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Vol. 72, No. 3, pp. 209-227 (2021)

“What We Learn from History of Pandemics?: Lessons from the Late 19th through the Early 20th Century in Japan”
Masato Shizume (School of Political Science and Economics,Waseda University)

In this paper, I review social and economic influences of pandemics from a historical perspective to derive implications for today. First, the paper focuses on pandemics in modern Japan, especially the influenza pandemic a century ago. Next, the focus turns to phenomena other than pandemics to explore other examples of human agents affecting responses to external shocks. The history shows that epidemiologically kindred diseases may have different impacts on a society and an economy. Facing the influenza pandemic a century ago, the Japanese government applied virtually no policy measures to curb the pandemic by choking off economic activities. Hence, no economic stimulus was offered to cope with an economic downturn. Today, social distancing measures and quasi lockdowns to suppress COVID-19 have brought about severe economic contractions calling for huge fiscal support. Two similar pandemics striking roughly a century apart have brought about very different social and economic impacts, largely due to changes in social norms. When we derive historical lessons from pandemics, it is useful to distinguish normative and positive modes of analyses: the former to set a standard for a policy/action, and the latter to evaluate the outcome of the policy/action.