As UK faces its worst slump since the Great Frost of 1709, history shows our economy is no match for nature

The likely global recession triggered by the novel coronavirus is part of a much older tradition

Sean O'Grady
Sunday 19 April 2020 17:21
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The Great Plague of 1665 forced businesses to close, but while the economic impact was severe it was not long-lasting
The Great Plague of 1665 forced businesses to close, but while the economic impact was severe it was not long-lasting

When the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts national income will fall by some 35 per cent over just a few months, that is a truly historic slump. It is useful to place it in some perspective.

Assuming that the economy “bounces back” fairly robustly afterward the lockdown and growth returns – far from guaranteed – it would leave the British economy in 2020 overall about 13 per cent smaller than it was in 2019. That would still be the biggest annual fall in economic activity in centuries – since 1709 in fact.

That of course begs the question: What on Earth happened in 1709 to spiral the economy into dropping by about 15 per cent (though the further back you go, the hazier GDP estimates get). Well, it wasn’t a war or one of the many pandemics – or plagues, as they were known then – that hit the world periodically.

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