Decades of the past when countries really suffered economically





The pundits are foretelling hard times at the moment and doing their best to explain why the world economy could be headed for trouble. But imagine a time when people struggled to understand why they were going hungry.

Between 1440 and 1460 England was suffering a late medieval equivalent of the credit crunch.
The country was still recovering from the effects of the Black Death a century earlier. The population had dropped from as much as five million before the plague and its recurrences to a mere 2.5 million in 1440, says Leicester University economic and social historian Prof Christopher Dyer. The consequences for the English economy were dire.

"The grass was growing in the streets, land was lying uncultivated. There were not enough people to occupy the land," says Prof Dyer.

The second part of the double whammy for England was a shortage of bullion, as supply from traditional sources of silver in Germany and in parts of Hungary dried up.

At the same time, the balance of trade was shifting in favour of the East as expensive luxury commodities were sold to western Europe for large quantities, Prof Dyer says.

The lack of money caused price deflation for farmers in England, at the same time as labourers were able to demand higher wages because of the depopulation.
"People knew things were going badly. They talked about low prices for farmers, they couldn't pay their rent because they weren't getting enough."


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