As the world struggles against the current coronavirus crisis, could social and economic transformations follow as before?
Below, Stanford University historian Walter Scheidel takes on this question, looking at how disease outbreaks in the past disrupted the status quo and catalyzed change.
For example, the Black Death, the bubonic plague that tore through Europe and the Middle East from 1347 onward, led to collective bargaining and an end to feudal obligations. But these transformative changes came at a devastating cost—a third of all people in Europe and the Middle East lost their lives, Scheidel notes.
Scheidel, professor in the humanities and fellow in human biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences, is the author of The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (Princeton University Press, 2018), an in-depth look into what he called “the four horsemen” of major economic leveling: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse, and plagues.
The coronavirus has already upended much of society, and in ways that appear to increase, rather than lower, inequality. How does that mesh with your thesis?
Even in the worst-case scenario, the current pandemic will be far less lethal than the great plagues of the past, and therefore less disruptive.
In the short term, it is almost certain to reinforce existing disparities. A divide has opened up between white-collar workers who are able to conduct their business from home and are less likely to lose their jobs and others who are either at the mercy of short-term relief programs or face greater risk of viral exposure in many of the jobs that remain. African Americans face higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Some students struggle to participate in online education because their households lack the necessary resources. The inequalities that account for these diverse experiences have long been with us but now make themselves even more painfully felt than usual.
Read the full article about pandemic brings about inequality at Futurity.
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