Reader Mail

A case for a speedy COVID-19 policy response

Regarding the April 2 editorial “Is the nation ready for a long battle against COVID-19?” I also want to emphasize that speedy decision-making is required now more than ever. While spending sufficient time to write "correct" policy prescriptions (e.g. grants or masks) is usually desirable, under the current situation, whether getting the assistance next week or three months from now makes a critical difference for people desperately in need. Perhaps what we want to avoid now is a situation that Robert Rubin, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, once described as "you can be right in the long run and dead in the short run.” In an emergency like this, we need to remember that policymakers are far from perfect and prone to make mistakes, especially when situations are constantly evolving and it is hard to stay well-informed to make sound decisions. Also, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to please everyone in the country as different groups of people have different (and sometimes conflicting) interests and concerns. So inherently this is more or less a losing game for policymakers if perfection is what is expected: There is probably no panacea that cures everything.

Arguably, what is important now is to relentlessly fine-tune policies toward "less bad" ones. Accordingly, citizens might need to set their expectations such that the policies presented before them might not be perfect at first sight. But here, we do have a role to play. An old textbook diagram on the setup of the three branches of government tells us that, in addition to electing legislators, citizens are expected to maintain checks and balances on the administrative branch through public opinion. Indeed, our voices and feedback are critical for the fine-tuning process that could ultimately save us from the pandemic.

Daisuke Maruichi
Geneva

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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