What Can the Black Death Tell us About The Global Economic Consequences of a PandemicRoundup
tags: economic history, Medieval, epidemics, coronavirus
Adrian R. Bell is Chair in the History of Finance and Research Dean, Prosperity and Resilience, Henley Business School, University of Reading.
Andrew Prescott is Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Glasgow.
Helen Lacey is Lecturer in Late Medieval History, University of Oxford
Concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus have translated into an economic slowdown. Stock markets have taken a hit: the UK’s 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.