Skip to comments.What Can the Black Death Tell us About the Global Economic Consequences of a Pandemic?
Posted on 03/07/2020 9:37:46 PM PST by nickcarraway
Concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus have translated into an economic slowdown. Stock markets have taken a hit: the UKs FTSE 100 has seen its worst days of trading for many years and so have the Dow Jones and S&P in the US. Money has to go somewhere and the price of gold seen as a stable commodity during extreme events reached a seven-year high.
A look back at history can help us consider the economic effects of public health emergencies and how best to manage them. In doing so, however, it is important to remember that past pandemics were far more deadly than coronavirus, which has a relatively low death rate.
Without modern medicine and institutions like the World Health Organization, past populations were more vulnerable. It is estimated that the Justinian plague of 541 AD killed 25 million and the Spanish flu of 1918 around 50 million
By far the worst death rate in history was inflicted by the Black Death. Caused by several forms of plague, it lasted from 1348 to 1350, killing anywhere between 75 million and 200 million people worldwide and perhaps one half of the population of England. The economic consequences were also profound.
Anger, antagonism, creativity It might sound counter-factual and this should not minimise the contemporary psychological and emotional turmoil caused by the Black Death but the majority of those who survived went on to enjoy improved standards of living. Prior to the Black Death, England had suffered from severe overpopulation.
Following the pandemic, the shortage of manpower led to a rise in the daily wages of labourers, as they were able to market themselves to the highest bidder. The diets of labourers also improved and included more meat, fresh fish, white bread and ale. Although landlords struggled to find tenants for their lands, changes in forms of tenure improved estate incomes and reduced their demands.
But the period after the Black Death was, according to economic historian Christopher Dyer, a time of agitation, excitement, anger, antagonism and creativity. The governments immediate response was to try to hold back the tide of supply-and-demand economics.
Life as a labourer in the 14th century was hard. British Library This was the first time an English government had attempted to micromanage the economy. The Statute of Labourers law was passed in 1351 in an attempt to peg wages to pre-plague levels and restrict freedom of movement for labourers. Other laws were introduced attempting to control the price of food and even restrict which women were allowed to wear expensive fabrics.
But this attempt to regulate the market did not work. Enforcement of the labour legislation led to evasion and protests. In the longer term, real wages rose as the population level stagnated with recurrent outbreaks of the plague.
Landlords struggled to come to terms with the changes in the land market as a result of the loss in population. There was large-scale migration after the Black Death as people took advantage of opportunities to move to better land or pursue trade in the towns. Most landlords were forced to offer more attractive deals to ensure tenants farmed their lands.
A new middle class of men (almost always men) emerged. These were people who were not born into the landed gentry but were able to make enough surplus wealth to purchase plots of land. Recent research has shown that property ownership opened up to market speculation.
The dramatic population change wrought by the Black Death also led to an explosion in social mobility. Government attempts to restrict these developments followed and generated tension and resentment.
Meanwhile, England was still at war with France and required large armies for its campaigns overseas. This had to be paid for, and in England led to more taxes on a diminished population. The parliament of a young Richard II came up with the innovative idea of punitive poll taxes in 1377, 1379 and 1380, leading directly to social unrest in the form of the Peasants Revolt of 1381.
Peasants revolting in 1381. Miniature by Jean de Wavrin This revolt, the largest ever seen in England, came as a direct consequence of the recurring outbreaks of plague and government attempts to tighten control over the economy and pursue its international ambitions. The rebels claimed that they were too severely oppressed, that their lords treated them as beasts.
Lessons for today While the plague that caused the Black Death was very different to the coronavirus that is spreading today, there are some important lessons here for future economic growth. First, governments must take great care to manage the economic fallout. Maintaining the status quo for vested interests can spark unrest and political volatility.
Second, restricting freedom of movement can cause a violent reaction. How far will our modern, mobile society consent to quarantine, even when it is for the greater good?
Plus, we should not underestimate the knee-jerk, psychological reaction. The Black Death saw an increase in xenophobic and antisemitic attacks. Fear and suspicion of non-natives changed trading patterns.
There will be winners and losers economically as the current public health emergency plays out. In the context of the Black Death, elites attempted to entrench their power, but population change in the long term forced some rebalancing to the benefit of labourers, both in terms of wages and mobility and in opening up the market for land (the major source of wealth at the time) to new investors. Population decline also encouraged immigration, albeit to take up low skilled or low-paid jobs. All are lessons that reinforce the need for measured, carefully researched responses from current governments.
The WHO, gates foundation , JHs, world Health Leaders went over the entire scenario regarding this current situation this past October. Google Event 201
So the correct response to a pandemic is open borders?
Come on kids. That was 1453. And a bacteria. Long before microbiology
1453 was the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Not quite a plague but just as devastating. The silver lining was that it forced Columbus to seek a new trade route.
Notice how Turkey isn’t reporting any CV cases but they are trying to shove a crapload of refugees into Europe right now?
In ancient times, even in premodern times, borders were pretty much open. Look how that worked out for, well, pretty much everybody.
And it is relevant in our age.. How exactly?
Yep, they thought that the decease is spread through ‘miasma’.
We got through that one, we'll get through this one.Bring Out Your Dead
Still, a high fatality rate destroyed society. In the case of Europe, it destroyed the feudal system, loosened the grip of the Lords over land and labor, and the often quick deaths forced The Church to lose their grip on men's souls. There simply wasn't time to summon an anointed Priest for last rites, lay Christians were given Papal permission to say "God Bless You!", a right the Church had jealously reserved, as the sole mediator between men and God, this all cleared the way for the Renaissance.
Suppose this one destroys the left's death grip on society?
Hang in there and see...
Post to me or FReep mail to be on/off the Bring Out Your Dead ping list.
The purpose of the Bring Out Your Dead ping list (formerly the Ebola ping list) is very early warning of emerging pandemics, as such it has a high false positive rate.
So far the false positive rate is 100%.
At some point we may well have a high mortality pandemic, and likely as not the Bring Out Your Dead threads will miss the beginning entirely.
*sigh* Such is life, and death...
If a quarantine saves just one child's life, it's worth it.
The plagues of England were caused by the communist method of grain storage introduced by the Holy Roman Empire. Affected communities were highly dependent on winter grain from communal storage areas. Fleas infected rats. As rats ate grain they infected the grain. As the grain got distributed throughout the community so did the plague virus.
Some of the plagues are believed to have been caused and/or exacerbated by ergot rye contamination after poor crop seasons.
England wasn’t part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The world was so different in the middle of the 14th century from today, that I think comparison is not reasonably possible. But that doesn’t mean that if this gets loose in an unchecked way that we will not have one hell of an ugly situation on our hands. There are things that should have been done already, and we haven’t because we are afraid of causing panic and/or disrupting the economy.
what does the black death tell us?
(demo)rats spread diseases?
Communism did not exist for centuries after that.
Much of what happened is missing from this article.but touched on a few good points.
What did you think Harian’s Wall was about? It kept out the Scottish celts.
The Holy Roman Empire was created by Charlemagne in AD 800. It comprised much of Western and Central Europe and lasted until 1806. Britain was never a part of it.
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