Who should you blame for Covid-19?

Who should you blame for Covid-19?

Blame flows freely when things get out of hand, people die, and economies collapse. We cannot blame a virus. So blame shifts to individuals, authorities, and institutions all the way up to the UN and EU. Blame is attributed to not preparing, not communicating, not acting, or doing it too late and insufficiently.

I think we need to look at this differentiated and would like to suggest that we distinguish between politics and administrations as well as systems and individuals.

It will help us to make our learning from Covid-19 more specific and actionable and accelerate our journey on the road to recovery and possibly a better world.

Differentiating politics and administration

Politics governs administrations. Administrations execute. Responding to a crisis like Covid-19 is an administrative responsibility and should be based on current, well-devised plans and resources that were created in foresight.

Politics supports an administration in preparing for a crisis by setting priorities, providing guidance, and assigning budgets.

A crisis is not the time for politics. Politics is about diverging opinions, debates, carefully balancing positions, and reaching compromises.

In times of crisis, politics slow you down. In a crisis, we need clarity, decisiveness, and focused action. It’s the time when administrations need to shine.

Not responding quickly enough, is, firstly, an administrative failure, not a political one. You can blame them for that.

Administrations may try to pass the blame on to politics. But this may backfire.

Administrations are staffed with professionals tasked with informing and advising their political leadership which may have no subject matter expertise at all. If politicians make wrong decisions, administrations must speak up. If they don’t, we can blame them for that.

Execution happens at the bottom

Politics happens on the top, administration at the bottom. The same is true in business.

Businesses face increasing VUCA and speed of change. It is hard to keep up on the top. The common wisdom is to decentralize decision-making and move it to where the action and information is.

For this, you need to delegate, empower, and enable your people. You need to trust them to do the right thing when a crisis hits. One way of implementing this is agile teams staffed with professionals. They are the corporate equivalents of fire stations.

Fire trucks are stationed in each suburb and manned by skilled firefighters that know what to do when things heat up. You can trust them to do the job.

In political systems, higher levels have no immediate role to play in a crisis. They need to trust that their previous actions have empowered administrations and provided enough resources for dealing with the situation.

It is also the reason why nations acted first, not supranational entities like the UN and the EU.

Political structures and the challenge from acting from the top

Politics is complex. There are many forms: Local, regional, state, national, supra-national, and global.

The higher up, the further detached from the action they are. When a crisis happens, those furthest away like the EU, UN, and federal governments are not on the line.

Due to their scope, they are inherently inefficient in acting as they struggle with establishing and maintaining a current and coherent picture of the situation as information is passed to them through many layers.

Higher political structures are too detached and consequently handicapped in a crisis. We cannot expect them to act efficiently. It is not their job.

So what about the WHO which is also receiving a fair amount of criticism at the moment? The WHO is part of the administrative part of the UN. They need to take it.

Political responsibility for failure

Everybody is needed in a crisis, also politics. Even the best-prepared administrations may eventually struggle.

Especially lower politics needs to stand by to step in to provide more detailed guidance and resources. For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, the federal government of Germany provided ethical guidance for better triage decisions by medical staff.

As situations become clearer, also higher political structures can do their part as we are now seeing with the EU mobilizing funds.

Eventually, we will have to assess whether politics has done a good job of preparing their administrations. But this should not fundamentally question the existence and value of institutions.

Instead, we should review individual decisions and question the motives and capabilities of those in charge. We need to move from generic criticism of institutions to specific behaviours of individuals.

Ultimately, the buck stops with the politician in charge. Either way, they will have to take responsibility and take any blame. This will also mean that some will need to accept responsibility for decisions that they did not make.

Individuals not doing their jobs

Top-level positions in administrations are typically staffed by politicians based on public votes.

As politicians are voted into office and become prime ministers, chancellors, and ministers their jobs change: from being politicians to officers, from serving constituencies to serving a country, from making a decision based on political will and opinion to decisions based on reality and facts.

Germany is run by the chancellor Angela Merkel, not by the party lead Angela Merkel. It’s a different job and requires a mind shift.

I remember a German state minister coming out of a crisis phone call with federal chancellor Angela Merkel about the urgent need to coordinates rules across all 16 states. He said: “I wished we had more time to discuss.” Fail! This is not the time to discuss. It’s time to act. Maybe he was outvoted and didn’t support the majority decision. For sure, he didn’t make the mind shift.

Other politically appointed officers may also struggle: they may allow party politics to shade their decisions, they may abuse their positions to further their career in politics and beyond, they may focus more on themselves than those they serve, or they may further favouritism, lobbyism, or corruption.

Admittedly, the space between politics and holding an office is deeply grey. As voters, we do, in fact, vote for them to execute on their political will. But it is hard to tell if someone will walk the talk once in office. It requires values and ethics to navigate this well. We should and must hold individuals responsible who fail to navigate this wisely.

We should blame individuals, not the systems. We need to be specific, not abstract. We should criticize behaviours, not people. So they learn, so we all learn.

Only people learn. Systems, authorities, administrations are just inanimate constructs that embody ideals that only come to life through the people that act in and for them.

Looking further

As voters, we only have the chance to vote for politicians. We cannot influence administrations whose operations are usually opaque to the public.

In our current systems, we will need to rely on politicians to make the right long-term decisions for the benefit of everybody. In a VUCA world, this does not get easier. The average career politician oriented on short-term electorate cycles may not be a successful role model for the future.

The Covid-19 crisis may not change the world as we know it but will accelerate its transformation. The ailing of our world and systems are older and more fundamental. Covid-19 has just made their negative consequences and the urgency to resolve them clearer than ever.

The decline of the US as the world leader may turn out positive in the long run if the world can collaborate better on the top. We do not need another global battle of systems or blocks for hegemony or world domination. We need world democracy, not autocracy.

After two hot wars, a cold one, and the Pacific freezing over, after wasting resources and lives in destructive actions against each other, we need constructive action that builds and shares global resources and safes lives. Our increasing smaller and overheating world that is running out of resources leaves us no other choice.

Some bemoan that we are not able to prepare for all eventualities. But we hold 64 million people and massive amounts of material on standby costing us about 2 trillion USD every year — just to be able to kill others in case we need or simply want to.

Why can’t we shift at least some of these resources towards responding to the new realities and protecting our people? Why can’t we create a NATO for health care?

For this, we will need our global and supranational political institutions to build trust between countries. If this crisis is over, the time of the UN and the EU will come again. We will need them more than ever. We should not criticize them now. It’s unfair and only destroys their credibility.

If the UN and EU fail, it is due to the failure of the nations, individual governors and administrators to empower and fund them. Power flows upwards: from the people to the top. In times of crisis, power moves down those who respond. In times of stability, it needs to flow up to shape the future.

The Covid-19 crisis taught us how a global challenge looks like and how we should have collaborated better.

When we come out of this, let’s hold individuals responsible: for past failings but also for learning and future acting.


200415 [Medium](# Who should you blame for Covid-19?

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Blame flows freely when things get out of hand, people die, and economies collapse. We cannot blame a virus. So blame shifts to individuals, authorities, and institutions all the way up to the UN and EU. Blame is attributed to not preparing, not communicating, not acting, or doing it too late and insufficiently.

I think we need to look at this differentiated and would like to suggest that we distinguish between politics and administrations as well as systems and individuals.

It will help us to make our learning from Covid-19 more specific and actionable and accelerate our journey on the road to recovery and possibly a better world.

Differentiating politics and administration

Politics governs administrations. Administrations execute. Responding to a crisis like Covid-19 is an administrative responsibility and should be based on current, well-devised plans and resources that were created in foresight.

Politics supports an administration in preparing for a crisis by setting priorities, providing guidance, and assigning budgets.

A crisis is not the time for politics. Politics is about diverging opinions, debates, carefully balancing positions, and reaching compromises.

In times of crisis, politics slow you down. In a crisis, we need clarity, decisiveness, and focused action. It’s the time when administrations need to shine.

Not responding quickly enough, is, firstly, an administrative failure, not a political one. You can blame them for that.

Administrations may try to pass the blame on to politics. But this may backfire.

Administrations are staffed with professionals tasked with informing and advising their political leadership which may have no subject matter expertise at all. If politicians make wrong decisions, administrations must speak up. If they don’t, we can blame them for that.

Execution happens at the bottom

Politics happens on the top, administration at the bottom. The same is true in business.

Businesses face increasing [link=”da859f29-52de-4968-99f8-ab66def3fa63″] and speed of change. It is hard to keep up on the top. The common wisdom is to decentralize decision-making and move it to where the action and information is.

For this, you need to delegate, empower, and enable your people. You need to trust them to do the right thing when a crisis hits. One way of implementing this is agile teams staffed with professionals. They are the corporate equivalents of fire stations.

Fire trucks are stationed in each suburb and manned by skilled firefighters that know what to do when things heat up. You can trust them to do the job.

In political systems, higher levels have no immediate role to play in a crisis. They need to trust that their previous actions have empowered administrations and provided enough resources for dealing with the situation.

It is also the reason why nations acted first, not supranational entities like the UN and the EU.

Political structures and the challenge from acting from the top

Politics is complex. There are many forms: Local, regional, state, national, supra-national, and global.

The higher up, the further detached from the action they are. When a crisis happens, those furthest away like the EU, UN, and federal governments are not on the line.

Due to their scope, they are inherently inefficient in acting as they struggle with establishing and maintaining a current and coherent picture of the situation as information is passed to them through many layers.

Higher political structures are too detached and consequently handicapped in a crisis. We cannot expect them to act efficiently. It is not their job.

So what about the WHO which is also receiving a fair amount of criticism at the moment? The WHO is part of the administrative part of the UN. They need to take it.

Political responsibility for failure

Everybody is needed in a crisis, also politics. Even the best-prepared administrations may eventually struggle.

Especially lower politics needs to stand by to step in to provide more detailed guidance and resources. For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, the federal government of Germany provided ethical guidance for better triage decisions by medical staff.

As situations become clearer, also higher political structures can do their part as we are now seeing with the EU mobilizing funds.

Eventually, we will have to assess whether politics has done a good job of preparing their administrations. But this should not fundamentally question the existence and value of institutions.

Instead, we should review individual decisions and question the motives and capabilities of those in charge. We need to move from generic criticism of institutions to specific behaviours of individuals.

Ultimately, the buck stops with the politician in charge. Either way, they will have to take responsibility and take any blame. This will also mean that some will need to accept responsibility for decisions that they did not make.

Individuals not doing their jobs

Top-level positions in administrations are typically staffed by politicians based on public votes.

As politicians are voted into office and become prime ministers, chancellors, and ministers their jobs change: from being politicians to officers, from serving constituencies to serving a country, from making a decision based on political will and opinion to decisions based on reality and facts.

Germany is run by the chancellor Angela Merkel, not by the party lead Angela Merkel. It’s a different job and requires a mind shift.

I remember a German state minister coming out of a crisis phone call with federal chancellor Angela Merkel about the urgent need to coordinates rules across all 16 states. He said: “I wished we had more time to discuss.” Fail! This is not the time to discuss. It’s time to act. Maybe he was outvoted and didn’t support the majority decision. For sure, he didn’t make the mind shift.

Other politically appointed officers may also struggle: they may allow party politics to shade their decisions, they may abuse their positions to further their career in politics and beyond, they may focus more on themselves than those they serve, or they may further favouritism, lobbyism, or corruption.

Admittedly, the space between politics and holding an office is deeply grey. As voters, we do, in fact, vote for them to execute on their political will. But it is hard to tell if someone will walk the talk once in office. It requires values and ethics to navigate this well. We should and must hold individuals responsible who fail to navigate this wisely.

We should blame individuals, not the systems. We need to be specific, not abstract. We should criticize behaviours, not people. So they learn, so we all learn.

Only people learn. Systems, authorities, administrations are just inanimate constructs that embody ideals that only come to life through the people that act in and for them.

Looking further

As voters, we only have the chance to vote for politicians. We cannot influence administrations whose operations are usually opaque to the public.

In our current systems, we will need to rely on politicians to make the right long-term decisions for the benefit of everybody. In a VUCA world, this does not get easier. The average career politician oriented on short-term electorate cycles may not be a successful role model for the future.

The Covid-19 crisis may not change the world as we know it but will [link=”0b630fe1-5c00-456b-92df-2e9043447eef”]. The ailing of our world and systems are older and more fundamental. Covid-19 has just made their negative consequences and the urgency to resolve them clearer than ever.

The decline of the US as the world leader may turn out positive in the long run if the world can collaborate better on the top. We do not need another global battle of systems or blocks for hegemony or world domination. We need world democracy, not autocracy.

After two hot wars, a cold one, and the Pacific freezing over, after wasting resources and lives in destructive actions against each other, we need constructive action that builds and shares global resources and safes lives. Our increasing smaller and overheating world that is running out of resources leaves us no other choice.

Some bemoan that we are not able to prepare for all eventualities. But we hold [link=”980a6899-e66b-4483-8f36-541697d5d964″] and massive amounts of material on standby costing us about [link=”e47b7b5e-8798-4539-a865-053272a01603″] every year — just to be able to kill others in case we need or simply want to.

Why can’t we shift at least some of these resources towards responding to the new realities and protecting our people? Why can’t we create a NATO for health care?

For this, we will need our global and supranational political institutions to build trust between countries. If this crisis is over, the time of the UN and the EU will come again. We will need them more than ever. We should not criticize them now. It’s unfair and only destroys their credibility.

If the UN and EU fail, it is due to the failure of the nations, individual governors and administrators to empower and fund them. Power flows upwards: from the people to the top. In times of crisis, power moves down those who respond. In times of stability, it needs to flow up to shape the future.

The Covid-19 crisis taught us how a global challenge looks like and how we should have collaborated better.

When we come out of this, let’s hold individuals responsible: for past failings but also for learning and future acting.)