As civil liberties receded, big government grew. Unprecedented unemployment meant unprecedented increases in Medicaid rolls, jobless benefits, housing assistance and food stamps. It was left to Trump to preside over an expansion of the welfare state the likes of which Bernie Sanders could only have dreamed about a year earlier.
Nor did things change much after the lockdowns were lifted, as people remained reluctant to venture into restaurants, shops and planes — and less able to afford them. Millions of business failures and personal bankruptcies translated to tens of millions of loan and mortgage delinquencies, which in turn caused a financial crisis. Dozens of banks had to be nationalized outright, while the government took stakes in every industry it rescued. By the time a safe vaccine was finally available, the damage had been done.
The developing world experienced the crisis far more severely. “Flattening the curve” made little sense in countries whose medical systems were already overwhelmed and underequipped long before Covid-19 came around. Stay-at-home and social distancing orders were treated as a cruel and unenforceable joke in densely populated cities like Lagos, Cairo, Jakarta and São Paulo. People faced with hunger if they didn’t get to their jobs were prepared to take their chances with the coronavirus.