Guido Alfani, 15 October 2020

The relationship between pandemics and inequality is of significant interest at the moment. The Black Death in the 14th century is one salient example of a pandemic which dramatically decreased wealth inequality, but this column argues that the Black Death is exceptional in this respect. Pandemics in subsequent centuries have failed to significantly reduce inequality, due to different institutional environments and labour market effects. This evidence suggests that inequality and poverty are likely to increase in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

Neil Cummins, Morgan Kelly, Cormac Ó Gráda, 21 April 2020

Between 1563 and 1665, London experienced four plagues that each killed one fifth of the city’s inhabitants. This column uses 790,000 burial records to track the plagues that recurred across London (epidemics typically endured for six months). Possibly carried and spread by body lice, plague always originated in the poorest parishes; self-segregation by the affluent gradually halved their death rate compared with poorer Londoners. The population rebounded within two years, as new migrants arrived in the city “to fill dead men’s shoes”.

Guido Alfani, 09 April 2020

The ultimate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are impossible to foretell. This column examines major plague episodes from the past millennium to draw lessons for the current crisis. The effects of the 14th century Black Death and 17th century plagues were heterogeneous, depending on multiple epidemiological factors and initial conditions. Some regions recovered quickly, while others suffered prolonged economic damage. Dealing with the asymmetric shocks of COVID-19 and preventing similar economic collapse calls for coordination and collective action by affected countries.

Rémi Jedwab, Noel Johnson, Mark Koyama, 08 May 2019

The Black Death killed 40% of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1352, but little is known about its spatial effects. The column uses variation in Plague mortality at the city level to explore the short-run and long-run impacts on city growth. After less than 200 years the impact of Black Death mortality in cities was close to zero, but the rate of urban recovery depended on advantages that favoured trade.

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