My concern is from the perspective of diaconal care – to ensure that governments take the right decisions regarding priorities over tax and spending. The poorest and weakest must not become the ones who have to pay the price.
Many national governments have incurred enormous additional expenditure, such as for employment protection schemes, whilst simultaneously being hit by lower tax revenues. Macroeconomic policy has become dependent on low interest rates to service very high levels of debt. How long can and will interest rates remain so low? Whilst such borrowing is comparatively feasible due to historically low interest rates, any increase in interest rates may cripple the ability of governments to service such debts whilst at the same time maintaining public services such as state pensions, social security, educational provision, healthcare and social care services. Infrastructure projects may well be delayed or cancelled. All this could lead to increased unemployment, unrest, political instability and tensions in the coming years, as previously witnessed in countries such as Argentina when the levels of governmental debt became unmanageable. If coupled with economic recession, the consequential levels of unemployment and migratory pressures may become huge.
Likewise, if governments argue that initiatives to tackle climate change need to be postponed due to financial shortcomings then the long-term consequences for the global ecosystem may be catastrophic.
It is notable that the British Government has already cut its overseas aid and development budget, with direct and very negative consequences for millions of people in the world’s poorest countries. Spending on development work also includes spending on education, health and promotion of gender justice – so the impact of cuts can be devastating for individuals.
Rivalry between superpowers, migratory pressures as the world’s population continues to increase, environmental degradation and the poverty that afflicts the world’s poorest one billion people are enormous challenges for this decade. The aftermath of COVID-19, both in terms of human loss and economic consequences, will add considerably to these challenges.
As China has emerged as a global economic superpower also comes the question of responsibility. Many African states owe large debts to China. The Chinese acquisition of the port of Mombasa for inability to repay debt graphically illustrates the challenge.
We have learned much from the pandemic, but let us not also forget the lessons from history. The economic crash of 1929 led to mass unemployment in many countries, with devastating consequences for many people. The resulting economic recession also led to political turbulence and growth in extremism, not least the coming to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933.
As Christians, we cannot be naïve or indifferent to the impact of economic and fiscal policies and their consequences, because of their effect on real people. If and when painful decisions on government spending have to be taken, we must advocate to ensure that the poor are protected. This is could be an historic opportunity to cut military spending and ensure greater fairness in taxation, not for the poor to bear the burden.