A recent article in The Economist raises an important issue with respect to the coronavirus outbreak. A big government may well be needed to fight the pandemic, but how will it shrink back once the pandemic crisis is over? “The state must act decisively. But history suggests that after crises the state does not give up all the ground it has taken.”
In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs explains how crisis after crisis, the U.S. government increases in either size or regulatory reach. When a crisis occurs, there is a demand for the government to “do something.” Responding to this demand, governments increase their size and regulatory outreach. However, once the crisis is over, spending and regulation do not go back to their initial levels. The result is an increase in government size and regulatory reach from one crisis to the next.