A WEEK is always a long time in politics, and in my last column I wondered whether the newbie Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, might have the guts to reject austerity as decisively as his sacked boss, Sajid Javid, said he intended to do, had he survived long enough to present a Budget.

Now there’s no need to worry. There will indeed be an anti-austerity Budget, but one more inspired by the larger crisis of coronavirus and its economic consequences.

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At home, Boris Johnson’s government will seek ways to keep threatened companies going, while abroad it does its bit to stop the global economy grinding to a halt.

In his speech tomorrow, Rishi may so dazzle us with all this detail that we’ll hardly be able to take in his overall economic judgment.

To that extent, he will be let off the hook, and this is the way boss Boris will like it. The Prime Minister is essentially an apolitical figure. His main interest is in Boris, and whatever can be done to enhance his present and future glory. Ideology matters not a hoot. That’s why austerity, even 10 years of Tory austerity, can be ditched without a second thought.

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And the coronavirus, too, is conveniently non-ideological, neither of the left or of the right, so that nobody will be able to forecast anything else in terms of policy from the way the crisis is handled. It will be done either well or badly.

Of course Boris wants to do it well, but he has a Cabinet so mediocre that there can be no guarantee. Expect dramatic prime ministerial interventions, then: shut it down! isolate those victims! impound this ship! close that airport!

He has taken powers to do just that. He must be itching to use them.

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Still, political drama is not necessarily the best answer to crises. Even Boris cannot always assume that what is good for him is good for the world. If we turn to the Scottish Government, the delusion may go deeper. It already believes it is in principle omnipotent, and merely needs to issue orders for reality to be altered. But it has often been wrong.

So the pudding should not be over-egged. Conservative cronyism creates many connections between Boris and any capitalist who signs up to it. The real test will come among the UK’s six million small businesses, 350,000 of them in Scotland.

If sales and revenue plunge, entrepreneurs will soon need to turn to their banks – and we all know the sort of treatment they have got in the past from the Scottish banks in particular. It’s a chance for these to show they have changed. Politicians can only look on and hope for the best.

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More generally, we can’t forecast the scope of the crisis. There are more than 600,000 deaths every year in the UK, nearly one-10th of them in Scotland. At the time of writing, the toll from this latest menacing malady is five. Of course, every government does better to look on the dark side, if only because an underestimate of the infection could be a terminal mistake. But at the moment we simply do not know how fatal it is or, for example, whether it has weakened in the course of transmission from East to West. Only time will tell.

There is no need to deny all possibility that coronavirus might, in the event, change the course of human history, as the Black Death did in the Middle Ages. It is just, as things stand, I think such an outcome unlikely. In any event, if results on this scale do follow, they will be beyond the power of any single government, or even of global government collectively, to control.

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Let’s look at a worst-case scenario, then. In the 200 years of modern capitalism there has been cycles, boom followed by bust. Readers often write in to claim this is a vice of the system, but it’s a virtue. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called it “creative destruction”.

Each downturn brings a mass extinction of dinosaur companies unable to survive the economic equivalent of an asteroid hit. In their place arise nimble new companies that adapt or indeed are born of the alien conditions. The economy afterwards is more productive than before. In the long run, all of us get richer.

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There are variations on this basic theme. War, though it devours life and property, stimulates production, while peace can bring recession. I’m not sure about the effects of the Spanish flu in 1918, but in principle I see no reason why a pandemic should not also be an economic event.

Coronavirus comes after 30 years when the processes of globalisation seemed unstoppable. In 1989, the main alternative had vanished. Before that, many governments toyed with socialism or else enforced it brutally, from squalid dictatorships in Africa and South America to the orthodox Marxist-Leninists of the Communist bloc. Suddenly they rushed to jump on the capitalist bandwagon, now the sole available vehicle to greater prosperity for their peoples.

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Capitalism sent out ideas and investments. Back came tidal waves of cheap goods from workers that those resources drew into the market system. Again, I know many readers disapprove of all this, but I will continue to defend it. From the western point of view, it was good to have consumption fed in the most efficient way, which is to say the cheapest way.

For the developing world the benefits were of a different kind, yet no less important. The populations there, which had never known anything except bare subsistence, were drawn out of villages in jungles or dustbowls into urban clusters which may be shabby and overcrowded but which also give regular access to benefits never experienced before – healthcare, education, freedom from famine.

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By 2006, for the first time, a majority of the human race were city dwellers. They had become so not through any compulsion but by choice. Today, it is possible – though, I repeat, by no means certain – there will be a crash, as in 2008. Globalisation may be thrown into reverse. Coronavirus could end the norm of free movement for people and goods. Companies will need to weigh up whether they can rely on chains of supply stretching across the globe. One or two in the UK have already announced they will repatriate production so that they can count on domestic labour and components instead.

Yet once more the destruction may be creative. With supply down and households quarantined, the digital revolution, well under way in any case, may get extra, vital impetus. If pound notes can spread the coronavirus, we should use electronic bank transfers. If it is a risk for us to buffet our way through an airport and fly away for work or pleasure, we’d do better to earn a living or read a book on our own computers at home (less carbon emission too).

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Coronavirus could altogether turn out to be a stiff test for capitalism. I would still put money on capitalism overcoming this crisis, as it has all others before – unlike socialism, which could never overcome any of its own crises, and so collapsed.

We should bear this in mind in a country where the First Minister has gone on the record to say: “I think unregulated capitalism is a force for bad and I think we need much more regulation.”

When it comes to creative destruction, the gateway to the future, the opposite is true.