The disenchanted state

A new book revolves around the question of what the state can learn from the pandemic in order to act more efficiently and crisis-proof in the future.




21. JULY 2021


2 MIN.

In view of the flood disaster in parts of Germany, criticism of the state’s crisis management is currently on the rise again. During the pandemic too, some of the criticism of the German state has been extraordinarily sharp. This is not surprising, as it is precisely in crises that the state’s ability to perform and respond is put to the test and attention is drawn to its flaws. In his new book, “The Disenchanted State – What Germany Must Learn from the Pandemic,” Moritz Schularick describes which of these weaknesses became visible in the pandemic, what the reasons were, and how they can be remedied for future crises and challenges.

According to Schularick, one major weakness, for example, was the digital infrastructure in government agencies. Equipped with fax machines, the administration lacked computers and software. Another problem he describes was the lack of a coherent and scientifically based strategy fighting the pandemic, which meant that political decisions were often made in an ad hoc manner and with the government’s back against the wall, rather than proactively.

Using sociologist Ulrich Beck’s term, Schularick characterizes today’s society as a “risk society” in which new risks are constantly emerging as byproducts of progress. In the risk society, the state finds itself in the complex role of risk manager, having to balance such things as risks to health and risks to the economy, making its decisions under uncertainty. The core thesis of the book is that the German state has so far been ill-equipped for the role as risk manager. That is, weaknesses in risk assessment have led to the problems of state crisis management.

According to Schularick, the solution to the problem lies not in a larger state, but in a more efficient one. The crucial question is not about more or less state, but how to achieve a stronger and more competent state with an efficient administration and a better integration of science and politics.

Schularick outlines a number of possible solutions. Closer networking between science and politics is important, he says. Economic advisory bodies should be better integrated into practical political decision-making. In addition, a different mindset is needed. More dynamism and the will to act, instead of bureaucratic hurdles and concerns. Similar to Mariana Mazzucato’s idea, Schularick also suggests that the state should identify missions that would be pursued with rigor, allowing clear priorities to be set.

Without an effective and crisis-resistant state, the challenges of climate change can hardly be met. Therefore, he says, it is important to learn from the mistakes made in the pandemic.

A sample of the book can be found here.



For decades, there was a consensus that reducing the role of the state and cutting public debt would generate wealth. This contributed to a chronic underinvestment in education and public infrastructure. New research focuses on establishing when and how governments need to intervene to better contribute to long-term prosperity and to stabilize rather than aggravate economic fluctuations.