The Big Swindle of 2020–22

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News Analysis

We live in the midst of the great unraveling, a time so disorienting that it becomes difficult to keep up much less describe and interpret events all around us. We tend rather to be bounced from data point to data point—high prices, learning loss among kids, falling income, increased population, the normalization of crime, the corruption of the media—without seeing the bigger picture much less having an explanation for why all this seems to have happened to us.

Here I would like to offer a hermeneutical key. Think of what has happened as a big swindle, perhaps the biggest in American history. It’s all about the transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich, from small businesses to large ones, from the people to the government. We are talking trillions of dollars here, all of it quantifiable and visible in the suggestive charts below.

To review the history briefly, governments at all levels in mid-March 2020 locked down life and especially economic life, and Congress within a few weeks passed a spending package worth $1.8 trillion. Implausibly and very unexpectedly, government became everyone’s benefactor, dropping many thousands of dollars directly into the bank accounts of U.S. individuals, families, and businesses. It all seems suspiciously benevolent.

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