In the City Journal, I have a short piece on the “Madrid model” in managing the pandemic. The region of Madrid has been quite exceptional because, during the second wave, it kept activities relatively more open than elsewhere in Europe. It did so not so much by taking a “wait and see” approach, which is what others tend to criticize and fear whenever a more libertarian minded take on the pandemic is hinted to, but by proactively hunting the virus, particularly through a system of wastewater screening to identify the hotspots of the infection. The local government bounded itself to a clear policy goal: keeping the region as open as possible. In order to meet this goal, it perhaps did more in terms confronting the virus, than those who chose to flatten the curve by locking down.

At the very beginning of the piece, I write:

The Covid-19 pandemic heralded for many, particularly in Europe, the “return of the state.” Nation-states were supposedly the natural and proper level for pandemic policymaking, as they supplied most of the subsidies keeping economic activity afloat during lockdowns. Early on, the most intense debates concerned which national response was best: the Italian model, the closest thing to a Chinese lockdown that a liberal democracy could manage; or the Swedish model, an almost laissez-faire approach. Few paid attention to how cities and regional governments responded. In Spain, however, it’s at the regional level that the pandemic’s most interesting and useful lessons may be found.

This is probably true elsewhere too. We spent a lot of time arguing over different “national” models, but there were nuances, and slowing contagion down was ultimately up to local government institutions. Perhaps in the next few years we will have more studies of how regions and cities actually coped with these challenges, and less on supposedly national approaches. In the US of course this is more apparent than in Europa.