In Depth

Instant Opinion: Covid-19 shows the ‘era of big government is back’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 20 March

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. George Eaton in The New Statesman

on the return of positive state power

The coronavirus crisis shows the era of big government is back

“Yet even at this early stage, the threat posed to capitalism by coronavirus far exceeds that of the financial crisis. The overriding feature of the dominant economic system – the creation of profit through workers in privately-owned industries – is colliding with the imperative to save lives. Across the Western world, states are being forced to intervene in a manner unseen since the command economies of the Second World War. In the UK, the Conservative Party, defined for decades by its adherence to the free market, has assumed emergency economic powers, offered £330bn in loan guarantees to businesses, and banned rent evictions. As the inadequacy of this response becomes clearer, still more radical measures will follow. The Overton Window – the spectrum of policies deemed acceptable by voters and the political class – is widening by the day as even Tory MPs advocate mass nationalisation.”

2. Marina Hyde in The Guardian

on Boris Johnson’s failure to communicate to the public

When Johnson says we'll turn the Covid-19 tide in 12 weeks, it's just another line for the side of a bus

“The government’s crisis communications strategy could not be going worse if it was being led by the last speaker of a dead language, with Typhoid Mary on bass. People are still clearly extremely confused by what the advice is. Never have bullet points been more called for, and you’d think someone as obsessed with the second world war as Johnson is would know that an effective Ministry of Information was inextricably linked to the success of the war effort. Unfortunately, as indicated, Johnson is basically just a columnist. I don’t want to spaff what we might euphemise as my own area of expertise too early, but trust me on this: he is hardwired to spin that shit out for 1150 words. How to put this in terms that even a wildly overeducated prime minister can understand? JUST TELL US THE INFORMATION. It’s a public safety briefing, not a fricking ring quest.”

3. Marisa Bate on HuffPost

on what millenials can learn from the coronavirus lockdown

Coronavirus Will Be A Final Test For ‘Selfish’ Millennials

“Social distancing means a re-focus on what is in our homes, and what is in our capabilities when the outside world is harder to reach. It means looking at the same things in different ways. A couple of weeks ago I felt overwhelmed at the thought of attending a friend’s art show because I had a big trip planned and still had lots to organise. Now I can’t go on the trip or attend the show and I wonder why on earth I would have missed such a joyful occasion. I hope when we’re out the other side, we remember how we felt. Perhaps we will confront another millennial trait — our delight in cancelling plans and staying in. Funny how quickly a luxury can feel like a chore when you are being told what to do. This might be a test for a generation. If society is calling on us to make the sacrifices for the long haul, we have to find a source of strength and motivation that can keep us going. Learning to look outside ourselves, as well as finding comfort and value in the things we take for granted, recognising the vast privileges the majority of us normally enjoy so thoughtlessly, might be a silver lining to the long, overcast days ahead.”

4. Ed Conway in The Times

on the radical steps needed to rescue the British economy

We need bolder action to save the economy

“This is not a war. For even during the war the “real economy” never shut down like this. The Blitz haunted London and the ports but in much of the country economic life went on almost as normal. There were blackouts but not lockdowns. Nor are we starting this ordeal at anything like a war footing. Contrary to legend, Spitfires were not hammered together by volunteers in their gardens as the bombs rained down: aircraft production had been ramping up for almost half a decade before the Battle of Britain. As war looked more likely the government simply became the primary customer for an industry in which, as it happened, Britain was already a world leader. This time around Britain is barely a bit-part player in the hospital ventilator industry. Happily, the UK has some brilliant manufacturers who are already shifting attention to ventilators. The Treasury may be able to turn its mind to running a supply chain for hospital machinery in much the same way it learnt how to run banks in 2008. But let’s not delude ourselves: this is far more of a step-change than 1939.”

5. David Leonhardt in The New York Times

on the US senators who dumped stocks after coronavirus briefings

They. Sold. Their. Stock.

“On Jan. 24, Richard Burr, a Republican senator from North Carolina, attended a private Senate briefing from senior government scientists about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican senator from Georgia, received the same briefing... Given the disconnect between what they knew and the public’s understanding, Burr and Loeffler had an opportunity to sound the alarm. They could have broken ranks with other congressional Republicans and told the country to take the situation more seriously. They could have criticized Trump for not doing more. Such criticism, coming from Trump’s own party, would have received major attention. It would have had the potential to alter Trump administration policy and, by extension, the course the disease took... Here’s what the two senators did instead: They sold large amounts of their personal stock holdings, cashing in before the market sharply declined, as the severity of the virus became apparent to everyone.”

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