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Reform Magazine | September 28, 2020

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A good question: What has the pandemic taught us?

A good question: What has the pandemic taught us?

One question, four answers

JOHN ELLIS
‘The economy can serve a greater vision’

Asked to view this question from an economic angle, I would say it has provided a dark and brutal case study to highlight things we should always have known but often forget.

The first lesson is that when the will exists, we have the technical capacity to control, and hence reshape radically, the economy. The idea that the economy is a relentless machine before which all we can do is bow down and worship is a dangerous and debilitating heresy. Treating consistency as a primary virtue in a politician is also often unhelpful. The economist Keynes (with plenty of Congregational blood from his mother) said that when the facts changed, he changed his mind. However ghastly the case study, Covid-19 teaches us the fundamentally hopeful truth that the economy can be a tool to serve a greater vision, not a roadblock that stymies it.

The new Covid-19 economics has resulted in objectives being achieved: new hospital capacity funded and built; new ventilators designed and produced. But after the first item on the news bulletins we have been taught about some other consequences: the family business destroyed overnight by lockdown; the mental health impacts of new lifestyles. The difficult questions in ethics revolve around the clash between more than one good principle. Protecting physical health has moved top of the list, yet, for human beings made in the image of God, other factors count…

John Ellis is outgoing Treasurer of the Council for World Mission and former Business Ethics Adviser to the Governor of the Bank of England

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JULIUS MBATIA
‘We are interconnected’

There has been much written about the positive environmental side effects of the coronavirus lockdown: cleaner air, carbon pollution slowing, nature thriving and even dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice. Sadly, these gains are likely to only be temporary if we do not change our ways. In some places, we’re already seeing emissions returning to pre-lockdown levels.

But we hang on to the hope that we can apply the lessons of the coronavirus to the climate crisis. Coronavirus has taught us that we live in an interconnected world. A virus which began in a Chinese city affected the whole planet within weeks. In the same way, carbon emissions generated by the rich, polluting nations of the global north contribute to droughts, storms and floods in Africa and other parts of the global south. In the same way, the threat of the coronavirus will only be gone once it’s eradicated everywhere. Climate change is a global problem requiring us all to do our fair share.

The Bank of England Governor, Andrew Bailey, said in a recent article calling for a green economic recovery: You can’t self-isolate from climate change. This, rather than the short-lived emissions drop, is truly how the coronavirus could positively impact the environment…

Julius Mbatia is Climate Change and Governance Project Officer for Christian Aid Kenya

CHINE MCDONALD
‘Coronavirus showed us society is far from equal’

What we’re learning from this pandemic is that some people’s lives matter more than others, and perhaps black lives don’t matter after all. Across the Atlantic, we saw the brutal killing of George Floyd as a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes 46 seconds. We looked to the US and couldn’t believe that black people could be treated in this way. Hadn’t we moved on from this? However, closer to home we saw that when it came to Covid-19, black and minority ethnic people in the UK were disproportionately dying from the virus. Is coronavirus racist? No, but what this showed us was that our society is far from equal and the virus capitalised on that inequality.

A draft report by Public Health England showed that those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities were more likely to contract and die from the virus than white people, because of social and economic inequalities, discrimination and stigma, racism and those groups being more likely to suffer from conditions obesity, diabetes, asthma and hypertension for a variety of reasons linked to inequality. …

Chine McDonald is a writer and broadcaster. Her book God is Not a White Man and Other Revelations will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2021

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SAM BUTLER-SLOSS
‘We need a revolution in economic thinking’

This is likely to be the most pronounced social and economic upheaval of my generation, in both reach and uncertainty as to what comes next. We have already seen just how ugly and unfair our current economic model is. The virus and its social consequences have been deeply biased towards the most vulnerable in society. We are far from being ‘all in the same boat’, as some politicians and commentators have made out. The effects of the virus are not uniform. Risks are not being shared. But this is not new: time and time again, the vulnerable lie at the hard end of the storms this country has to weather. While Covid-19 has exacerbated and intensified the inequalities of our system, they were pre-existing. There were ample examples before this of just how unhealthy our pre-Covid economy was.

The question many people are now asking is: How does the economy recover? But in asking this, we are often dodging the far more important question: what does a recovery mean? In economics, it tends to mean returning to the pre-crisis economic conditions, whereas, in medicine, it means returning to good health. In the context of widening inequality and environmental breakdown, these two definitions are worlds apart. The challenge is to adopt the second definition, but only time will tell whether we have learnt what is necessary for us to do so…

Sam Butler-Sloss is youth lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland, a charity and movement campaigning for humanity-led economics

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These are extracts from an article published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform

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