The Message of History Is Unpredictability
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The Message of History Is Unpredictability

GUIDO ALFANI'S RESEARCH ON PANDEMICS IN HISTORY HELPS UNDERSTAND THE PRESENT

It is undeniable - pandemics in history have created devastating shocks. But regardless of the mortality of the single pathogen (be it Plague or Coronavirus) and looking at the long-term impacts, what causes results at times very different from one another? "The starting economic and social conditions", explains Guido Alfani, professor of history of economics at Bocconi and Fellow of the COVID Crisis Lab.
 
In Plague and Lethal Epidemics in the Pre-Industrial World, published in the Journal of Economic History together with Tommy Murphy and in Pandemics and asymmetric shocks: Lessons from the history of plagues on Vox.eu, Alfani highlights precisely these differences. "Let's take the case of Europe. In the fourteenth century, the plague massacred more or less 50% of the population everywhere, in a continent that was fairly homogeneous from a socio-economic point of view, "explains Alfani. "This generalized rebalancing between men and resources had long-term positive consequences for development." It went differently during the seventeenth century plague, which struck in a more localized way in the countries of Southern Europe: “In this case, the demographic loss caused a development gap between North and South of Europe, leading to negative and lasting consequences for the southern countries most affected ”.
 
In addition, with colleagues Aassve, Gandolfi and Le Moglie, in the study Pandemics and social capital: From the Spanish flu of 1918-19 to COVID-19, Alfani assessed the permanent consequences of the pandemic on individual behavior: "We have found that the social disturbances during that period led to a long-term deterioration of social confidence, which had important economic consequences." Making a parallel with the emergency going on today, the authors highlight the importance of a strong response to Covid-19: "The message is that history is unpredictable," concludes Alfani. "It shows us that we cannot know who will suffer the worst consequences in the long run, so it is important for everyone that the response today shows unity and solidarity at European level".

by Andrea Celauro

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