Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Humanity has confronted countless crises and many have led to profound and sometimes unexpected change.

  • It was the economist Milton Friedman who once said: "Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change."

  • But what kind of change can we expect in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic?

  • And will it be change for the better?

  • History may give us some answers.

  • By the summer of 1349 the Black Death had killed nearly 50 % of the population of England.

  • There was a "second wave" of the plague in 1361 which killed another 20%.

  • A disaster, yes, but the plague did something which had begun to look impossible...

  • It stopped the 100 Years' Warthe series of bloody conflicts between England and France.

  • There was also a profound labor shortage, because so many people had died which put those who survived in a stronger position.

  • Eventually, the exploitative feudal system - under which peasants swore allegiance to lords in exchange for a patch of land and some protection collapsed.

  • Fast forward to 1918, and another devastating wave of disease was sweeping the world.

  • The so-called Spanish flu, although it didn't actually come from Spain, spread through crowded troop transports and munitions factories towards the end of the First World War.

  • By the end of the pandemic, more than 50 million people had died.

  • But it did give rise to a new understanding of infectious diseases.

  • And that spurred the development of public health systems across the developed world.

  • As scientists and governments realized that the best defense against pandemics was at a societal rather than an individual level.

  • Calls for a unified medical service in the UK date back even earlier but it wasn't until after the Second World War, in 1948, that Britain's National Health Service was launched.

  • According to the NHS's official historian, Charles Webster, the Luftwaffe: " achieved in months what had defeated politicians and planners for at least two decades".

  • We only gave you part of Milton Friedman's famous quote earlier.

  • He went on to say: " When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."

  • As well as the launch of free universal healthcare in the UK, the post-war period saw the adoption of other radical ideas that were "lying around" at the time, including the rapid nationalization of industry and the creation of the modern welfare state.

  • Globally, institutions such as the United Nations were set up, determined to prevent future wars through international cooperation and diplomacy.

  • Will the aftermath of coronavirus leave us with similarly fertile ground in which new ideas might flourish?

  • Will it kick start new ways of living, working and travelling?

  • Or make us think again about our attitudes to consumption or our responsibilities to one another?

  • Will ideas such as a universal basic income, virtual education or even healthcare delivered by robots become logical next steps in a profoundly altered world?

  • Or will we pick up where we left off, as if nothing had happened?

  • And if there is to be change, who will decide if it's change for the better?

  • After all, not all the ideas lying around will prove to be the right ones.

Humanity has confronted countless crises and many have led to profound and sometimes unexpected change.

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT UK change friedman lying war milton plague

Is the coronavirus crisis a chance to rethink the world? | BBC Ideas

  • 80 242
    Summer   posted on 2020/11/13
Video vocabulary

Go back to previous version