“The Covid-19 crisis has exposed our economic idols”

Economists Amable Morales and Jorge Saguar say churches should adapt their budgets to respond to the urgent priorities. The coronavirus “should make us think about the insecurity of the future”.

Jonatán Soriano

  · Translated by Jason Noble

18 MAY 2020 · 11:41 CET

Christian economists and business analysts agree that this crisis also calls for rethinking our lifestyles. / Alexandru Tugui (Unsplash CC0),
Christian economists and business analysts agree that this crisis also calls for rethinking our lifestyles. / Alexandru Tugui (Unsplash CC0)

After the impact that the Covid-19 epidemic has generated in the area of health, the economy has been the focus of political speeches and the efforts of international institutions.

Forecasts, planning and advice in the economic sphere and in the context of the crisis caused by the spread of the virus have often been accompanied by words of encouragement. “All countries need to work together to protect people and limit economic damage. This is a time for solidarity", said the president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva.

But the progress of the solidarity to which Georgieva appeals is pending negotiation. Negotiating, for example, if the international community will be willing and will agree on the cancellation of the debt of African countries, and not only the temporary suspension of payments, as some of its leaders have requested this April.

Or, also, to negotiate if the injections of money by the European Union in the different economic sectors and countries will be given as subsidies or loans. European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, says that “the part of the loans must take into account that we should not create a debt spiral”.


“The virus exposed our idols”

From a Christian perspective, issues such as solidarity or debt also refer to a moral dimension, and not a purely economic one.

From this perspective, Amable Morales, economist and treasurer of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, considers that "the virus has exposed our shame. For decades we have served two idols in the western world: the first is growth, always resting on consumption that must not stop to keep the machinery oiled. And the other is profit, at the highest speed and at any price. This has led us to a globalisation where only cost reduction is important. Human, social or labour rights, the distribution of wealth in proportion to the effort involved, nor ensuring quality and sustainable public services proportional to the needs of the population are considered”, he said in an interview with Evangelical Focus.

Some countries, especially in the southern hemisphere, have asked for the cancellation of their debts./ Annie Spratt (Unsplash, CC0)

Some countries, especially in the southern hemisphere, have asked for the cancellation of their debts./ Annie Spratt (Unsplash, CC0)

Back to 2008?

For many, perhaps, the reappearance of the word ‘crisis’ on the front pages of mainstream newspapers has recalled the dramatic process that began in 2008 with the collapse of the banking system. “The 2008 crisis was not a ‘dry’ halt, like this one, so it is very difficult to make comparisons”, explains Jorge Saguar, consultant and business analyst, president of the United Bible Groups (IFES in Spain) and member of the Group of Evangelicals in Economics and Business, Tres-e. “Once a certain control of infections and deaths has been achieved, a sustained economic recovery will depend much on the ability of governments to manage the process”, says Saguar, referring to the famous ‘V’ that the IMF talks about - the graph that results from the fall and early recovery many are hoping for.

Both Morales and Saguar, agree that there is the possibility of misinterpretation of the indicators. “Quantifying the effects is an exercise in divination at this time, when no one knows with certainty either the date on which the different activities may be resumed, or the effects of the pandemic in other countries, in a globalised economy where the sneezing of certain countries brings a cold to many others”, thinks Morales.


Margin of error for all predictions

The IMF predicts that the world economy will fall by 3% in 2020, almost the same as it grew the previous year. In the case of Southern European countries such as Spain, the impact on the economy could reach a much higher 8% (but near the average in the Eurozone), and unemployment would exceed 20%.

“The truth is that the predictions can change a lot depending on how long it takes to produce the de-escalation of the confinement. Experience and good judgment when adapting to changes as the pandemic evolves will be the only guides in this situation’, said Saguar.

Morales says “the idolatry of growth and profit has increased the gap between countries”, and point out that “the absolute uncertainty of the situation, and especially the many unknowns about the return to ‘normality’, make any answer to the question of which scenario we are heading towards an exercise in divination”.

“Neither the optimistic view, which rests on the hypothesis of an early exit from the current economic slowdown, nor the rather catastrophic analysis, which assumes that the lengthening of economic confinement extends to the point of irreversibly damaging the productive fabric itself, are based on objective data”. The development of a vaccine, which according to the calculations could take months or years, would provide a shift in developments.

“The IMF, like many other national and international organisations, has been wrong many times in its forecasts. And in fact the pandemic itself is a clear demonstration of the uncertainty of future economic forecasts. Four months ago, country and global growth estimates were the 'solid' basis for negotiations on budgets, commitments and political programs in most parts of the world. And in just over 4 weeks, all those forecasts have been blown up”, Morales says.

Saguar indicates that at the end of 2019 indicators already showed that “the growth rate was decreasing markedly in some strong economies and that could have meant a period of stagnation”. But the virus was not in the plans of analysts.


The virus has confronted a whole model of life

The effect of the virus on the economy, according to Morales, is accompanied by a moral challenge. “Idolatry to growth and profit has increased the gap between rich and poor countries and has multiplied the number of millions of people who do not achieve a decent life, not even at a subsistence level, even within the so-called rich countries”, he said. “The pandemic has accelerated that which we have been fuelling for the near future. Due to this obsessive reduction in production costs, many countries have dismantled a good part of their industrial capacity, and now they are facing a lack of supplies and a response to what may happen in another corner of the planet”.

The return to commercial activity is not the same for every country. / Jorge Percival (Unsplash, CC0)

The return to commercial activity is not the same for every country. / Jorge Percival, Unsplash CC)

“This crisis should make us reflect on the fragility of our existence and the impossibility of ensuring our future, even the immediate one. As a Christian I put all my effort to plan my actions and decisions adequately and responsibly, but finally I have to rest and trust in the sovereignty of the God whom I recognise as creator and sustainer of the universe”, he emphasises.

In addition to appealing to society to reflect in a way that leads to “honest conclusions”, Morales adds that “we should reflect and decide on the public management model that we want, to correct the evident deficiencies and weaknesses with which the models of the last decades have left us to face this crisis. We now know where the model of the idolising growth and profit leads us. And although it might seem that all this is only applicable to our politicians, let’s remember that in democratic countries it is our votes that finally grant people the management of public resources and objectives. The Europe that was born and strengthened under Christian values ​​has spent years walking away from these principles, and personally I believe that much of what we are reaping is the result of that neglect and denial”.

In this sense, the last World Economic Forum in Davos has already made an express recognition, at least by the organisation, of the need to reinvent the economic system so that companies make joint efforts “with other stakeholders to improve the state of the world”. For this, says Saguar, you have to act with “foresight, generosity and instruction”. “Now the intervention of central banks is necessary, providing liquidity to states and companies so that they can meet current expenses”.


The crisis and the responsibility of the churches

Saguar calls on churches to “make a budget of priority spending, striving to meet the needs, taking care of people first, and appealing to the increase of generosity among the members of the church”.

“Although most of the churches are used to handling very austere budgets, it is important to encourage the believers to think first of the Lord's workers and of the neediest brethren, whom the stalled economy has caught in a bad situation”, says Saguar.

Saguar, who works as a consultant and business analyst, advocates the creation of mechanisms such as common funds among churches that respond to the most pressing needs of both the community and their neighbourhoods. “This may be a good time for the churches of each city or autonomous community to come together to create funds for practical communion and social aid. Not only local churches will go through different needs, depending on the neighbourhoods or populations they are in. Some neighbours who have been witnessing for many years, will also go through hardships and situations that require help”.

Morales calls on the churches to reflect at the societal level and ensure that they “remember what the purpose of their ministry is and the priorities in the use of their offerings”. “Help the needy, the support of the workers and missionaries and the support to the spread of the Gospel”, he pointed out.

It is time, Morales says, that “many churches have to rethink the importance that we have given to our buildings and places of worship, with huge investments and debts that could now limit these three preferred objectives".

Both Morales and Saguar agree that churches must ensure that the economic planning is accompanied by a practical message that impacts people's lives. For this reason, Morales stated, the Christian message “is the same for all people in all circumstances: to make everyone understand that 'it is better to trust God than to trust man’. This crisis brings to the church a new way of manifesting mercy towards people charged with fear, insecurity, pain and needs, to lead them to contemplate the person and work of Christ", he says.

Evangelical entities like Remar have responded to the crisis providing food. / Remar SOS

Evangelical entities like Remar have responded to the crisis providing food. / Remar SOS

Part of this action can already be done through prayer, says Saguar, "not only to intercede for those who suffer and will suffer the effects of this pandemic, but for the type of society we are with or without a pandemic, with a crisis of values, the rise of postmodern nihilism, individualism and exploitation or the implications for the health of the environment”.

Saguar concludes: “We must cry out to God for our society, actively participate and serve with our professions and trades, be present in economic activity in a just, excellent and generous way. We should be an example of justice that combats inequality, excellence that promotes progress and generosity that invests in giving”.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - life & tech - “The Covid-19 crisis has exposed our economic idols”

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