Pandemic Needs a Jubilee Response
The global pandemic makes new demands on society as a whole, including the economy. In the struggle with this seemingly implacable virus, business needs realignment, reorientation.
Maximising profit in our grim situation, which some have likened to the Second World War in gravity, is not a valid objective in the short term, and business needs to look at practical ways of helping the world at risk. In situations of war, the economy focuses on armaments; in context of a global pandemic, effort needs to be redirected to defeating the silent killer.
Jubilee theology, as commanded by God in the Book of Leviticus, was intended to remedy the excesses of the economy which placed many in situations of permanent financial servitude. It did not involve “pushing the reset button” and cancelling all debt, but people were allowed to return to their ancestral property.
There were set formulae for selling property in terms of these divine directives, so God did not abolish the entire market system. Interest could not be charged on certain loans.
The whole Jubilee Year (every 50th year) was designed to correct the excesses of the market system, a check against humanity’s natural instinct to acquire, to hoard, to get richer.
The Bible has much to say about that! It was also a recognition that land, labour and capital originate from God, and we are stewards of creation, not absolute owners.
This Jubilee dispensation was observed for centuries. Surrendering assets, properties and goods is not, therefore, a socialist intrusion, but an inherently religious solution to the world crisis.
God did command humankind to “subdue” the earth, and to be masters of the world’s resources, so I adamantly maintain that work is a holy activity, willed upon us by God, not as a punishment, but as a participation in the ongoing work of creation, of finishing of an unfinished world, of ensuring that everyone has a dignified living.
The command to Adam and Eve to work came before the Fall. Work was always God’s agenda for humanity. The fact that it is characterised by tensions and hardships is because of the Fall.
Now is the time to give back
Restrictions on human mobility are in tension with the need to keep businesses running, to pay salaries, to settle accounts, to keep up the cashflows, to provide essential services and products.
Business has the acumen to know what can and cannot be done in the complex, interrelated world of economics. A sacrifice is called for, especially by companies that have ample reserves.
Many of the larger businesses in South Africa have benefited substantially from the availability of the cheap labour of peoples unfamiliar with the world of mining and industry.
Now is the time to give back, to reciprocate for the substantial benefits enjoyed over the past century, built up by entrepreneurs with a tradition of business, of mercantile flair, and assisted ably by those to whom industry was a new experience, and were coerced into the cash economy by the demands of state-imposed taxes and loss of farms.
The government has announced a special R500 billion package to assist those people who lack basic goods. I am confident that big business can make even more substantial contributions to our ailing country. We need to remember that even before the pandemic, many South Africans did not have the resources to simply live a reasonably dignified life.
May the business world respond with ingenuity and generosity, and keep the larger picture in mind, and move to assisting all to lead dignified lives.
We pray that the many Eucharists and prayers celebrated throughout South Africa will provide a spiritual energy for leaders to redress our country’s key socio-economic issues.
Life was difficult for too many people in our country, it has just become even more difficult. I am confident that business has the imagination to implement solutions, to allow the Spirit of the Risen Christ to enter the marketplace, where he always belonged.