A New Social Contract for the 21st Century

Every 80 years or so, America faces a crisis that reshapes our government, our economy, and our society. The Civil War came 74 years after our Founding and was fought over the nation’s original disastrous decision on  on slavery and race. Seventy years later, the country faced the Great Depression, a crisis that ravaged our economy and was redressed by President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which reshaped domestic economic relations and created a strong national government for the first time. Now, 87 years on, the United States is facing a pandemic that has—in a matter of weeks—radically altered our country, with millions of Americans adapting to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, and mass unemployment at Great Depression levels, all driving toward a monumental shift that is restructuring our economy and our social order.

What is unique about this crisis is the specific way the virus ties our fates together. A single carrier can infect dozens, perhaps hundreds, and can do so when she or he is asymptomatic. That means each of us can be affected by the decisions of any single person. Someone who contracts the virus and chooses to self-isolate can stop the spread. Equally, someone who chooses to interact with others even when sick can ensure the virus continues to transmit. Each transmission can drive an outbreak. Our response to this virus, therefore, is only as strong as our weakest link. It binds our fates together, more so than any economic or natural disaster.

The above excerpt was originally published in Democracy Journal .