How (and why) economists ignored the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918–20?

This is a big question: How (and why) economists ignored the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918–20?

Mauro Boianovsky and Guido Erreygers in this paper try and figure the answer:

The current COVID-19 pandemic has attracted significant attention from epidemiologists and economists alike. This differs from the 1918-19 Spanish Influenza pandemic, when academic economists hardly paid attention to its economic features, despite its very high mortality toll. We examine the reasons for that, by contrasting the ways epidemiologists and economists reacted to the Spanish Flu at the time and retrospectively within the next 25 years or so.

Our investigation indicates that economists did not pay close attention to the Spanish Influenza 1918 outbreak and its economic impact at the time. This
may be explained in part by factors related to the organization of the economic profession and of economists’ self-perception of the scope of their activities – as illustrated by Fisher.

Moreover, it has to do with the degree of visibility of the economic features of the pandemic around the end of the war (as illustrated by Persons) and with the absence of nation-wide government policies to fight the pandemic, such as lockdowns. Because of the war censorship and timing, the episode was poorly covered by newspapers, especially in Great Britain and other European belligerent countries, which contributed to the fact that the Spanish Influenza
was “largely forgotten” (The Economist 2020a).

The decision by governments to “bury the human toil of the disease in the collective memory of World War I” was another contributing factor (ibid.). This is well illustrated by the Carnegie Endowment’s 208 volumes on the Economic and Social History of the World War, published in the mid 1920s, which devoted only a few pages to the “grippe” and then primarily as a medical or statistical phenomenon (e.g. by Mortara 1925)

As put by Spinney (2017, 8), the Spanish Flu existed for a long time as little more than a footnote to the massive event represented by World War I. For epidemiologists, however, the Spanish Flu served as a call to arms, and it was in the aftermath of the flu pandemic that Kermack and McKendrick (1927) put forward the SIR epidemiological model, extensively deployed by economists and other professionals in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the relation between economists and epidemiologists remains “testy” (The Economist 2020b), it is clear that nowadays studying the effects of a pandemic has
become a priority for both.

Economists miss created no memory whatsoever on the pandemic and its economic impact. The price is being paid dearly now by the profession..

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