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The Uncertain Pandemic Consensus

By putting the spotlight on the sector where markets perform the worst – health care – the coronavirus pandemic inevitably prompted a welcome reassessment of the relative roles of markets and the state.The question now is which parts of this emerging consensus will survive the acute phase of the crisis.

PARIS – What is the COVID-19 crisis teaching us about the role of the state? And what lasting lessons will our societies draw from it? It is still very early to be asking these questions, but they cannot be avoided. Postponing their discussion would simply leave the field open for those peddling old obsessions whose time is long gone (if it ever came).

The starting point should be that, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump notwithstanding, a new pandemic consensus has been forged on the battlefield. It can be summarized in four propositions.

First, the social value of professions, tasks, and behaviors – the price that should guide policy decisions and individual choices – often differs from their market value by a wide margin. Sometime around the end of March, much of the world realized that the work of a nurse or a care assistant was worth more – at least at that moment – than the pay they ordinarily receive.

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