The pandemic is revealing a new form of national power

If there were one elemental building block of resilience shared by all nations that exhibit it—one weird trick that united every country that has made the most progress in combating COVID-19—then enhancing resilience might be easy. But the pandemic has shown that resilience comes in many different forms. It is, as The Atlantic’s Ed Yong has written, about the mundane alchemy of doing “enough things right.”

What makes some countries more resilient than others, Michele Grossman, a resilience expert at Deakin University in Melbourne, told me, is “how well the interdependent and interactive systems that make up ‘the nation’ are working.”

Australia has so far performed better against the coronavirus than has the United States, which Grossman attributed to a host of variables. She pointed, for instance, to the Australian government’s early restrictions and preparedness measures even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, which reflected the “resilience principle of being adaptive and dynamic … in response to new circumstances.” Other factors ranged from the government’s prioritization of suppressing the virus over reopening the economy, which recognized that resilience requires “trade-offs between systems,” to Australians’ “long history of lived resilience” from experiencing natural disasters, which underscores that resilience emerges “in contexts of adversity.”