Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.
For nearly everyone in America today, the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Nothing in our experience has prepared us to make sense of what is happening or might happen next. But as we struggle to survive this horror, history and epidemiology may at least provide reference points for thinking about the world ahead.
Epidemics can produce lasting effects on society in at least three ways. The most direct is through the impact on the health and demography of populations. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague wiped out a third of Europe's people, chiefly working-age adults, and the ensuing shortages of labor led to rising wages and the end of serfdom in England and other parts of Western Europe.