Magazine April 20, 2020, Issue

Coercion and the Coronavirus

A Bolivian soldier asks for people’s identifications as the country is under a quarantine to contain the coronavirus outbreak, La Paz, Bolivia, March 31, 2020. (David Mercado/Reuters)
The immoral equivalent of war

We are in a war, says the president, against a hidden enemy. That’s scary, and scarier still for what it may yield afterwards.

The great economist and historian Robert Higgs argued long ago that wars in the 20th century led regularly to permanent expansions of governments. There has to be a reason that all levels of government in a typical country spend now about 40 percent of GDP, whereas in 1910 worldwide they spent about 10 percent. In earlier centuries, war was seen as a hobby of kings. Consult the early scenes of Henry V. In 1815, after Britain had spent

This article appears as “The Immoral Equivalent of War” in the April 20, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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