― R.D. Laing
Disease shapes our lives whether we like it or not. We have been at war with pathogens throughout our evolution and the Wuhan virus will be every bit as impactful as the Black Death was in the 14th Century.
Ironically, the Black Death – bubonic plague – got its start in China in the very province (Hubei) that gave birth to the corona virus currently devastating the globe. It was spread by the very same trade routes that spread the Wuhan virus.
The plague, however, killed far more people than the Wuhan virus will likely kill. Historian Ole Jorgen Benedictow estimates that 50 to 60 per cent of Europe’s population died between 1346 and 1353.
Worse still, the plague continued to haunt Europe for the next four hundred years.
The Black Death was perhaps the most momentous event in the history of the world. It was pivotal in the development of medicine as care givers struggled to understand what was unfolding. Physicians learned about blood and the circulatory system. Governments came to realize sanitation was key to stopping its spread.
The plague also had social and economic impacts. The loss of so many laborers saw the end of serfdom. Towns grew. Wages rose. Diets improved. Some historians have even argued that the loss of cheap labor spurred the demand for machines and other innovations that ultimately led to the industrial revolution.
Will the Wuhan virus have similar widespread societal and economic impacts?
Without a doubt it will. The response to the virus has been unprecedented. We are essentially shutting down the social and economic life of the developed world to stop its spread. This has never been done in the past.
Today, people are working online at home, they are studying online at home, they are keeping in touch online from home. Travel is discouraged. Contact is discouraged.
We are a social species, though, so it’s not likely we will retreat into our homes and become nations of online hermits.
What is more likely is that we will pull back from the globalization our political leaders have been promoting.
The quick spread of the disease has made us think about borders, about how fragile our supply chains are, how dependent we are on other countries, such as China.
I imagine we will be working to return essential manufacturing and production back to our countries.
I also think we are going to start re-evaluating our international partnerships. China is clearly not a reliable trading partner or player on the world stage.
China’s big problem is that it is led by a Communist Party that is more interested in maintaining its hold on power. Its lack of transparency, its totalitarian ways, its repression of human rights make it a real threat to the world.
One thing is certain, we cannot go through another pandemic. This one has cost the world about $11 trillion in lost production. It will take us a decade to recover.
Truly frightening is the certainty that another killer virus is lurking in China just waiting for the right set of conditions or actions to break out and unleash Hell on earth.
We cannot allow this to happen again. Our economies cannot endure repeated assaults like this.