Was America’s federalist system of government an asset or liability during the COVID-19 pandemic? Doug Badger and Bob Moffit conclude, based upon ample evidence, that it was a benefit that “fostered policy innovation, enabled state officials to avoid misguided measures,” and resulted in better economic outcomes.
In their new Heritage paper, “Health Care Reform COVID-19 and Federalism:
Public Officials’ Accountability and Comparative Performance,” they cite an influential article in the JAMA Forum saying federalism was a disability during the pandemic, and that the country would have been better off with a centrally imposed response to the pandemic.
The evidence Badger and Moffit detail shows that the JAMA editorialists are wrong. Most of what Washington got right involved the Trump administration’s deregulatory actions and use of federal powers to facilitate a private sector response. The list of what Washington got wrong is long, especially the sluggish, confusing, and sometimes erroneous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, including:
- CDC’s determination to control testing, ultimately producing a defective test that had to be recalled—“regulatory bungling that was the most serious federal government error.”
- FDA’s delay of rapid at-home self testing
- An insufficient national stockpile of essential medical supplies
- Outdated data collection and dissemination systems
- Confusing and ultimately flawed guidance on surface transmission of the virus
- Disastrous guidance that shut down in-person learning in schools for extended periods of time
- And contradictory guidance on the protective value of masks that ignored science.
Badger and Moffit cite a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine which was the “one controlled study” that tested whether masks protect uninfected people against COVID-19.
“The study found no statistically significant difference in infection rates between those who wore masks and those who did not,” the authors report. The CDC ignored the science in issuing its pro-masking guidance.
Badger and Moffit compare the public health and economic impact in four big states–California, Florida, New York, and Texas—that took markedly different approaches to lockdowns and mask mandates. “The evidence shows that Florida and Texas had health outcomes similar to California’s and better than New York’s while maintaining much lower unemployment rates,” they conclude.