On July 6th, 1348 Pope Clement VI issues a papal bull defending Jewish citizens wrongly accused of poisoning wells and causing the most recent outbreak of The Plague or Black Death. In reality, the bubonic plague is a bacterial infection originally found in black rats. It was transferred to humans via their fleas. Of course, the limitations of medieval medicine mean that no one could understand how or why the disease was transmitted. Indeed, the crude medical understanding of the day exacerbated the issue with practices like lancing boils and bloodletting, which helped spread the very disease they were meant to cure.
The Black Death ended up killing upwards of twenty million people, or one third of Europe’s population. As the labor pool in Europe was devastated, it created an imbalance between the quantity of workers and the need for them. When the workforce shrunk, the average laborer smelled a rat (so to speak) and realized he could demand more for his drudgery. Laborers found themselves making more money while prices for goods were dropping, eventually creating something new: a skilled middle class. Don’t expect any such changes in the wake of COVID19. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper (https://www.nber.org/papers/w26934.pdf) notes that the viruses lower mortality rate and disproportional effect on the elderly will prevent that kind of societal shift. History doesn’t really repeat itself, but it does rhyme on occasion. And it is more important than ever to know the difference.
Don't wait for history to happen...