By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD
Dec. 8, 2021
A trip through history may give us insight into what will happen after the current pandemic is over. The trend seems to be that people will save more, spend more and live with more social unrest. Here is what history tells us is likely to happen next.i
In the early 1830’s, a cholera epidemic hit France. In just one month, it overwhelmed hospitals and wiped out nearly 3 percent of all residents of Paris. The poor were hit hardest. To protect themselves, the rich moved out of the cities and into their country houses. This disparity in ability to avoid the contagion caused great resentment. This resentment caused France to move into a prolonged period of political instability. Simultaneously, after the epidemic, France and Great Britain moved into an industrial revolution resulting in an economic boom.
In the early 1870’s, a smallpox outbreak occurred in Britain. During the outbreak, people responded very similarly to how people responded to COVID-19. There was one interesting occurrence: The household savings rate doubled.
In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic occurred. There were four waves. Around 500 million people died between February 1918 and April 1920. During the outbreak, people responded much as they did to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, what followed? The Roaring ‘20’s! What followed was a decade characterized by economic and cultural prosperity in both the U.S. and Europe.ii Historians credit the pandemic with making Europeans more adventurous. This was a time where people set sail for new lands to get away from the many people dying at home. A study for America’s National Bureau of Economic Research found that the number of start-up companies boomed from 1919. (We are seeing the same thing happening today as new business formation is surging across the world.)
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History is repeating itself. People are worried about money, so they are saving more. At the same time, technology has made it too easy to use apps like Amazon Prime to buy more. Wanting to avoid people, many are turning to apps like Uber Eats, which results in paying extra to have food delivered to their homes. Even a casual viewing of the news shows that we are living in a time of social unrest.
Are we headed for a post-pandemic boom filled with social unrest? Maybe. History does repeat itself. Our mission is to stay on top of the trends and make sure we are positioning the practice (and the profession) to do more than just survive. We want to thrive.