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Black Death also known as black plague was one of the most deadly pandemics in human history, affecting a very big part of the continent of Europe between 1347 and 1350. The disease was widely thought to be an outbreak of the serious bubonic plague which was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Many scholars and researchers have challenged this reasoning. The Black Death disease was thought to have started in Central Asian and reached its climax in 1346. The disease then spread to the Mediterranean and Europe through fleas that were found on black rats that were very common in merchant ships.
How did the disease affect Europe and its civilization? It was estimated that about 30 -60 percent of the population of Europe were killed by the disease. This reduction in population caused changes in the social and economic sectors of Europe (insecta-inspecta.com). Of all the aspects of Europe; the economic sector was the one that suffered the biggest hit.
The main short term economic effects of Black Death were a shock to many of the scholars. The emotional shock was caused by the overwhelming death toll that devastated general work schedules and disrupted the patterns of economic life of Europeans. Mortality rates that are high and the desertion of plague infected towns and cities by frightened inhabitants meant that several tasks which are critical went unperformed. Whole Europe farm fields, shops, domestic animals left unattended. All the Europeans those who were depressed by hearing this shock news, healthy workers also failed to attend to their daily routine jobs under such circumstances.
Like the plague's death toll, its socioeconomic impact resists categorical measurement. The Black Death's timing made a facile labeling of it as a watershed in European economic history nearly inevitable. It arrived near the close of an ebullient high Middle Ages (c. 1000 to c. 1300) in which urban life reemerged, long-distance commerce revived, business and manufacturing innovated, manorial agriculture matured, and population burgeoned, doubling or tripling. The Black Death simultaneously portended an economically stagnant, depressed late middle ages (c. 1300 to c. 1500) (David, 2010).
Reduction of skilled labor was immediately felt. This was due to the large number of deaths due to the very fast spreading of the disease. Some of the people who died were skilled working class people. The number of skilled labor reduced considerably and some business had to close down due to lack of workers. Most of the people that took up the open positions were either semi-skilled or totally unskilled hence they ended up providing poor services.
The importance of the poor laborer became evident. Since the numbers of laborers reduced so much, therefore those few laborers that had skills became even much more important and valuable than the rich people (insecta-inspecta.com). At this time, the social structure started changing considerably hence giving more say to the poor laborers.
Another effect was the high cost of labor. Before the Black Death disease, the poor laborers were not treated well by their masters. During the black plague pandemic, the poor laborers had more say. The laborers knowing that there was a severe shortage of manpower, they demanded higher wages (insecta-inspecta.com).
The crushing of many business and other sources of economic importance was also another prevailing factor. Lack of enough skilled labor meant that many organizations of business hired semi-skilled or unskilled laborers who eventually could not deliver on the business needs and hence huge losses some of which forced businesses to close down. Another reason for the closure of businesses was the high cost of hiring labor. Those companies/businesses that could not meet this cost had to close down.
The fall of agriculture and all its related economic activities was very evident during the Black Death pandemic. Most serfs' were seeking liberation from tiling their masters' lands. Although they were told by decree and statue to return to their masters' duties not all of them obeyed. Poor people and laborers left farming, planting and attending to their crops because they did not want to work, they only wanted to enjoy life fearing that they may die next. Because of these reasons, agriculture and its related economic activities collapsed. Farming communities became very rare and those rare farming communities did not fully practice farming like earlier (insecta-inspecta.com).
Decline in the attitude of saving was another huge effect of the pandemic. Most rich people did not wish to keep saving their money for the future. This was brought about by the fact that most peoples' lives peoples' lives were not guaranteed due to the Black Death threat. This meant that most people engaged in extravagant lifestyle and practices just to enjoy themselves thinking that they may die from the disease. This greatly reduced the saving levels of the whole continent of Europe.
There was a huge reduction in the number of law enforcement officers. This translated into an increase in the number of cases of lawlessness. Houses were broken into, business stores broken into and stocks stolen, farms and animals were also stolen. These actions caused a very unstable effect on the economy of Europe. Business and people were already suffering from the prevailing hard financial conditions due to the outbreak, if a person or business was stolen from, it was very difficult to recover, hence most businesses ended up being closed down and people were reduced to poverty. All these negative impacted on the economy of the continent of Europe (insecta-inspecta.com).
The shock of the Plague caused many peasants to demand a restructuring of society, often with a religious fervor. An approximation of democracy was demanded and with it a curbing of aristocratic rights and privileges. When these hopes for a better life were curtly dismissed, or savagely repressed by the nobility, many commoners rose in rebellion. The French Jacquerie of 1358, the English Peasant's Rebellion in 1381, the Catalonian Rebellion in 1395, and many revolts in Germany, all serve to show how seriously the mortality had disrupted economic and social relations. "Unrest was everywhere" (Microsoft Bookshelf, page 1). None of the rebellions were successful. But in the end the disintegration of the manor system of managing agriculture began. A land rent system, with the freedom of the peasants recognized replaced it. "This system still exists in many parts of Europe, although the desire of peasants to own their land eventually led, centuries later, to migration to places like Russia, Australia, Africa, and the Americas" (Encyclopedia Britannica, pp.58-59). There was never enough land, and dividing it among the sons soon led to economically untenable situations (123helpme.com).
The higher wages due to the lack of labor and the small manufacturing by businesses because of the lack of proper funding caused very high inflation. The inflation reduced the purchasing power (real wage) of the wage laborer so significantly that, even with higher cash wages, his earnings either bought him no more or often substantially less than before the magna pestilencia (David, 2010). The commercial classes passed laws regulating who could join their industries. These laws served to protect them from against completion. These caused a terrible unrest in major European cities, as landless and poor peasants noted the opportunities and chances denied them (123helpme.com).
Governments suffered a lot. Since lands were abandoned, and rents were not paid, these actions caused a decline in the amount of revenue collected by the government. This in turn caused a drastic increase in the wages of government employees such as mercenaries and soldiers, and reduction of the revenue collected by government by fifty percent. Due to this, government opted to have smaller number of employees for the easiness of paying their wages (123helpme.com).
The dislocation of demand for goods was also another important effect of the Black Death disease on the economy of Europe. A suddenly and sharply smaller population ensured a glut of manufactured and trade goods, whose prices plummeted for a time. The businessman who successfully weathered this short-term imbalance in supply and demand then had to reshape his business' output to fit a declining or at best stagnant pool of potential customers. The Black Death transformed the structure of demand as well. During this time the standard of living of the peasants improved, however, chronically low prices for grain and other agricultural products from the late fourteenth century may have deprived the peasant of the additional income to purchase enough manufactured or trade items to fill the hole in commercial demand (Chisox, 2006).
According to Chisox (2006), High labor costs promised big rewards to the inventors of labor-saving devices which resulted to the late Middles Ages becoming a period of impressive labor-saving devices. Employers attempted to counteract higher wages by using these new machines and techniques to manipulate the available recourses as well as the use of more capital for labor. Besides farming machinery and methods, other notable inventions of the time were the Johann Gutenberg's printing press in 1453, improved firearms as well as bigger ships able to stay on the sea longer with fewer crew required.
Other consequences of the outbreak were; Cities were hit hard by the plague. Financial business was disrupted as debtors died and their creditors found themselves without recourse. Not only had the debtor died, his whole family had died with him and many of his kinsmen. There was simply no one to collect from construction projects stopped for a time or were abandoned altogether. Guilds lost their craftsmen and could not replace them. Just as there were guild revolts in the cities in the later 1300s, so we find rebellions in the countryside. The Jacquerie in 1358, the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381, the Catalonian Rebellion in 1395, and many revolts in Germany, all serve to show how seriously the mortality had disrupted economic and social relations.
The subject about the effects of Black Death has really caused heated discussions among scholars. It remains a fact that the pandemic caused so many problems. For example, lack of enough laborers, rebellions, death of many people, and collapse of major economic structure in the European countries. There are also good things that happened due to the Black Death pandemic. For example, after the pandemic, there were renewed efforts in the field of medicine, the beginning reconstruction of the economy of Europe, peasants were respected more and they had a say in matters concerning them and the quality of life of poor skilled people improved.