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Societal Impacts of COVID

“Throughout history, pandemics and plagues have been powerful changemakers: redistributing income and reducing inequality,” according to Stanford University historian Walter Scheidel. In a recent paper he examines past examples like the Black Death, the bubonic plague that tore through Europe and the Middle East from 1346 onwards. The labour shortages caused by the plague led to collective bargaining and an end to feudal obligations. The result was a period of sound economic growth.

Later on, the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918–20, usually referred to as the Spanish Flu, also led to major social changes and shifts in the relationship between workers and business. There were also major technological advances in factories around this time. Again, the pandemic was followed by a period of significant economic growth – the Roaring Twenties.

Walter Scheidel’s summary of the current pandemic is that “[e]ven in the worst-case scenario, the current pandemic will be far less lethal than the great plagues of the past, and therefore less disruptive”. 

The key message here is less disruption, not no disruption. A parallel we can draw with the past is that we are experiencing significant social change today alongside a growth spurt in technology. These are important ingredients for significant economic growth. If we also consider the amount of cash flowing through the banking system, it seems plausible to believe, as a large number of pundits do, that we are in for our version of the Roaring Twenties.

The big question is:  Are you prepared for it? Do you have your processes, technology and supply chain ready to allow you to maximise your opportunities?


© David Ogilvie

COVID, COVID-19, economic growth, labour shortage

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