Should we be scared of the coronavirus debt mountain?

That question will decide the complexion of our politics, and the quality of our public infrastructure and services for years to come. Heroes of the coronavirus pandemic Since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, doctors, nurses and paramedics have been working round the clock while risking their lives, along with many unsung heroes such as the grocery store workers, truck drivers and workers in the sanitation department. As these people and other volunteers continue to help and serve others, let's take a look at some picturesshowcasing their efforts during this global crisis. (Pictured) Kids offer free lunch to a truck driver at a rest area in Sacaton, Arizona, U.S., on March 31. A homeless person is treated by a Red Cross worker in Rome, Italy, on March 17. Members of Arizona National Guard unit load up a Black Hawk helicopter to deliver medical supplies to the remote Navajo Nation town of Kayenta, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on March 31.  Workers clean the Cheonggyecheon stream under the posters for the upcoming National Assembly elections on April 15, in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on March 31. Medical staff conduct health screening for homeless people on Day 2 of the national lockdown at the Durban Exhibition Centre in South Africa on March 28. A priest makes the cross sign while holding a confession in the church's parking lot while maintaining a safe distance, in Bowie, Maryland, U.S., on March 20. Staff and contractors work through the night to clean and disinfect public buses at the Montgomery County Division in Rockville, Maryland, U.S., on March 20.  People donate blood during a drive carried out by the German Red Cross, in Erfurt, Germany, on March 18. Engineers at Rice University work to create a low-cost ventilator that could be used to treat coronavirus patients, in Houston, Texas, U.S., on March 29. An artisan couple assembles 3D printed protective face masks in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on March 30. The theatre company has joined the broad movement of institutions and volunteers who responded to the call of making urgently needed protection masks. In this picture, debts are a burden on the profligate; a moral obligation that must be honoured on pain of national bankruptcy and ruin. In fact, those seeking to rebut the misconceptions of the household analogy sometimes say we merely owe government debts to ourselves. That may look like liberation, but it is anillusion achieved by removing the real politics of debt – which are about class, not nationality. ____________________________________________________ More on coronavirus: ____________________________________________________ Historically, government debts were assets owned by the middle and upper classes, the famous rentiers. Government debt is not simply a burden; it is a highly useful financial asset, offering modest interest rates in exchange for safety. As the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter remarked in the aftermath of the first world war, “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies”, the truest reflection of the distribution of power and influence. As we know only too well, a regime of austerity that keeps taxes high and government spending low is not conducive to rapid economic growth. Inflation matters because it acts as a tax on debts that are owed in money that is progressively losing its value. Social distance and empty spaces: UK life under lockdown Following the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the world in 2020, the U.K. has been responding by implementing increasingly stringent measures over the last few weeks. Three days after ordering schools across the country to close indefinitely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict social distancing measures on March 23, which were extended a furtherthree weeks on April 16. These include a total ban on public gatherings of more than two people, the prohibition of travel other than for essential work and medical reasons, and that peopleare notto leave their homes other than to carry out one form of exercise daily. As the nationwide lockdown continues amid rising spring temperatures across the U.K., we look at daily life around the country in pictures. (Pictured) A restaurant worker poses for a portrait at a take-away window in Whitechapel in east London, England on April 18.  An elderly couple sit in the sunshine on the Hoe promenade overlooking the sea in Plymouth, England on April 8.  A young girl paints a picture of herself on the school window as children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School in Altrincham, England on April 8. Some schools are still open to cater for the children of key workers, such as NHS staff, and vulnerable pupils, such as those looked after by local authorities. People sit on their doorsteps in Islington as the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, in London, England on April 5.   A woman wears a mask as she jogs past a closed amusement arcade with her dog on a deserted Bournemouth promenade in Bournemouth, England on March 29.    A man sits on a bus as people continue to socially distance themselves amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 26.     A handout photograph released by the UK parliament shows the second reading of the Coronavirus Bill 2019-21 in the House of Commons, with MPs observing social distancing by sitting two metres apart, in London, England on March 23.   There is one mechanism through which we can ensure we truly owe the debts to ourselves. Its principal job is to manage public debt – and at a moment of crisis central banks do what they must. Of course, ensuring that the central banks continue their crisis-fighting methods into the recovery period will itself require a political battle. • Adam Tooze directs the European Institute at Columbia University and is the author of Crashed ___________________________________