Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Disease Did To Europe

From The Economist : Plagued by dear labour

Most of the article is about a debate on whether the population crash due to the plague outbreaks in the mid 1300s Europe brought about real improvements in wages and labor rights.

and then this speculation:

A more speculative theory suggests that the Black Death encouraged Europeans to become more imperialistic. Prior to the Black Death, Europeans were rather averse to long sea voyages, given the extremely high death rates on boats. But as death rates on land soared, people became less afraid of sea travel; it was not much riskier than staying at home. As a result, colonialism was kick-started. Mr Belich links the plague to the “spread of Europe”.

Interesting-- i would think the more immediate reason that triggered widespread European exploration and imperialism was a desire in Christian Europe to break the Muslim domination of Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea merchant routes. With this disease theory one can argue that it was high death rates on land that made Europeans get over their timidity of sea voyages.  Another factor is that advances in ship building made long voyages less risky and produced ships big enough to make voyages profitable. Dom Henrique (better known as Henry the Navigator) the younger son of the King of Portugal in the early fourteen hundred's was asked to find a land route across the Sahara to break the Muslim bottleneck on the Red Sea and Persian Sea routes. He realized the foolishness of this venture and began collecting navigation charts of the African coasts and became a patron of ship builders. That subsequently led to explorers like Batholomew Diaz and Vasco De Gama to finally round the Cape of Good Hope and find a passage to India and the East Indies spice riches.  Again with this disease theory one can argue that disease and the population crash triggered innovation in general and one result was advances in ship building!.. so you can end up putting the disease theory at the root of any complex causal chain and explain all sorts of intangibles with it.. that makes me wary..

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