May 8, 2020
Interviewer: MATTHEW BERKMAN. In the absence of a robust and coordinated response from the national government, U.S. states have shouldered the responsibility of confronting the coronavirus pandemic. As Wharton Legal Studies professor ERIC ORTS has observed, this has led not only to a hodge-podge of policies, but often active competition between states for scarce equipment, protective gear, and Covid-19 tests. In an op-ed in the Washington Post co-authored with Amy Sepinwall, Orts proposed one way to reduce this “50-state anarchy”: interstate compacts that allocate resources and coordinate plans. In his discussion with Oberlin Political Science professor Matthew Berkman, Orts justifies the need for this kind of federalism – which has since been implemented in a number of regions – as he describes the abandonment of national plans, formulated by the Bush and Obama administrations, for addressing pandemics. He likens the crisis to a war by the nation against an invisible foe, a metaphor that the White House has at times embraced without, however, a commensurate dedication to finding and eliminating the enemy.