When the novel coronavirus arrived in the United States, it hit an economy, a society, and a constitutional democracy that were fundamentally unprepared. As the extent of the challenge became clear, the country simply could not deliver what was needed to confront it: a large-scale program of testing and contact tracing, which would have suppressed the virus and allowed the economy to remain open. Just as the 2008 financial crisis exposed blind spots in how countries thought about integrated markets, within the first three months of 2020, the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus—with the massive spike in deaths and the economic damage resulting from the shutdown—revealed that the United States was vulnerable to a more literal type of globalization-enabled contagion. What went wrong?
Many have blamed the United States’ federal system, arguing that a decentralized government that devolves significant power to 50 states is no match for