Wealth concentration and inequality after a pandemic: Lessons from the plague

The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death, c.1353. Wikimedia Commons

Again I want to draw your attention to a great analysis of history in the light of the Covid-19 crisis, the article How pandemics past and present fuel the rise of mega-corporations by history scholar Eleanor Russell and organization scholar Martin Parker. Of course under the caveat that the world, and the economy, of the 14th century was very different from today, Russell and Parker analyze the dynamics marking the economic recovery from the bubonic plague. Today, we see small companies relying upon government support and large players – such as Amazon – benefitting from the new conditions. In the 14th century, wealthy entrepreneurs ensured a further concentration of their capital through changing their wills and, by combining scale in production with merchant networks, became crucial providers of infrastructure and strengthened their ties to governments. As a result, key markets were dominated by a handful of mega-corporations tightly interwoven with the state. As I have argued elsewhere, rising state power might actually be an opportunity for tackling society’s grand challeges, and concentrated business power, if steered in the right way, can play a key role in building a sustainable economic future. Whether these forces will be used remains one of the biggest questions of today, as also Russell and Parker conclude.

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