One of the many ironies of the Covid epidemic has been the sudden enthusiasm of the business classes for state intervention. Tory politicians and lobby groups used to talk about the free market, spending what the nation can afford, not supporting lame ducks. Not any more. They’re all suddenly lame ducks quacking for mother state to keep their businesses alive. Capitalism, you might say, has been mugged by reality.

No-one knows just how much is being spent on the coronavirus pandemic, partly because no-one wants to ask: £350 billion, £400bn? Search me. We haven’t had a Budget from the Chancellor for 18 months, presumably because he doesn’t want to look at all the red lines. A former free market Thatcherite, Rishi Sunak has discovered that handing out money makes you rather popular.

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Last week, he more than doubled the cost of the job support scheme, the follow-on from furlough. The state will now be paying half the wages bill of many firms. Universal Credit has been bumped up by a thousand a year. Business grants have been increased. The self-employed are being compensated. Additional money is going to regions like Greater Manchester on the basis, apparently, of who shouts loudest.

The targeted support is open ended – except in Scotland where it is supposedly based on the Barnett Formula. However, a system of allocating increases in Scottish spending based on increased spending of UK departments doesn’t really work in a pandemic. Not least because no-one really knows how much is being spent, or where it’s going. The Scottish Government has just introduced five tiers of pandemic management, two more than in England. Different levels of financial support will presumably be required at each level, adding complexity. The public finances are becoming a nightmare. But who’s worrying?

Everyone agrees that we just have to spend whatever it takes. But precisely because no-one is bothering about the nation’s finances, now is the time to be asking the big question: who pays? The inconvenient truth is that the cost of this pandemic will be paid largely by people who have been least affected by it: the young. They’ll be living with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Labour politicians like Neil Kinnock used to say: I warn you not be old, not to be sick. Now it’s I warn you not to be young. Millennials are already burdened, many of them with unprecedented student debt. Wages have been stagnant for a decade. Secure jobs with pensions have largely disappeared outside the protected public sector. They face house prices that gobble up to 35 per cent of their earnings if they are lucky enough to get a mortgage. They gaze with apprehension at new technology which threatens to undermine the value of white collar jobs in law, accountancy.

Most young people seem to be left wing, but the left is in as much denial as the Government. Don’t worry about it, say advocates of what is sometimes called Modern Monetary Theory, the Government can just keep printing money. But the Government buying its own debt – what is called quantitative easing – is a kind of Ponzi scheme. It is a confidence trick played on the future by the past. Money can be printed indefinitely but wealth cannot. Unless the economy grows faster than the increases in borrowing then the result will ultimately be inflation. This again hits the young who lack assets to hedge against rising prices.

This has been disguised by historically low and unsustainable interest rates. But didn’t we have as similar problem after the Second World War? Then, public debt was even higher than today: 200% of GDP. That disappeared without obvious pain. But only if you averted your eyes. They may not have been fully aware of it, but working people were paying for the cost of the war until the late 1990s.

They paid initially through brutal austerity in the immediate post-war years called rationing. Some environmentalists appear to think that this might be a good thing today, by putting society through what they call “degrowth”, cutting living standards and curbing consumerism. But rationing is unsustainable in a free society. It lingered until the early 1950s, but led to the collapse of the post-war Labour government.

Thereafter the debt was paid through a combination of growth and then inflation. Post-war reconstruction brought about an unprecedented boom in the non-Communist world. Populations were increasing fast with the “baby boom” and global markets were opening up. The consumer society was born – cars, white goods, TVs – the economy of more stuff. Britain’s growth rate was weak by comparison with America and most of Europe, but it was enough to help pay down much of the debt.

Then came the hyper-inflation of the 1970s when prices were rising by up to 27% a year. That reduced the debt because it was being paying back in depreciated pounds.

So what happens this time? Well, it’s complicated. We are in a very different era: one of low growth and population decline. British growth has been anaemic since well before 2010. Scotland’s growth is even worse. Technological change, trade wars, stagnation and debt don’t point to a post-Covid boom.

Climate change may help and hinder debt reduction. The new green technologies, from electric vehicles to wind turbines, will provide opportunities for growth. But we will probably never see another consumer boom like the 1960s – the environment couldn’t stand it and no government will take the risk.

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We need to think about measures to ensure pandemic equity, both across classes and generations. Taxes generally will become more progressive and there will be demands for wealth taxes. The fairest would probably be increased death duties to claw back some intergenerational wealth. Mind you, it’s not clear that even Labour entirely supports a Death Tax.

As for Scotland, immigration has been the basis of what economic growth has happened here recently. Now it is going into reverse following Brexit, and the Scottish finances are going to become top heavy as society ages. Scotland is likely also, if the polls are correct, to be independent in the not too distant future.

Independence will give Scotland the economic levers – like immigration – but it will involve hard choices about pandemic debt and how to calculate Scotland’s share of it. Also, without a wall at the border, it is going to be very difficult to keep tax-burdened young, and old, workers from leaving the new Scotland. Out-migration has plagued Scotland for centuries

One thing is certain: uncertainty. A survey by Cambridge University reported last week that millennials have lost faith in democracy itself. They no longer think it recognises or reflects their needs. They were not asked to state what alternative they had in mind. Fascism and communism are hopefully in the dustbin of history, but there may be unknown post-democratic forms that we haven’t thought of. Environmental authoritarianism may become attractive to some as a means of forcing people to stop driving, eating meat or going on holiday.

Whatever, liberal capitalism is in trouble. A system based not on scarcity but on abundance isn’t really capable of giving people more for less – except in supermarket adverts.