and Governor Hogan, and Dr. Andrew Fauci are used to anchor the analysis in the paper. Hogan may be the exception that proves the rule, but the evidence reviewed in this report shows he was right and Trump was wrong. I believe that the expression “the Trump Administration and its supporters” is fair and accurate for both COVVID-19 and climate change. As a result, it is clear that the U.S. policy was too slow, too weak and too short.

Examining over 140 recent historical and contemporary case studies, results of epidemiological and econometric models, and investigative analyses, this paper shows that more effective public health policy would also have been good economic policy and had better political results because the public would have been reassured and the economy could have been opened sooner. Ultimately, the costs of this policy failure can only be described as catastrophic, imposing unnecessary harms in three areas.

Public Health, at least
• 120,000 deaths,
• half a million hospitalizations, and
• 2.5 million infections.

Economic, likely to be
• $7 trillion in lost output. • Trillions of dollars increased debt, and • Hundreds of millions of dollars of lost employment

• Continuing resistance by the vast majority of the public to engaging in the activities the administration seems to value most • A preference for local officials to set policy • A collapse of public confidence in the administration to deal with the problem, and
• A dramatic reduction in support for and the electability of the administration and its supporters.

The policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and magnifies a much broader weakness. This paper concludes with a brief analysis of a parallel the knee-jerk, market fundamentalist response – to climate change. The 19th century view of political economy cannot cope with the challenges of the contemporary global community of over seven billion individuals in 200 nations interconnected in the biosphere (pandemic,) the atmosphere (climate change) and the economic sphere (financial, trade and recessionary meltdowns, and technology diffusion). The analysis of the climate challenge and the other global spheres where policy must be made in the face of great uncertainty points to an approach that emphasizes precaution, science, information gathering, flexibility, and cooperative governance and that recognizes both the importance and limitations of policy making authorities at the international, national, state and local levels. These are the exact opposite of the approach taken in the U.S.

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Mark, The Political Economy of Pandemic Policy, COVID-19 and Climate Change Why Market Fundamentalism and the Trump Administration Fail to Protect Public Health and the Economy (July 20, 2020). Available at SSRN:

Mark Cooper (Contact Author)

Silicon Flatirons ( email )

Wolf Law Building
2450 Kittredge Loop Road
Boulder, CO
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics