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  • 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.

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