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Capable States and Trustworthy Leaders: Supporting Institutions and Collective Action for Economic Recovery

October 1, 2020



    It is already clear why some countries have done better than others in dealing with the COVID19 crisis so far, and there is every reason to think those trends will continue. It is not a matter of regime type. Rather, the factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have left their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable. Remarkably, the crisis has shown how poor leadership and polarization can significantly undermine effective action even in the presence of generally strong institutions. At the same time, the digital revolution is changing leadership both in good and in risky ways. 

    The unfolding crisis and its aftermath has a number of major implications – increasing the capabilities and influence of some countries notably in Asia, while leading to (further) decline elsewhere; and a growing focus on the importance of the role of the state – but combined with a limited ability to fulfill such a role effectively in many places, and risks of overreach in others. The COVID crisis moreover coincides with the impacts of climate change which are increasingly manifest, putting additional stresses on states and societies. These trends make it urgent to find a new model for international development. How to support constructive collective action – locally, nationally, and internationally – should become front and center.  


    Deborah Wetzel, Director, Africa Regional Integration, World Bank


    Roby Senderowitsch, Practice Manager, Governance Global Practice, Europe and Central Asia - West, World Bank 


    Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), Mosbacher Director of FSI's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and Director of Stanford's Master's in International Policy Program