The curious absence of hysteria probably reflects an interplay between polarization and ideological preconceptions. The political right would normally react to the menace of a viral outbreak in a major geopolitical rival with demands for quarantine and a zealous government response. But with a nationalist Republican president enjoying the benefits of a long economic expansion, there has been a strong partisan incentive to play down or ignore the seriousness of the virus’s threat to supply chains, the Dow, the country’s gross domestic product.

Liberals have partisan incentives that run the other way, toward emphasizing the White House’s unpreparedness in the face of a clear and present threat. But these incentives have so far been outweighed by liberalism’s ideological bias toward global openness, its anxiety about saying or doing anything that might give aid and comfort to anti-globalization forces, its fear of ever sounding too, well, Trump-y in the face of foreign threats. Thus the liberal instinct toward minimization: It’s not much worse than the flu, panicking makes things only worse, don’t spread conspiracy theories about its origins, racism toward Chinese people is the real danger here. …

The extreme measures that have been taken to contain the disease inside China promise all kinds of global breakdowns if they endure there and spread around the world. The supply chains that now bind our world system have never been tested in a severe pandemic, and one can extrapolate forward from China’s developing economic slowdown, and from slow-building delays and shortages worldwide, to a scenario where the coronavirus finally brings the post-2008 expansion to a grinding, deglobalizing halt.