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 Post subject: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:33 pm 
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According to the study quoted by this article, Europe has the Black Death to thank for its prosperity during 16th through 19th centuries.
http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/10/20/villainous-people-are-hotter/Hmuk5Uj7ZVkDXAQM5FygBL/story.html
It appears that, by killing off large numbers of people, the survivors became wealthy.

Unfortunately, this did not work for the influenza epidemic of 1919.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 9:38 pm 
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Sounds like a retread of the Broken Window fallacy. Rather more likely is that the shattering of the cozily stratified pre-Black Death society made way for a more meritocratic, free market-based society.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:18 pm 
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What Arpad said. While meritocracy is not exactly the word I would use, the system was better than the just-post-feudal system that was in place before it.

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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 11:02 pm 
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Before the Black Death, labor had little value relative to land. So the ability of the jumped up thugs ie., "nobility", to dominate the economic life of Europe. It made peasant labor more valuable, from scarcity, and so broke the feudal system. Because the scarcity of labor meant that other landowners had no incentive to push your peasants back onto your land, but rather to compete to attract them to work theirs (those that recognized the issue at all).

Increased value of labor slowly increased the amount of money in circulation, and slowly increased trade. That began the early stages of the creation of a middle class, and increased trade again.

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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:52 am 
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No doubt that a disaster can bring about positive change. But it might be worth considering that the population of Europe was pretty large before the plague, and food demand exceeded their ability to produce, which made life pretty miserable. But during the Medieval Warm Period a few centuries earlier, they had enough food to fuel population growth, and they had enough wealth to build some pretty impressive cathedrals.

With the plague decimating the population, it probably reached a point where Europe could once again feed everyone (that was left), and the surviving generations could attain levels of prosperity greater than those right before the plague.

But yeah, breaking the feudal system is good too.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:50 am 
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Before the Black Death labor had little value because the of value of labor was suppressed by royalty. That's that "cozy relationship" I was referring too.

The nobility had things just the way they liked them and was largely insulated from the consequences of their idiotic decisions. If the king plunged the kingdom into a war because he was power hungry or just wanted to demonstrate that he was the biggest, swingin' duke around, the kingdom went to war. If some peasant had an idea for more productive agriculture, so what? The king didn't ever get hungry. Only people whose problems were irrelevant got hungry so to hell with the innovation; it was more important to maintain the pleasant status quo so good ideas were strangled in the crib as a matter of course.

Absent that sort of situation though the clever peasant grows more crops, his neighbors notice and pretty soon they're growing more crops and the peasant who originated the idea gets his face and lifetime agricultural statistics on Peasant Playing Cards.

The Black Death certainly reduced the labor supply but even without such convenient accidents the value of labor goes up and, I'd posit, always, inevitably goes up absent forces to suppress the increase in the value of labor. Throughout human history though the importance of royalty maintaining power typically won out over the desire of the non-royal folk to improve their lot in life.

We haven't had a pandemic here in the U.S. recently, certainly not one that reduced the population by two-thirds, so why does our cost of labor rise relentlessly over any reasonable period of time?

I believe it may be because we periodically turn our royalty out of power when their actions become more displeasing then up with which we'll put so their labor-value suppressing activities never get too far out of hand.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 1:52 am 
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I've read a number of books about the 1348 Black Death; all agree that it was a turning point in history in terms of economics. (Yes, I know it was just a turning point in European history - except from then on until quite recently it was Europe that made history). Whether that was because of, despite, or just coincidental with the plague is what makes it fun to argue about.

There seems to be a consensus that European farmland was right at or even above its maximum carrying capacity just before the plague hit, and the evidence for that, in terms of harvest and population data, seems as reliable as you can expect for the 14th century. It's been suggested that parts of Europe didn't recover to pre-plague population levels for 200 years, and certainly there were whole villages that just vanished.

Among the proposals I've read (I stress that I may be misinterpreting the original arguments):


  • The post-plague labor shortage made labor worth more. Pre-plague there was no point in serfs running away since everywhere they could go was equally bad. Now there was. However, I don't recall reading any strong suggestion that they preferentially ran away to the cities; instead they ran to other, richer farming. Shorthanded landlords that previously would have turned in a runaway serf now looked the other way. I wonder, though; even though labor was more valuable the plague shouldn't have increased the amount of money in circulation. Maybe it just turned around faster?
  • There was a post-plague cleric shortage. The number of clerics that died was out of proportion to their numbers in society because they were more likely to be working with the victims and thus more likely to get the disease themselves. Supposedly the increased demand lead quickly to increases in supply; more people went to school, there were more educated people around, and that improved the economy. An objection might be that there were now fewer parishioners; but there were also a lot of dead people that needed masses for their souls. One author suggested there was an increase in the number of private chapels and chaplains. I'll take his word for it.
  • An improvement in the standing of women. It's suggested that there was more female inheritance: women were likely to be out in the country while their husbands and fathers and brothers were in town conducting business, thus women were less likely to be exposed to the plague. There's some evidence of an increasing number of female heirs to large estates, but I'm not sure the explanation works; one of the peculiarities of the 1348-49 plague was it seems to have killed just as many country folk as city folk (this is one of the anomalies that has lead to suggestions that it wasn't really Yersina pestis at all but some other disease).

  • Scarce labor and large tracts of abandoned farmland lead to the growth of the wool industry, which in turn lead to the growth of the middle class of wool merchants and ship owners. As everybody in this election season knows, the middle class is what somehow makes all economies work.


Well, all of those are plausible and there are perhaps a dozen others that I can't remember. Pretty clear that things changed; not nearly so clear why.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:33 pm 
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Quote:
the 1348-49 plague


The Black Death actually hit different parts of Europe at different times. I have seen a map that shows it starting in the Mediterranean and moving north. Moscow and Iceland were the last to be hit. As different parts of Europe were depopulated at different times, I would expect to see migrations. I do not remember reading anything claiming this happened.

More interestingly, the Renaissance and then the Age of Exploration start soon after the plague. I suspect that these were more important than the plague for growing Europe's economy. Whether the plague created conditions for them to happen is possible, but I would not think so.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:29 pm 
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Victor wrote:
...The Black Death actually hit different parts of Europe at different times. I have seen a map that shows it starting in the Mediterranean and moving north. Moscow and Iceland were the last to be hit. As different parts of Europe were depopulated at different times, I would expect to see migrations. I do not remember reading anything claiming this happened...



I've seen such a map in this book. It was pretty interesting; it shows the plague moving in more or less a clockwise circle through Europe, starting in the south, then moving through France and the Low Countries and Germany, then south through central Europe. Lots of divergence, of course - the Iberian peninsula and the British Isles and Scandinavia. IIRC there was sort of an "eye of the storm" where the plague never appeared. As for "different parts of Europe were depopulated at different times", that's true, but it was still quite rapid - about as rapid as news could spread. There wouldn't be much point in migrating to newly depopulated land since your own land would be likely to be depopulated by the time you heard about it.


The same book does comment on the supposed increase in the labor market, noting that "luxury" goods (luxury for a peasant, that is - meat, butter, etc.) increased in cost. This is based on relatively scanty data but it may be all that there is available; one imagines if all around you are dying from horrible black ulcers all over their body going to the market and noting food prices in your diary is unlikely to be high on your list of things to do.


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 Post subject: Re: Black Death Saves the Economy
PostPosted: Sat Oct 27, 2012 8:26 am 
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I loves maps.

Can you link?

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