The fiscal history of the U.S. government is the history of the ratchet effect described by Robert Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan: The federal fiscal footprint grows dramatically during periods of national emergency, and then it never declines to its pre-emergency levels — if it declines at all. What was extraordinary last year becomes ordinary next year, or closer to ordinary. That is why before the coronavirus epidemic struck and the economy was, by most measures, doing pretty well, the U.S. government already was planning to spend more money in 2020 than it was spending in, say, 2007, with the …
This article appears as “The Leviathan Virus” in the May 4, 2020, print edition of National Review.
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