Warning: Epidemics Are Often Followed by Unrest

Warning: Epidemics Are Often Followed by Unrest

FROM THE BLACK DEATH TO THE SPANISH FLU, HISTORY TEACHES THAT SOCIAL TENSION ACCUMULATED OVER AN EPIDEMIC CAN LEAD TO SIGNIFICANT EPISODES OF REBELLION, ACCORDING TO A STUDY BY MASSIMO MORELLI AND ROBERTO CENSOLO

If you have not been hearing much of the French Gilets Jaunes or of the Italian Sardines in the last few months, it’s because “the social and psychological unrest arising from the epidemic tends to crowd-out the conflicts of the pre-epidemic period, but, at the same time it constitutes the fertile ground on which global protest may return more aggressively once the epidemic is over,” writes Massimo Morelli, Professor of Political Science at Bocconi and Fellow of the COVID Crisis Lab, in a paper recently published in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy.
 
Professor Morelli and Professor Roberto Censolo (University of Ferrara) argue that we can get an informed opinion about the possible effects of COVID-19 on protest and future social unrest by looking at the great plagues of the past, so they analyze 57 epidemic episodes between the Black Death (1346–1353) and the Spanish Flu (1919–1920). They state that while the epidemic lasts the status quo and incumbent governments tend to consolidate, but warn that a sharp increase in social instability in the aftermath of the epidemic should be expected.
 
Revolts not evidently connected with the disease are infrequent within an epidemic period, but epidemics can sow other seeds of conflict. Government conspiracy, “the filth of the poor”, foreigners and immigrants have often been singled out as the cause of an epidemic. “Overall, the historical evidence shows that the epidemics display a potential disarranging effect on civil society along three dimensions,” the authors write. “First, the policy measures tend to conflict with the interest of people, generating a dangerous friction between society and institutions. Second, to the extent that an epidemic impacts differently on society in terms of mortality and economic welfare, it may exacerbate inequality. Third, the psychological shock can induce irrational narratives on the causes and the spread of the disease, which may result in social or racial discrimination and even xenophobia.” Focusing on five cholera epidemics, Morelli and Censolo count 39 rebellions in the 10 years preceding an epidemic and 71 rebellions in the 10 years following it.
 
On the other hand, the authors note that, in the short-term, the necessary restrictions of freedom during an epidemic may be strategically exploited by governments to reinforce power.
 
Roberto Censolo, Massimo Morelli, “COVID-19 and the Potential Consequences for Social Stability”, in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy, published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1515/peps-2020-0045.

by Fabio Todesco

News

All News
  • Emotions Power Public Administration

    Research by Turrini, Cristofoli, and Valotti finds a shared feature in the realization of COVID hospitals in Milan, New York, and Wuhan  

  • Fiscal Expansion: Spend as if You Have to Pay It Back

    Bocconi students on the seminars organized by IGIER. In the latest article of the series, Sviatoslav Tiupin reports on the work of Olivier Blanchard and John Cochrane  

Seminars

  January 2021  
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Seminars      

All Seminars
  • The Department of Finance will be interviewing and holding seminars with selected candidates on the following dates:   January 12th January 14th January 15th January 18th January 22nd January 25th January 27th February 1st February 3rd   Selected candidates will be contacted individually via e-mail. If you would like to follow the candidate's seminar you can contact the department administration office at dip.fin@unibocconi.it

  • Flexible Wages, Bargaining, and the Gender Gap

    Barbara Biasi (Yale)

    Webinar