In May 2020, with the world still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, Margaret MacMillan, an historian at the University of Toronto, wrote an essay in The Economist about the possibilities for life after the pandemic had passed. …

Then, somewhat surprisingly, in May 2020 a new spirit of what might be called “economic morality” announced itself. … It took the form of a new organisation, American Compass, founded by Oren Cass, who was domestic policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 US presidential election campaigns. He is also the author of an acclaimed book on labour markets, The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America. …

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the United States, Cass described the nation’s response as an indictment of what he called an “economic piety” – a form of ideological purity – that ignored many values that markets do not take into their calculations.

These included the well-being of workers, the security of supply chains, and the running down of America’s self-sufficiency, exemplified by a shortage of medical supplies.

The fact that this significant shift in economic thinking and socio-political priorities was coming out of elements in the Republican Party in the lead-up to the presidential election is perhaps an indication that MacMillan’s thesis has some substance. Perhaps democracies are on the cusp of a change in direction.

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