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More thoughts on what the virus might bring about

Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs likes to make various political/economic predictions, such as on Facebook, and he claims much of our political landscape has changed in ways that shred traditional markers on the map, saying that much of the argument now is no longer between those who want a Big State or a Small One, but about culture and identity. I like and agree with a lot of what he says, but I also think that the recent crisis, and the shock of what it says about the powers of the State, might – I hope – jolt people into realising that we libertarians, banging on about autonomy, property rights and so on, aren’t as irrelevant as is fashionable to claim. The Big State/Small State difference still counts for a lot. This argument should be made. Free societies, as we can point out, are often better at stepping up to change and emergencies than states often are. Not everyone worships at the altar of socialised medicine. And boy, have we learned the value of free press and scrutiny, if only by seeing what happens in China, when those things don’t exist.

Consider, even Formula 1 motor racing, that symbol of toxic masculine love of going very fast in noisy cars, is using its technical skills to meet the pandemic challenge. Libertarians should point out how entrepreneurial gusto, not the clunky hand of Whitehall, is what needs to be celebrated. And we certainly need to challenge the narrative of how marvellous China has been in locking things down. Turns out that it has been a shitshow.

Dr Davies has given a list of trends and forces he thinks will accelerate and turn as a result, and some of his predictions make me alarmed, others less so. Here are some of my own predictions. Dear readers: do add your own.

Here goes:

A big push to divert supply chains from China; more diversification around this. Maybe some pullback from just-in-time inventory but I don’t expect a total shift – the losses in efficiency and living standards are too big.

Less business travel and some tourism via air; more requirements that passengers carry medical data with them. Airport security to increasingly entail “medical security” and there will be demands that airports are more hygienic with cleaner air systems.

Continued “re-shoring” of some manufacturing. It is happening already because making stuff locally is getting easier with modern tech.

There will be pressure to monetise the enormous amounts of public debt. We could have a Japan-style stagnation lasting for two decades. Not sure if we get hyperinflation. Expect more commentary about gold, the need for hard money, etc.

Far more telecommuting and remote working. Some central business districts will have to adjust; some skyscrapers will struggle to fill up.

Suburbs and cars are back: who wants to live in a cramped city and rely on unhealthy, crammed public transport if you can live in a nice house, work from home and have a garden? The anti-car lobby has lost – people are glad they have cars. Issue: will the planning system free up to allow lots more homes with gardens etc to be built? I hope so.

The “woke” agenda is losing a lot of steam. It was happening already. Even remote learning will dent traditional educational attendance and power structures. That is a good thing.

The European Union and other transnational organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have been useless, and it turns out in the WHO’s case, all too cozy to China over Taiwan.
Some red tape will be rolled back; if people are going to have to put up with more nannying and state control in some areas they will want liberalisation elsewhere. Look at how some regulations have been canned to deal with the crisis. That could become permanent.

The actions of UK and other police in this pandemic have caused very bad publicity for the cops. It was bad already. It is getting worse.

Scientists who claim to have all the answers and claim the science is “settled” will encounter even more resistance. In a funny way this virus is bad news for the dark Greens. Extinction Rebellion’s vision of life has been rammed down people’s throats these past few weeks.

Attacks on Big Tech and demands for anti-trust will wane. The internet has had a good crisis. It kept us going.

The value of people with vocational skills, earned without vast sums of student debt, will appreciate; the education “bubble” of arts grads with high debt/lower salary will burst. This will also hurt the “woke” culture and the nonsense of what’s been happening on our campuses. Identity politics is not going away without a fight, however.

Classical liberals/libertarians haven’t really woken up fully to how much the victories of the 80s, 90s and even some of the Noughties have been compromised, sometimes by sheer complacency. We need to wake up, to do more of the intellectual heavy lifting. I hope the present situation galvanises more thought, activism and writing.

Celebrity culture looks to be on the back foot. It may return, but the Hollyweird culture is in really serious trouble. Crappy remakes of films, Weinstein, etc, etc.

People might actually be healthier: all that focusing on taking a daily walk, eating at home, thinking about “underlying health conditions”, might have a positive effect. It is a wake-up call.

Mainstream religions might get a revival. I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

Public sports events, though, will attract sell-out crowds. Imagine if you are a rugby, cricket or football fan and denied the ability to see your teams and in the case of Liverpool, for example, robbed of the ability to be the unchallenged winner of its season. Those fans will be desperate to go back.

23 comments to More thoughts on what the virus might bring about

  • Ferox

    My prediction is that each person’s inclinations will be amplified after this pandemic winds down; those who tended to admire statist solutions and central control will be calling for more of these than ever before, while those of us who distrust those ideas will be distrusting them with more volume and vigor than we did previously.

    The middle ground will become less populated than before, with predictable and unfortunate effects on our political processes.

  • GregWA

    Ok, this is more my hope than a prediction of what the virus might bring about, but:
    Trump will be re-elected and make China his first, second, and third priority in his second term.
    Trump will make China pay for what it has done, not just in accelerating the pandemic, but waging economic war on the West, their theft of IP, etc. Like Reagan’s use of “Evil Empire”, Trump will speak plainly about the Chinese Communist Party’s guilt in this.
    Trump will move the US and its closest allies toward zero-dependence on China for anything important.
    Trump will institute a quarantine policy for anyone visiting China: no entry into the US without a quarantine period under US government supervision (no self quarantine, honor system). This policy will remain in effect until the US can certify that China achieves first world public health norms (shut down wet markets).

  • Nessimmersion

    The UK govt are trying to sneak out a zero public consultation doc on public transport good/ private car very bad in the midst of this panic.
    Have the poltroons in govt drunk so deeply of the warble gloaming hallucinogenec nectar that they cannot see how spectacularly inappropriate more public transport is.
    In order to get the economy back in recovery mode, drastic curative action will be needed, canceling the climate change act to allow recently impoverished households to heat themselves and suddenly marginal businesses to have a hope of remaining solvent by reducing energy costs would be very helpful.

  • Griblet


    Your’s is a hope alright, I’d suggest lassoing the moon or herding cats as a lesser endeavour.

    I hope you are right but the vested interests aligned against it suggests you’ll be disappointed.

  • Alex DeWynter

    Two things (this is just from a US perspective, I don’t know enough about UK and EU dynamics to speculate with any degree of confidence):

    The concept of ‘borders’ will acquire a strange new respect among many of those for whom denouncing them was a risk-free hit on the virtue bong. Third-world ragamuffin urchins and Horatio Algers are one thing. Undocumented disease vectors that threaten you and your loved ones with an invisible bioweapon are quite another.

    For similar mugged-by-reality reasons, tolerance for ‘urban campers’ will drop (especially in municipalities where it’s revealed the problem could have been dealt with all along, given sufficient ‘motivation’ to the PTB).

  • staghounds

    Ferox is right. The people who like what has been done will hail those “solutions” for saving us, those who don’t will blame those actions and say they worsened things.

    Medically, the toll will be maybe twenty or thirty thousand extra dead over the year in the U. S., if that many.

    We have about 2,800,000 people die every year, so the Teen’s take will be about the same as suicides and car wrecks.

  • Stonyground


    Regarding the anti car pro public transport lobby being on the back foot, there is still this zero carbon crap that really needs killing with fire and burying. I’m hopeful that the climate change lunacy will come under more scrutiny should the experts on this current matter fall on their faces.

  • Mainstream religions might get a revival. I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

    No. Why would I?

    Otherwise, yes, Agree with much of this.

  • Stonyground

    I picked up on this bit

    “The value of people with vocational skills, earned without vast sums of student debt, will appreciate; the education “bubble” of arts grads with high debt/lower salary will burst. This will also hurt the “woke” culture and the nonsense of what’s been happening on our campuses. Identity politics is not going away without a fight, however.”

    In the US many of the lecturers have been panicking about having to teach their stuff on line in case people on the right get to see it. I can’t imagine what it is they have got to hide.

    Also, atheists don’t resort to praying or have deathbed conversions.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “No. Why would I?”

    Well, in the old stories, plagues were traditionally seen as a punishment from God for the sinful ways of society, because the people were not fully complying with the rules set out by the priestly elites. On hearing this, the people repent, and obediently return to Godly ways, and when they are sufficiently obedient, the plague stops.

    The problem nowadays, in our multicultural society, is figuring out *which* God has sent this plague, and so which of his (or her, or its) priestly elites has the proper interpretation of his (her/its/see the latest guide on gender pronouns) laws. Godchecker lists almost 4000 deities that have variously revealed themselves (oo-er) to human priestly elites over the ages, so this could take a while…

    For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.

    For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth.

    And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

  • Some good calls in the OP, some more debatable.

    There are welcome reports that Boris and others are furious with China. The usual suspects will demand that hate speech laws treat any criticism of the CCP as racist, exactly as they sought to punish ‘islamophobia’ some two decades ago, but this rerun will, I hope, reveal they are weaker now than they were then. The WHO and the EU will both lose some credibility (but quite a few in the MSM will do what it can for them). Trump’s attitude to borders is a clear winner which even the MSM struggle to conceal. His attitude to repatriating more manufacturing also scores. While schools and universities are online, some teacher-PCness can be more seen by parents and/or replayed and/or challenged.

    I don’t think celebrity culture (indeed damaged by other things) is much affected one way or another by this as such. Whether the already-somewhat-challenged idea of ‘apocalypse expertise’ loses, stays even or gets a medical-specific tick depends on outcomes. Possible futures include one in which the virus has a sufficiently visibly lesser impact that the doom-mongers are discredited but they have kept climate-change alive through two decades of expiring last-chance-to-act dates and no-one dying at all, so we’re talking about a percentage shift at most. Similarly, as yet, only the old are thinking that this threatens them with death – others (responding naturally to what is being said) expect to survive it, and while evangelical churches may benefit, the hierarchies of some conventional/PC ones echo the public line on the virus as they do the climate-change line, so while some may indeed pray, some ecclesiastical hierarchies will fare in the public domain as seculars who echo that line fare. The NHS may have stories of bureaucracy to assess but it may also have some war stories of hard-working doctors and nurses to tell (often), while comparison with other countries may be complicated (the MSM are well-practiced in exploiting the UK public’s lesser knowledge of the US to sell the PC line about things on the far side of the pond) so the effect there is to be seen.

  • bobby b

    If I believed in a god, I would expect more of a majestic, heroic quality to any catastrophe that this god was supposedly flinging down on me than I can see in this choking phlegmy virus. I’d look for something with lightening, or tsunamis. It should be something worthy of Thanos.

    This covid-thing just doesn’t have the sheer drama of a good god-disaster. You cough and hawk and gurgle. It’s like your god killing you with serious gum disease. No theater.

    So I don’t believe that this virus was sent by a god to punish us.

  • Smoking Scot

    I do not believe mass tourism will revive until there is absolutely no possibility of people being forced into a two week lockdown because one guest or employee tested positive for the virus.

    That applies to domestic tourism as well.

  • Well, in the old stories, plagues were traditionally seen as a punishment from God for the sinful ways of society, because the people were not fully complying with the rules set out by the priestly elites. On hearing this, the people repent, and obediently return to Godly ways, and when they are sufficiently obedient, the plague stops.

    Hmmm, if anyone is expecting me to repent and start believing in gods, this plague is going to be with us for an awful long time…

  • Runcie Balspune

    I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

    I wonder how many committed church-goers will discover it’s a complete waste of time when it could be done from the safety and comfort of your own house via a pre-recorded sermon, especially during the cold months when churches are hard to heat.

    University lectures are traveling along the same lines, with less and less of them insisting students attend, it is slowly becoming a realization this is a inefficient way to learn stuff (in the sense you could be doing something much better with the time spent).

  • Lee Moore

    As Greg and Niall have pointed out, wanting to move supply chains from China, and general China-is-not-outr-friend ism, and the idea that borders have a point, is very Trumpy. So if Trump is re-elected we may expect China to have a hard time.

    But on the other hand, the mere fact that such things are very Trumpy creates a reaction. We’ve already seen over the past week or so how far the US media is willing to bend over backwards to spout the CCP line if that can be used as an anti-Trump cudgel. And there are not a few US politicos on whom China has undoubtedly got a heap of dirt, and some who have taken Chinese money. So if Trump doesn’t win, there’s every reason to believe that China will be allowed to get off.

    Whether Trump wins or not is therefore quite an important inflexion point. And that will depend on how this all turns out (a) death-wise and (b) economy-wise; and whether the media will be able to pin any and all bad news on Trump.

    The betting markets currently have him at about 50-50, down from about 60-40 a few weeks ago, and about where he was when impeachment started.

    We live in interesting times.

  • The USA has mostly removed its dependence on quarreling, murderous, oil regimes. It seems to be working well. Let’s hope the same works for China.

  • I don’t believe that this virus was sent by a god to punish us. (bobby b, April 1, 2020 at 10:33 am)

    I don’t think you’ll find Christians proclaiming exactly that belief, even on April 1st. 🙂 Some Trump supporters may in time be thanking God for sending so emphatic a proof that, on borders and China, Trump had the right ideas – but the more Christian the supporter, the less likely to say exactly that (except perhaps on April 1st 🙂 ).

    Of course, there is a philosophical sense in which needing a kick up the backside like this to make us aware that depending so much on China was a bad idea – not having unravelled our supply chains anyway already – could be described as meriting punishment (or, at least, a critical blog post). And that certainly applies beyond April 1st.

  • Paul Marks

    Interesting thoughts from Dr Davies – and there is much good sense in tbem.

    However, I believe the world economic prospects are much worse than he believes them to be – largely because I believe policy was a mess even before the virus (the virus was just as a reason to DOUBLE DOWN on existing ever-bigger-government polices).

    I also do not really think the internet has had a “good crises” – Twitter and co have carried on their censorship, even against the Presidents of countries.

    The threat of Big Business to liberty must not be overlooked (and I speak as someone GUILTY of over looking it for decades myself).

    The bureaucracy of the Big Corporations (such as Disney – ABC, or Comcast – NBC) is much the same as the government bureaucracy – because it is made up of the same sort of “educated” people (“college boy” types).

    I think Dr Davies overlooks this as he believes that economic liberty can be combined with a “Progressive” society – he is mistaken.

    “Progressive” social policies – whether pushed by the Fabians (H.G. Wells and co) and the Bloomsbury Set, or by the modern Frankfurt School of Marxism (“Critical Theory” “Social Justice Warrior” “Woke”) and French Post Modernism, undermine the basis of Western Civilisation (so called “capitalist society”).

    This should not be surprising as that is what “Progressive Social Policies” were DESIGNED to do.

    Such things as the destruction of the traditional family were designed to undermine “capitalist society” – so it is not surprising when they have that effect over the long term.

  • I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

    The stars are right & I have tried to summon Cthulhu, but to no avail. My faith is shaken 😛

  • bobby b

    April 1, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    “The USA has mostly removed its dependence on quarreling, murderous, oil regimes.”

    Have you BEEN to North Dakota?

    ( 😉 )

  • Bloke on M4

    I think the recent election and the EU referendum show the big vs small state divide. Look at the biggest places that voted to remain and you’ll see massive levels of population living off the state in some ways. Like huge departments in Whitehall, like Oxford stuffed full of students and lecturers and university administrators.

    Labour’s “red wall” went blue because Labour are no longer the party of industrial workers. They’re the party of the state and the state beneficiaries: lawyers and doctors who depend on protectionism, actors who want more money thrown at crap theatre that no-one wants. If you work in a call centre in Bishop’s Auckland, what you see is Labour wanting to take your hard-earned and spend it on some other people.

  • I think the larger movement is that porn will focus even more on body fluid exchange, not less. And the smaller trend is that western civilizations are finally swinging around to getting more conservative, relatively speaking.