New Money Review podcast

New Money Review podcast

Pandemics can reshape economies

June 16, 2020

We can all see the short-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic: fear, lockdowns, falls in output, restrictions on travel, frictions in supply chains, growing social tension and unprecedented government intervention.

But will there be big changes over the longer term? If previous pandemics are anything to go by, there could be some quite dramatic shifts in economic relations, working practices and politics as a result of the events of the last few months.

In the latest New Money Review podcast, Eleanor Russell, a PhD candidate in history at the University of Cambridge, talks about one of her specialist areas of research—the 14th century Black Death pandemic—and what it can teach us about the coronavirus.

Eleanor recently co-authored a prize-winning article on the topic in the Conversation, a website bringing news and views from the academic and research community to the general public.

In the podcast, Eleanor explains how the Black Death, which wiped out between a third and a half of Europe’s population, had a profound impact on wages, on the relations between employers and employees, and on the future structure of businesses and corporations.

It also led to significant social and political tensions, some of which took decades to play out. But there’s a direct link, for example, between the Black Death, the subsequent attempts by the English government to control wages and restrict labour mobility, and England’s violent Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

There are big differences between then and now. The coronavirus has spread at a much faster rate than a medieval pandemic. Modern media have undoubtedly amplified its short-term impact. The disease itself has proved much less lethal than the Black Death.

But some of the 14th century themes Eleanor describes in the podcast—the rise of mega corporations, centralisation, government intervention, new forms of taxation, increasing tensions between the general public and big business, a groundswell of support for local solutions—sound eerily familiar to a modern ear.