A high-trust society, it turns out, also allows Swedes to get by with less government when it comes to social distancing. Sweden has banned crowds and bar service, and has tried to protect the elderly and vulnerable. But otherwise it has expected business owners and their customers to decide how best to deal with the virus.

The U.S. is low-trust society, befitting a big, diverse, rambunctious country, operating under a federalized system of government, and with a strong taste for individualism.

New York, in a sense, represents an attempt to impose high-trust government on a low-trust population. More than 40% of residents rely on Medicaid, nearly a third of whom may be ineligible on income grounds, according to a recent study. Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg might even say they further abuse the privilege by not looking after their health. (His bans of smoking, trans fats and Big Gulps were framed at the time partly as solicitude for the taxpayer.)