In the mid 14th century, plagued struck Europe and England. The death tolls during these plague years were horrific. Even the most conservative figures suggest an average of 40% of the entire population of England was wiped out in a matter years. The result was intense pressure on the labour market has the cost of labour rose as the supply of workers dropped. As the plagued receded and life began to return to normal, there was the inevitable push from the elites to roll back all the gains made by labourers during the plague years, including reduction in wages, reducing the ability to move from one manor to another. Not surprisingly, the result was massive social upheaval that threatened Richard II’s rule.
This of course was just one of innumerable plagues to run rampant through the global population. And while the covid-19 virus is not claiming 40-60% of the population, it is yet a dangerous virus and I believe many of the measures that have been put into place are the right ones to contain and slow the spread of this virus. There have many people with expertise that have discussed at length why these measures are necessary. But what I am most interested in is the aftermath, what comes after the virus is done – because it will be. Even the Bubonic Plague came to an end, but not before completing rearranging social, religious, cultural, and economic relationships.
In the short term, we are already talking about recessions, not if there will be a recession, but when and how severe. Social relations are being reassessed and restructured and undoubtedly strained as much as some are being strengthened. Our cathedrals to ancient and modern gods are being shuttered. Democratic governments are taking measures that would have been unthinkable just a couple of months ago. And let me make it clear, these measures are necessary and I support them. But what will the aftermath be?
What lessons will be learned from this crisis and our response to it? Will we finally realize that a strong social safety net, one that increases funding to the healthcare system, one that sees a UBI as a policy that would do much to prevent the vulnerable from falling into financial hardship because of circumstances out of their control is a proper way of supporting our fellow citizens. Or will we see this as an opportunity to continue to put into place draconian procedures when the next crisis hits? Already, the concern with universities is as they move to an online model to continue functioning will they see this as a temporary solution that is not ideal, but necessary, or will they see this as an opportunity to permanently move to an online model which will further weaken the integrity of a publicly funded education system by moving to a cheaper delivery model?
It is too early to really tell what lessons will be learned. But there will be lessons, and the instruction has already begun. The question is what will our answers be when the lesson is done?