Disease does not only affect development through its contemporaneous impact on health, but also through its enduring historical effect through its shaping of culture and institutions. By drawing on the experience of historical pandemics, we argue that some of the current stringent approaches adopted in combating Covid-19 come at the expense of social capital (trust) and institutions (checks on government power), which hold back long-run development. We review the evidence that the Black Death intensified witchcraft beliefs and antisemitism, which, in turn, developed mistrust and exerted an adverse influence on present-day development. Finally, we demonstrate that institutions and culture have greater explanatory power in terms of cross-country infection rates and fatality rates than does health care quality.


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Hou, W., Main, B. & Liu, X. 2020, 'Covid-19 and development: Lessons from historical pandemics', Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/14765284.2020.1855937

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Last updated: 20 June 2022
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