Barry Norris: The Black Death, Covid-19 and the consequences of a pandemic

Profound long-term economic impact to be felt for years

clock • 3 min read

In 1348, the Black Death arrived in the UK. It would go on to kill more than one third of the population and the whole of Bristol, at the time its second largest city.

Its economic and social consequences were profound: the disappearance of much of the labour force meant that wages more than doubled for freemen, while villeins were able to dictate much better terms from their landlords, eventually leading to the demise of the feudal system. Edwardian Historian G.M. Trevelyan would claim that its impact "was as significant a phenomenon as the Industrial Revolution". While the scale of the devastation wrought by Covid-19 is likely to be more limited, I would expect the virus to have, like the medieval plague, profound long-term economic consequences, ...

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