Throughout history, pandemics have had profound economic effects

PANDEMICS ARE the inevitable attendants of economic progress. Interconnected trade networks and teeming cities have made societies both richer and more vulnerable, from the empires of antiquity to the integrated global economy of the present. The effects of covid-19 will be very different from those of past pathogens, which struck populations far poorer than people today, and with less knowledge of things like viruses and bacteria. The toll should be on a different scale than that exacted by the Black Death or Spanish flu. Even so, the ravages of the past offer some guide as to how the global economy may change as a result of the coronavirus.

Though the human costs of pandemics are dreadful, the long-run economic effects are not always so. The Black Death carried off an astounding one-third to two-thirds of the population of Europe, leaving lasting scars. But in the wake of the plague there was far more arable acreage than workers to farm it. The sudden scarcity of workers raised labourers’ bargaining power relative to landlords and contributed to the breakdown of the feudal economy.

It seems also to have ushered parts of north-west Europe onto a more promising growth path. Real incomes of European workers rose sharply following the pandemic, which struck the continent from 1347 to 1351. In pre-industrial times, higher...



via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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