Governments, already backstopping private sector salaries in this pandemic, are increasingly stepping up to the plate as customers too. Take Microsoft, which has managed to flog 120,000 augmented-reality headsets to the US army. The contract, worth as much as $21.9bn over 10 years, would add about 1.5% to its current annual sales.

For certain industries the state has long been the biggest game in town. Defence is one. About 90% of BAE Systems’s sales, for example, count government entities as the end buyers. Peter Thiel’s Palantir, for all the pre-IPO (initial public offering) talk of commercial clients, still relied on governments for more than half of revenues in the fourth quarter. That is not all military contracts: the US data analytics group also snatched a controversial £23m contract from Britain’s National Health Service...

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