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Explaining the Pandemic Performance Differential

Although a country's success in managing the COVID-19 crisis depends on many variables, there is a striking correlation between today's performance and past economic-development rankings. Countries that have consistently achieved broadly shared dynamic growth have proved far more capable of containing the first wave of the pandemic.

LONDON – I recently re-read and reflected on everything I have written for Project Syndicate since the start of this year. Two commentaries, in particular, stood out. In January, I suggested that without a new surge in productivity, the world would struggle to achieve the same level of economic growth in the 2020s as it did in previous decades.

Then, in February, I applauded South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards with the 2019 hit Parasite. That achievement, I concluded, was further evidence that South Korea’s economic and national growth has been one of the most interesting and compelling stories of my generation.

Little did I know that by the time the commentary was published, South Korea would already be confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, I worried that I might have jumped the gun with my praise. But now it is June, and South Korea ranks near the top of the list of countries that have largely contained the pandemic’s first wave. In fact, almost all the countries that typically score highest on indices for sustainable economic growth have generally weathered the current crisis better than others.