Disaster and Recovery: The Black Death in Western Europe



 
 Disaster and Recovery: The Black Death in Western Europe

By Jack Hirschleifer (Rand Corporation, 1966)

Summary: The Black Death – the great plague of 1348-50 – and its aftermath constitute one of the very greatest disaster-recovery experiences ever recorded. The short-term consequences of the disaster include a degree of socio-political disorganization (for example, flight from cities), and changed income and status relationships due to the enhanced economic position of newly scarce labor. A rapid recovery took place in the next decade, without fundamental disruption of economic or political systems. The century following, however, saw a slow-down or reversal in the rate of economic advance of Western Europe. The extent to which this setback may have been due specifically to the 1348-50 plague is subject to examination, in the light of other pressures and burdens upon economic performance in this era; these include disruptive wars, possible climatic changes, and the continuing drain of the plague as a result of the establishment of sources of infection in Western Europe. Although direct inferences as to possible consequences of nuclear wars can hardly be drawn from this 14th century catastrophe, the historical record does not support contentions that either social collapse or an economic downward spiral is a necessary consequence of massive disaster.

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