The coronavirus is bad news for everyone, obviously, but it is especially bad news for free-marketeers. An epidemic, like any perceived common threat, makes people warier, more collectivist, more authoritarian. We are thrown back onto our Pleistocene heuristics: hunker down; make sure you have enough food stored; avoid outsiders; keep your kids close.

Translate these instincts into policies, and you end up with closed borders, closed economies, and closed schools. “The crisis shows why we need to be more self-sufficient,” previously reliable free-traders keep telling me. Actually, it shows nothing of the sort. Even a simultaneous global shock did not prevent international food markets from functioning normally. If anything, the coronavirus has reminded us of how critical it is to be able to import supplies from a wide variety of places. In Britain, the closures hit during what...

 

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