Updated: Jan 25
In the past year, the quote "Never let a good crisis go to waste" has been uttered many times. The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill, even though most people agree he was not the first to say these words. I suppose in the context of World War 2, it seems appropriate that the great British leader would be urging optimism and casting a vision for a brighter future. Looking back on a crisis long past, it seems wise to make the best of a bad situation by looking to rebuild stronger and better. In the present very real Covid-19 crisis however, I find myself thinking that looking too far into the future ignores the very human cost that has been brought about by this current and very real crisis. It is almost a truism to say that every disaster brings with it opportunities from having to rebuild from scratch. Although many companies and businesses will be forced into insolvency and many individuals will be left without jobs, I have no doubt, however, that resilient companies will recover and enterprising individuals find a way to learn and do things better next time.
As at the start of 2021, close to 93 million people have been infected with the virus and over 2 million people have died of the virus world-wide. Covid-19 has also seriously eroded recent gains in alleviating global poverty. The World Bank in their latest report found that “...the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the gains in global poverty for the first time in a generation. By most estimates, this reversal of fortune is expected to push between 88 million and 115 million more people into extreme poverty in 2020.". The economic cost of the crisis has been devastating as well. The International Monetary Fund estimates that for developed and emerging economies, excluding China, national output will contract by nearly 6% in 2020. For developed economies, GDP is forecasted to be -4.7% below before the pre-pandemic levels. For emerging economies, excluding China, however the loss in output will be a staggering -8.1% below 2019 levels. The challenge for the world in 2021, therefore, will be to recover loss ground and learn lessons from what has been a devastating year.
One clear economic winner in this crisis is the digital revolution. Many business people who were ambivalent about getting on the internet bandwagon are now convinced that this digital future is inevitable. All of us have experienced the efficiency of online shopping, the joys of working from home and convenience of food delivery so it seems too much to expect that we be willing to forego these conveniences once lives return to "normal". That said, even with the benefit of foresight, it is never easy for individuals to adapt and change. If you struggled to access your email before the crisis, you are unlikely to be able to perform complex banking transactions online a year later without much angst and frustration in the process.
I feel, however, that there is a saving grace amidst all these changes. The crisis has shown us that somethings will always, indelibly, stay the same. We will still need to meet colleagues physically, albeit less frequently, to share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. When we can, we will want to have friends over for dinner and to attend religious services in the company of fellow believers. There is a fundamental part of each of us, which is physical, communal and spiritual that will always only find fulfilment in the company of other people. So for those us who find the coming changes too disconcerting, take heart, there is not going to be a brave new world of automatons, the Covid-19 crisis has shown us, to quote the French proverb, the more things change the more things remain the same. For the foreseeable future at least, the core of who we are as spiritual, relational and communal beings seems to be very much intact.