Yesterday, we discussed the amazing findings of demographers who suggest the draw- dropping news that population may be falling, big-time, by the second half of the century. Forewarned is forearmed, we say- but what would such a world feel like?
Scouring our historical databases, the nearest model that we could come up with was the Black Death which hit the whole world from 1347 onwards. We are aware of the differences-this was a sudden terrible mortality, not a slow voluntary decline. Medieval record keeping was appalling, so, yes, it is hard to be sure about the figures. All of these problems are summarised in an excellent article by David Routt in EH Net*. But based on this article, and at this distance in time, it is possible to make a few fairly robust observations.
For the most survivors life got better quickly. Before the plague rents were high, wages were low, and the social hierarchy was pretty rigid. Sounds familiar. As the population fell, suddenly everyone wanted labourers. Wages rose quickly. The old rules which had held people in serfdom faded away. There was much greater mobility of labour, as lords tried to steal workers from each other
There was a resurgence of the slave trade, as another attempt to make up staff shortages. Which makes us wonder- will nations of the future raid each other for workers, if they cannot attract enough immigrants?
The elites grew rather unhappy at the disappearance of the old order. They paid writers to produce texts which moaned about social decay, disorder and general uppishness on the part of the lower orders. In various countries, laws were passed which tried to tie people back to the land, or limit their wages. We will leave it to you to assess how successful these were.
There is some evidence of reforestation, which may even have led to the little Ice Age. Certainly ploughland declined, and sheep pasture spread. So expect considerable changes in types of production from the seventies onwards. Whether that will improve the environment is a moot point.
Settlements shrank or disappeared altogether. If this is repeated, the opportunities for re wilding, and to reduce the appalling urban sprawls of today beckon alluringly.
We think that a lower population world, chosen by ourselves and not as the result of a terrible plague, offers the vision of a cleaner, spacious, more leisured and more prosperous world for the majority of us. However, there is one wild card now which they didn’t have in the Middle Ages. Technology, By which we mean the high technologies of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and robotics. In the next blog, we might start to think about them.
we have double linked again here just in case it doesn’t come out. Otherwise look for David Routt The economic impact of the black death at the EH site
#blackdeath #populationfalls #immigration #labour shortages