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Forgive Us Our Debts!

By Fr. Pat Cunningham

Covid-19 has been the trigger for a dramatic downturn in an already stuttering global economy with many economists suggesting we are headed not only for recession but a ‘greater depression’. What is one person’s recession is another person’s depression especially when it hits my home, my finances, and results in the loss of employment. While handling the inconvenience of wearing a mask and the feeling of isolation due to social distancing, I’m also conscious of the opportunity to take stock of the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on my locality and the increasing number of small restaurants and businesses that have been shuttered as a result of the pandemic.

Columban Fr. Pat Cunningham
Columban Fr. Pat Cunningham

The owner of my favorite restaurant, which is hanging on by its fingernails, told me that customers have been dining in ones or twos nowadays whereas before it was groups of workers who would lunch together. One can easily pick up her concerns about the future of her business. Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, the media was full of stories about the slowdown in the real economy and domestic debt rates which had reached alarmingly high levels, with South Korea ranking 2nd in the world for debt to GDP ratio.

Every cloud indeed has a silver lining. This is very true when one considers how the prolonged suspension of industrial activity has allowed people to breathe clean air once again even if it meant the inconvenience of wearing a mask. It has also allowed the luxury of rambling downtown near Gwangwhamun and observing the amazing panoramic views of the Blue House in the distance, hitherto under a constant pall of smog.

My selfish side would like the shutdown to continue for a while longer to enable ease of breathing clean, pure air without the pollution and acrid smog – there was also the added advantage of not having to face throngs of people on the subway as many were working remotely from home. However, my more generous side would like things to get back to ‘ a new normal’, to have workers return to stable and secure employment and spend money in the local economy and support the likes of my friendly restaurant owner once again. Debt overload for many which had previously left consumers with little leeway has been exacerbated by Covid-19. Let’s hope emergency funding, available to the citizenry, will give some breathing room to businesses and people alike.

Maybe it’s time to make previously unthinkable solutions thinkable …"

I am concerned about the increasing levels of youth unemployment in a society where young people carry large debt burdens. Would a debt write down enable young people to get a fresh start and have that burden lifted from their shoulders? We were brought up with the moral framework that everyone should pay their debts; however, the time may be here to acknowledge that most debts that people and governments incur will never be paid. This pandemic with its horrendous economic impact has increased that burden for many. Maybe it’s time to make previously unthinkable solutions thinkable and call for a debt jubilee. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us’ may be the best way out for a world sinking deeper into debt. I believe this solution would help free up individuals and economies alike.

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Columban logoThe Columbans are a society of missionaries, including priests and lay people, who minister to people of various cultures as a way of witnessing to the universal love of God.

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