We should apply leveraging strategy to the fight against the pandemic

We should apply leveraging strategy to the fight against the pandemic
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After the 2008-09 financial crisis, eight colleagues and I created a theoretical framework for application of the leverage crisis at the time to all aspects of political, economic, and social life. It was designed to provide multi-causal and multi-disciplinary explanations of political, economic, and social phenomena; it was also designed to provide a basis for public policy solutions to pressing problems that concern the future, which is really a matter of ethics and political philosophy.

In a recent issue of The Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, Dr. Andreas Fulda and Martin Thorley at the University of Nottingham in England used the leveraging framework to provide an explanation of the much analyzed 2012 GlaxoSmithKline corruption scandal in its dealings with China. Fulda and Thorley found the three-part theory of leverage — bargaining leverage, financial leverage, and resource leverage and related concepts — to have more explanatory force than the existing narrowly-conceived mono-causal and mono-discipline approaches, many of which do not address the concept of leverage at all.

Leveraging always involves the use of a minimum effort to create a maximum effect via a fulcrum of some kind, as we learned from the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes. Whether the topic is negotiations on Capitol Hill that involve bargaining leverage, the use of borrowed funds in the real estate field to make investments that are designed to bring huge returns, or the use of the internet or social media to reach millions of followers with a single message, leveraging has become one of the dominant themes of our time, if not the predominant one.

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Yet there has been surprisingly little attention to the concept of leverage in the mountain of otherwise largely excellent articles about the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis.

In the months ahead, public policy analysts, academics, and political leaders should explore the leveraging dimensions of how the pandemic has spread around the world and how the pandemic can be controlled and ultimately brought to an end.

Fulda and Thorley looked at Western-Eastern relations in what they regarded as a perfect prism, a case that involved a Western company bribing Chinese doctors to prescribe medications they produced. We can reverse the emphasis and examine how the virus started in an Eastern country which — wittingly or unwittingly — let it spread around their country and the rest of the world.

At this time, developing a unified leveraging framework to solve the pandemic crisis is the most pressing need, although understanding its causes will continue to help the effort to end it.

Part of the public policy and leadership task is to reframe actions already being taken so that we can see them as part of a unified leveraging strategy.

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For one, it is critical for companies to continue to leverage the investments (this involves both resource and financial leverage) of the private sector and government. The White House has now funded multiple large pharmaceutical companies and small biotechs — to the tune of nearly $8 billion — in its Operation Warp Speed to find a vaccine for the virus. A range of philanthropic organizations have made major contributions as well, including the Gates Foundation.

Second, companies and nonprofits and educational organizations need to continue to leverage technology (resource leveraging) to achieve their missions, whether that involves universities teaching classes online or companies conducting online live video meetings hosted by Zoom and other IT companies.

Third, individuals and families must leverage technology in order to maintain their mental and physical health. It is especially important for grandparents to stay in touch with their children and grandchildren through Zoom or facetime on their phones — and if they do not have smartphones, they should get them. Many people are afraid to go out to doctors' offices and hospitals; at the very least, they need to do telemedicine appointments to determine if an in-person appointment is needed.

Fourth, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill (and the White House) must continue to negotiate (and use bargaining leverage) to appropriate funds for grants, direct payments, tax benefits, forgivable loans and loans at low interest rates to help industry, nonprofits, hospitals, educational organizations, and citizens directly. They must use financial leveraging strategies to create maximum benefits with targeted investments.

Fifth, states must find the "leverage mean" between excessive and deficient leveraging as they try to determine how much of their states to keep open for business. There are different ways to balance the values at stake, namely those concerning public health and the strength of the economy. One strategy involves ensuring the leveraging capacities of our state governments and the private sector avoid using too much leverage or too little leverage. Striking a leverage mean is always difficult to do, but in an age where leveraging has become king, this is another way to think about public policy decisions. Leveraging analysis need not be a substitute for cost-benefit analysis and rights theory, but it can be part of the mix of conceptual tools used to make decisions.

And sixth, information technology needs to be leveraged to help a great range of overlapping constituencies — including the poor, students, and those who live in rural communities — to have adequate access to services that will enable them to benefit from health, education and job opportunities. Closing the digital divide, a topic that has been addressed for over 20 years, has emerged again as a major issue of concern. This includes helping people maintain their payments on their smartphones and internet service during the pandemic as well as ensuring that all Americans have access to computers and broadband service. Our digital divide problem is part of a global problem where 3.6 billion people lack access to computers and internet service.

There is no magic plan to fight this terrible virus, but politicians, industry and nonprofit leaders, educational leaders, and citizens themselves need to be thinking clearly how to use leveraging strategies to achieve their objectives. Leveraging is the steam engine of our time, and we need to be thinking systematically about it as we continue the fight against the pandemic.

Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of "Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of "The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Contact him at dmamaryland@gmail.com.