As I begin this first episode of this podcast, the COVID-19 virus has been declared a pandemic for over a week now. It is the third week that I will be working from home. Luckily, I work for an employer who has the technical infrastructure to easily allow remote meetings and communications online.
A lot of people do not have that luxury. There is a general call for “social distancing,” staying at home, and limiting the exposure to other people to a minimum. But many people work jobs where there is no online option. Perhaps they work in a restaurant or a bar, teach fitness classes, or practice physical therapy. If their places of work have not been ordered to close by the government, they are simply not opening because customers are not showing up.
A lot of musicians I know have had to cancel all of their live performances. Many of these entertainers live week-to-week financially and struggle enough to get by when the gigs are a-plenty. But now it nearly impossible for most of them to make a living.
The scare of COVID-19 has made the stock markets drop. In fact 8 of the 10 largest one-day drops in the history of the Dow Jones index (actual points, not percentages) have happened in the past month. This is causing companies to go lean, perhaps letting employees go or at the very least not hiring anyone new.
People who are not working have less money to spend. This, combined both the uncertainty of the future and slow or no company growth, means that many lives and livelihoods are going to change.
I predict there is going to be a lot of emotional suffering. So many people base their own happiness on material prosperity, and it is so clear that this is out of their own hands.
Why Does It Have to Be This Way?
Don’t get me wrong, in the United States we have a good economic system. Market competition creates a supply for the demand of goods and services at competitive prices. But when it falls, so many of us fall with it. Economics and the pursuit of material goods has become disproportionately important in our lives.
Is it possible there is a better way? Not switching to a centralized socialist structure, but is there some way to temper the impact that economics has on our overall lives? Does that come from alterations in the system, or does that come from something collectively in each one of us interiorly?
The word “economy” comes from the Greek words that mean “household management” (οίκος – “household” and νέμoμαι – “manage”). And while you can’t reduce every word to its original etymological meaning, there is always an insight or a bit of truth into how to think about a word or phrase from its roots. Perhaps the solution to a constant and stable economy comes from constant and stable families in their households. As Pope John Paul II put it:
“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live. “Perth (Australia), November 30, 1986
But we do know that economics can be a great strain on marriage and a central cause of the breakup of families. A mindset that puts material wants before one’s vows and covenantal bonds is similar to the individual selfishness that succeeds in our modern economies. Spouses can sometimes see themselves in competition with each other like individual businesses.
Doesn’t A Strong Economy Protect Us In Many Ways?
Yes. Because the United States has such a strong economy we can build and pay for a military that keeps us and our families safe from foreign invaders. Although we do have people in America who hunger from a lack of food, the percentage is less than in countries where there is a smaller economy. The people living in poverty in our country have a better opportunity to get out of it than poor people in many other countries.
But this does not mean that our economic system and the systems found elsewhere in the world cannot be better. There are ways to continue to encourage competition and market success while also promoting the common good of all human beings. Could it be that people living in some future time could have an economic system that keeps people safe and fed while not being the central focus of society at large?
A Catholic Perspective
As a Catholic, I do have hope that there can be improvements to the system that can make it more humane and less drastic when there is an economic downturn.
I also think that a better system will not be the reason why people become better people. I think better, more ethical and morally conscious people will create better systems. It has to start with a desire within each one of us. In some people that desire is already there, in others the desire will be created by data to show that more ethical people are better in the long run.
There is also a spiritual side to all of this. A discussion of this type will not be welcome by some who already participate in the economic conversation, but there are spiritual elements at play here, good versus evil. This religious perspective is often ignored as anti-scientific. However, economics is not a hard science — you cannot quantify, measure, and repeat the same experiments on human activity.
People are flawed. They sin. And the allure of money and wealth can become a god. People will often substitute the desire for the one, true God for wealth, power, or honor. This is why the solution to a better economics needs to address good and evil.
In future posts I hope to address all of these topics. We will touch on history, philosophy, theology, and my own personal experience and observations. This is a serious issue, but I’ll try to have fun with it and liven it up.
I don’t know if any of this will be of use to the world at large, but I want to do my part in improving my own knowledge, and perhaps some of it will help you too. I look forward to continuing the conversation.