Early in the pandemic, the spread of COVID-19 was faster to countries with higher economic freedoms likely due to greater activity in global trade. Similarly, these countries, due to their pre-existing economic freedoms, were less likely to suppress their internal economies and impose restrictions. Due to the frequent coexistence of high social freedoms and high economic freedoms, the populations of these same nations were less accustomed to and, as a result, less likely to follow governmental restrictions, when eventually implemented. Despite high-freedom countries’ leniency in their COVID-19 responses, countries in the second-category of freedoms exhibited the most stringent responses to the pandemic, especially in Spring 2020, a discrepancy possibly explained by the direct relationship between freedoms and higher GDP. This relationship yields second-freedom-category countries with the resources necessary to impose restrictions and the relative inclination to do so. In contrast, countries in the lowest economic and social freedom categories may have had the political means to impose restrictions but simply did not have the monetary, human, or scientific resources to do so in an effective way. Furthermore, GDP undoubtedly played a major role in testing, with wealthier nations able to test their populations disproportionately more than poorer countries. Partly as a result of that increased testing, countries with higher GDP were able to confirm far more COVID-19 cases and deaths than lower GDP nations. Despite these increased case counts as a result of testing, countries with higher GDPs exhibited lower COVID-19 fatality rates, possibly due to their ability to more effectively diagnose and treat infected individuals and facilitate better access to healthcare.
Strong relationships were also present between types of social and economic systems and the pandemic. Capitalist countries had more COVID-19 cases than socialist nations, most likely due to their economic freedoms and decreased inclination to restrict businesses or their populations. Despite this, socialist countries reported more deaths on average than capitalist countries, most likely due to having less economic freedom and, by extension, less GDP and resources, thus decreasing their ability to treat infected individuals. On average, democracies also reported more COVID-19 cases and deaths than dictatorships, likely due to their greater social freedoms and less political and economic isolation. However, pandemic misinformation and false reporting within dictatorships may have also played a role.
Next, analyzing the relationship between economic and social freedoms and population density revealed that more freedoms often accompany higher population density. In turn, higher population density tended to lead to more COVID-19 cases and deaths, with a few exceptions. As explained earlier, these exceptions are potentially an effect of datapoint outliers, with high population density countries having lower net populations due to their smaller size (e.g. small European nations), and therefore less people to infect. On the other hand, large countries with urban centers leading to mass viral spread may have been classified as low density due to large swaths of sparsely populated land in other areas of the country (such as in the United States). Thus, only by removing the highest and lowest density classes does the trend of greater population density increasing COVID-19 cases and deaths reveal itself. Fatality rate increasing as population density decreased could be a result of reduced access to healthcare in more rural areas.
Interestingly, high GDP category countries were shown to have the lowest average vaccine distribution scores, possibly as a result of greater populations and larger land-areas increasing logistical difficulties for distribution. Similarly, social and economic freedoms do not appear to be strong vaccination distribution success indicators other than lowest-freedom category nations having the worst distribution, most likely as a result of limited resources, as previously noted. However, as of the writing of this report, COVID-19 vaccines have not been available for a long enough period of time for appropriate assessments in many nations.
These analyses of the effects of social and economic freedoms on the COVID-19 pandemic have several limitations. First, it should be conceded that an innumerable number of factors certainly influenced the COVID-19 pandemic in each individual nation, many of which were not analyzed in this study, while other variables could have been better controlled in the analyses (e.g. population). Another major limitation was that this article focused exclusively on revealing trends in the data, not necessarily explaining the causal relationship in these trends beyond speculation. Obviously, an immense variety of other factors could have also influenced the relationships found, including the susceptibility of certain populations to the virus, as well as access to healthcare, which clearly cannot be fully explained through the factors examined. Finally, it should also be noted that certain countries represented significant exceptions to the above trends, most notably China and the United States, possibly confounding some analyses.
Overall, it is clear that social and economic freedoms had both direct and indirect effects on the COVID-19 pandemic, with more pre-existing freedoms generally relating to a higher impact from COVID-19. Higher GDP and higher population density, both associated with more freedoms, were also seemingly associated with higher COVID-19 case counts and death counts, but comparatively low fatality rates. Capitalism and democracy, following the same freedom trends as above, also appeared to have been related to higher COVID-19 pandemic severity. Lastly, GDP and social and economic freedoms do not seem to be accelerating the vaccine distribution process, although it may be too early to tell.