FOR the last couple of weeks I have had to miss my column because by a quirk of the lockdown I was dragged into isolation. An affliction quite unrelated to coronavirus put me in hospital and, once there, I was unable to get out again under the UK Government’s rules.

So things will stay till the crisis is over. No doubt I’ll survive, but it will be a period of sadness and loneliness because I cannot see the family or friends who would console me.

At least I feel able to view the public situation with a certain detachment. Not many western countries are getting things right, though some are faring better than others. Edinburgh is more sensible than London, even without managing a full measure of the situation – simply because a full measure is impossible. You would think heads of government might be reasonably safe from infection. Indeed, only one of the 200 or so heads of government in the world has caught coronavirus, and that is Boris Johnson. This surely tells us something.

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Cut off from reality and not needing to worry about anything practical, I am free to follow my own logic in trying to work out certain possibilities. For instance, what if the coronavirus proves over the longer term impossible to control completely? There are already reports that catching it and surviving the initial attack do not guarantee any later immunity, of the kind we get against some common illnesses.

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On the contrary, we can catch coronavirus a second time and so expand the general pool of infection in our societies. In future, during its fresh peaks, perhaps half of us will be liable to fall sick of it.

The economic consequences will be dire, so dire in fact that I can agree they might signal a deep change in the capitalist system. My fellow columnists George Kerevan and Kevin McKenna have already picked up on this, and foretold a general turning to socialism of some kind. The trouble is that socialism is not an answer to coronavirus either – the disease originated, after all, inside China’s socialist system. This is also because socialism just does not work successfully in any event, in good times or in bad times, in sickness or in health.

What I am trying to figure out is how the principles I could still approve of as libertarian might work amid novel requirements, set by the need for us all to keep as healthy as possible, yet imposing corresponding constraints on our familiar open trading system.

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In future, for example, do we just let free agents in the labour market (in other words job-seekers) wander round on their own initiative looking for places of work, and at wages they negotiate for themselves? An alternative already canvassed is that governments should allocate places of work to suitable candidates, and use public resources to assure them of adequate rates of pay in the relevant enterprises, with some sort of universal basic income.

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Nicola Sturgeon’s thinking has already moved in this direction. In one of her early daily briefings, she was explicit in asking us to “fundamentally change the way we live our lives”. Youngsters, for example, had to understand that the advice to limit socialising “is not optional”. We would all have a “new normal”.

For once, I’ll admit Nicola might be right in her radicalism. My aim is in that case to preserve some freedoms that capitalism has established and developed since its beginning, since Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, but all adapted to the conditions we now face.

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To my mind, for example, we could actually do without the traditional freedom of the labour market, or much of it.

Instead of going out to look for their own career at the end of their secondary education, youngsters would be allocated one by an official agency. They could of course raise objections on ethical or other grounds, but probably most would feel content to be relieved of the stress of job-searching.

The task would be similar, but more complex, at the tertiary level. I recall how in my last months at university years ago, while still studying for a degree, I sent off a whole load of applications and frittered away a lot of time going round to get interviewed.

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Would I have minded much if somebody from on high had just told me I was going to be a journalist, or else perhaps a civil servant or a management trainee? Probably not. At that age the security of the initial employment is highly important, perhaps more important than anything else.

Of course the question arises whether the authorities substituting themselves for the former operations of the labour market would have the right idea of how it can and should perform. If those authorities were socialist, for example, they would have the wrong idea: there has never been a successful socialist plan for any economy.

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In Scotland, however, things are more complex. The Government entertains some socialist ideas, without being in any formal sense socialist. Rather, political correctness is its great guideline, fixated on equality of class, gender and other fashionable watchwords of our time.

We saw them at work earlier this month when further plans were announced for the Scottish National Investment Bank, due to start serious operations by the end of the year. Its chief executive is to be Eilidh Mactaggart, who has had a sound but so far backstage career in banking and investment, after graduating from the University of Edinburgh and spending much of her time in Australia. Now she will be paid twice as much as Nicola Sturgeon.

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No doubt, in Scottish government circles, being a woman was itself a huge recommendation for the post Mactaggart will occupy. She said it was “an opportunity to create an ethical and environmentally conscious bank, that will seek to benefit everyone across Scotland”.

Fine, I am not at this critical yet uncertain juncture going to pick a quarrel with such conventional sentiments. What I would say as lockdown lifts is that in a future Scotland we need room not only for executives who apply official preferences but also for entrepreneurs who see and understand ways through complexity that are beyond the imagination or control of government. They will cut corners and even take advantage of others not as clever as they are. Scottish Ministers do not always like to see this going on, but would we want to ban it?

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We are talking in fact about a traditional type of entrepreneur, familiar from our history, the sort of men (though few women) who built the Scottish industrial economy and, often ruthlessly, kept it going. Without them, this would have remained an obscure and poverty-stricken country. Never doubt we need them.

Are we still going to be proud of them after we “fundamentally change the way we live our lives”? If not, I fear the coronavirus is going to be a crisis not just in our health but in our economy and politics as well. The First Minister’s competence is good for us, yet not if it spurns qualities which have allowed Scotland to survive through modern history, and which might let us break free once again from the eternal constraints on a small nation.