Thursday, March 26, 2020
IN JUST A few weeks a virus a ten-thousandth of a millimetre in diameter has transformed Western democracies. States have shut down businesses and sealed people indoors. They have promised trillions of dollars to keep the economy on life support. If South Korea and Singapore are a guide, medical and electronic privacy are about to be cast aside. It is the most dramatic extension of state power since the second world war.
One taboo after another has been broken. Not just in the threat of fines or prison for ordinary people doing ordinary things, but also in the size and scope of the government’s role in the economy. In America Congress is poised to pass a package worth almost $2trn, 10% of GDP, twice what was promised in 2007-09. Credit guarantees by Britain, France and other countries are worth 15% of GDP. Central banks are printing money and using it to buy assets they used to spurn. For a while, at least, governments are seeking to ban bankruptcy.
For believers in limited government and open markets, covid-19 poses a problem. The state must act decisively. But history suggests that after crises the state does not give up all the ground it has taken. Today that has implications not just for the economy, but also for the surveillance of individuals.
I don't know what to say. I'm just standing here with my mouth open. I guess we're all socialists now.