Magis academicum, magis profectum



Epidemics have changed the global order throughout history. For example, the Plague epidemic was allowed the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Coronavirus, which appeared in Wuhan, China in 2019 and spread all over the world in 2020, has also affected the whole world socially, politically, and economically. However, since it is only a new case, the most devastating effect that can be seen is deepening poverty. What this study wants to emphasize is to try to explain with data how the coronavirus process deepens poverty in Turkey. 

Keywords: Coronavirus, income inequality, pandemic, poverty, Turkey.


According to official records, the coronavirus (Covid-19), which started in Wuhan, China in December 2019, was declared a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, as it spread all over the world except Antarctica. This virus was first transmitted from bat to person, and then from person to person, causing the infection and death of many people around the world. According to Johns Hopkins University data’s as of July 12, 2021, more than 185 million people worldwide have contracted Covid-19 and more than 4 million have died. (BBC Turkish, 2021). The coronavirus, which became a regional pandemic initially and then a global pandemic, has shaken the international system deeply and encouraged all states to take as urgent permanent, or temporary measures. Thus, the economic, social, and political security of the countries became debatable; notions such as ‘nation-state’ and ‘globalization’ have been questioned again. On the other hand, Turkey has been affected as well as all countries of the world by the coronavirus, which has consequences such as weakening international trade, impoverishment of peoples and increasing unemployment as a result of the deterioration of the inter-country supply chain.

The aim of this article is to examine the impoverishing effects of Covid-19 on Turkey within a historical framework, considering the social, economic, and political consequences of past epidemics; to address the Covid-19 process in Turkey from international relations and political-economic perspective.


Epidemics are about as old as humanity. Many diseases such as plague, cholera, smallpox and flu have come across as epidemics in the historical process. These epidemics affecting the states of that period continued to have an effect from the Middle East to Anatolia, from Anatolia to Europe. One of the greatest pandemics in history is the plague that occurred in the Byzantine Empire in 541-542. Plague spread through the Byzantine armies to Europe and killed tens of thousands of people. But the real destruction of the plague took place in the 14th century with killing 25 million people (1/3 of Europe). For this reason, the political, economic, and social destruction caused by epidemics is quite high. For example, the role of flowers, measles, salmonella and cattle plague in the colonization of Africa and America is enormous. In Europe, due to the population-reducing effect of the plague, the pressures of serfs against the workers increased, workers were employed in severe conditions, and therefore feudalism began to collapse when peasant uprisings broke out (Macar& Asal, 2020:224- 225).

After this process, the feodalist order was replaced by the capitalist order. Social and political processes such as renaissance and reform, as well as the so-called ‘black death’, triggered the transition to this process. According to Max Weber, a sociologist who studies the social effects of this process, the plague is not only a disease studied by microbiology but also a process that shapes its history and human behavior in the world, socio-culturally. According to Adam Smith, described as the father of liberal economists, social transformations are examined as internal and external factors. While external factors are processes such as epidemics, wars, disasters; internal factors are human psychology and human nature. According to Smith, historical writings, that do not descend into human inner impulses and emotions, are lifeless and dull. As a result, it is the emotional depth that constitutes the thoughts and opinions of the human. The most basic impulse of this feeling is wealth. But no matter how emotional impulses A. Smith is based, negative elements such as the epidemic have the same emotional basis on humans, an unsettling effect compared to other parts of the world that are not exposed. According to Marx, the founder of Communism which criticized the capitalist order, the value of labor should increase during the epidemic process, an indirect excuse was created to keep wages only in their pre-epidemic state without focusing on working days in terms of capital. However, Marx considers capitalism to be the plague of self-developed, savage decay, stating that capitalist exploitation against labor only serves the production process (Kursunoglu, 2020: 142-144).


Poverty, one of the oldest problems in the history of the world, is a concept that, according to its definition in the dictionary, includes people who do not have enough money or who do not have enough tools to sustain their lives. However, poverty cannot be fully defined, even if poverty is ‘not sufficient to meet the minimum physical needs of food, clothing, etc., which are necessary for the continuation of biological existence’ according to the definition first made by S. Raventree, in 1901. Because poverty is a concept that includes minimum living standards, preferences and expectations; and these variables vary according to the political order, economic structure and cultural codes such as tradition, customs and religion. According to another definition, poverty; in addition to financial resources such as nutrition, clothing housing and education, social and political variables and economic indicators are also prioritized. In this context, human nature has two kinds of requirements. These are biological requirements such as hunger and thirst; and social requirements such as freedom, love and respect. Poverty is divided into three types.  In ‘absolute poverty’, the most basic requirements such as calorie training and clothing are taken from the food. On an income basis, those with incomes below $1 per day are considered to be below the absolute poverty line. ‘Relative poverty’ also includes people who can basically meet their needs but fall below the overall level of well-being. In the concept of ‘human poverty’, which was introduced in 1997 under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the poverty line is established by determining both the income and consumption level of the society, and it draws attention to the lack of infrastructure such as goods, services, nutrition, education, health, energy and communication that will sustain basic human life with its human dimension. This poverty is measured by the Human Development Index (IDE). This measure of poverty was developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, in 1990, and has been presented in the annual Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme since 1993 (Arpacıoğlu & Yıldırım, 2011; Altındağ, 2019).

The Lorenz Curve shows how national income is distributed within the population. It explains this by dividing the population into slices of 20%. Another measuring tool for measuring income inequality and poverty is the gini coefficient. The gini coefficient is determined by the Lorenz Curve. The value of the gini coefficient varies between 0 and 1. In a country, when gini coefficient came closer to 1, the income inequality is increase; and when it came closer to 0, the income inequality decrease. (Caliskan, 2010: 97- 99). 

Income inequality and poverty are seen as important problems that are waiting to be solved in Turkey, like all over the world. For developing countries, such as Turkey, to reach the living standards of developed countries, initially economic resources must be shared fairly between classes and individuals. In this case, income distribution and poverty data are referenced. Its position within OECD countries is taken into account. Turkey is disadvantaged compared to developed countries in terms of income inequality and poverty. When the data belong to income distribution across the country are examined, it is observed that there has not been a complete improvement in income inequality in Turkey since the 1960s, and the governments in Turkey did not attach importance to social policies within the scope of combating income inequality and poverty, due to political instability such as coups, coalitions and internal conflicts. In particular, the first reflections of the 2008 Crisis on Turkey show that it had a negative effect in terms of income inequality and poverty (Caliskan, 2010: 89).

YearsGini IndexP80/P20
Resources: Çalışkan, Ş . (2011). TÜRKİYE’DE GELİR EŞİTSİZLİĞİ VE YOKSULLUK s. 106. ve Eğilmez, M. (2019) Türkiye’de Gelir Dağılımı, Gini Katsayısı ve Yoksulluk Oranları. 

The years in the table are explained by selecting one or two years of each decade. The Gini index in the table describes that year’s income inequality between 0 and 1. As we get closer to 1, income inequality increases. P80/P20, on the other hand, shows how many times the difference is between the income of the %20 group that receives the highest share of the income in the country and the income of the lowest %20 groups. According to these data, when we look at Turkey’s poverty and income distribution, we see a slight improvement in the gini index from 1963 to 2018 (if we do not take into account 1983). However, even a gini coefficient of 0.408 indicates that the income distribution is impaired. On the other hand, when we look at the difference between the income of the %20 who received the most share of income and the income of the lowest share of the %20 (P80/P20), it can be observed how much income injustice sometimes increased between 1963 and 1994. However, even if 2003-2018 data shows an improvement, the income gap between the two segments is high (Çalışkan, 2010: 106; Eğilmez, 2019).


China is the world’s most populous country with a population of 1.4 billion and is also the world’s second-largest economy with $13.6 trillion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This virus, which has been seen since December 2019, has devastated the Chinese economy. China grew by 6.1% in 2019 and although grew by 2.3% in 2020, making it the only country to make positive progress, this process has slowed the growth rate. China has a key role as a manufacturer in global supply chains. When China’s total exports and imports contracted by 17.2% and 4% and factories were closed, if not in an expanded form, the world supply chain deteriorated, and the world economy suffered greatly. The decrease in China’s export rate also caused a decrease in the surplus in foreign trade with the USA, reducing the surplus in foreign trade by 40% in January and February, and as a result, it decreased from 42 billion dollars to 25.4 billion dollars. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed is between 5.3 million and 24.7 million, according to the International Labour Organization. The deterioration in this employment amounts to a large loss of revenue between $860 million and $3.4 billion. The unemployment rate of 0.9% in March 2020 also corresponds to 4.4% in the United States. Countries in the Middle East have also been affected politically, economically and socially by the pandemic. Because their economies are sustained by oil; and oil prices have been reduced due to the lack of balance of supply and demand with the spread of the virus. Also, their economies have collapsed because of the American embargo on Gulf countries (Açıkgöz& Günay, 2020: 521-522; Kestel, 2020: 24).

If we look at the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic in Turkey, the poor are more affected by this crisis. Because the economy has shrunk across the country, the power to sustain their lives in line with their share of the pie has diminished. Unemployed people have applied to ISKUR, and the number of people employed through ISKUR has decreased as the open job rate taken by ISKUR from employers has decreased compared to last year (Kestel, 2020: 26). With the first official case in Turkey on March 11, 2020, it can be said that one of the areas most affected by Covid-19 is employment and work. Within the framework of measures such as isolation, quarantine and restrictions, economic life has come to a standstill. While the spread of the pandemic has negatively affected labor supply and demand in different labor markets, some workplaces have shrunk, and some have been temporarily or permanently closed. The pandemic spread and negatively affected the health of workers and caused a decrease in both labor supply and labor demand as it limited the mobility of workers. (Özkan, 2021: 99). These restrictions and the stagnation of the labor market have also slowed productivity in the market, negatively affecting the real market. When we look at real market from the perspective of growth, inflation, unemployment rate and gini index, Turkey has been negatively affected as well as all over the world. Based on growth rates in 2015 and 2020, Turkey grew at a rate of 6.1% in 2015. Although a reduction of 5.4% is expected by the EU Commission in 2020 for Turkey, the growth rate in 2020 was 1.8% (Bloomberg, 2021, Adigüzel, 2020). The inflation rate was 14.6% in 2020, up from 8.81% in 2015 (Hurriyet, 2021; Adigüzel, 2020), and the unemployment rate was 10.2% in 2015 and 15.3% in 2020 (Tuik, 2020; Adigüzel, 2020). Finally, when we look at the gini index, Turkey’s gini index in 2015 was 0.397, and in 2020 it was 0.41.  As a result, due to the decrease in labor supply and demand during the Coronavirus period, countries were not able to collect enough income, and income inequalities deepened because these incomes were not able to transfer sufficiently and properly to the poor. Even if Turkey, as a G20 country, carries out the necessary incentives, the impoverishment within the country has deepened because it is inadequate.


That coronavirus pandemic seen in China, in December 2019, has negatively affected countries socially, politically, and economically. Within this framework, many elements of the international system such as the globalization of nation-states have been questioned. On the other hand, this process, which also affects the economic wheels, has further increased the income gap in developing countries such as Turkey. What needs to be done here is to speed up the production process and increase employment by providing support to the business world of Turkey for production and employment, as well as incentives such as finding a job and giving unemployment benefits.

Prepared by İlkem Karahüseyinoğlu for The FEAS Journal.


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