I think we all foresee the coronavirus having a negative impact on our economy. But to be fair, anything more substantial than a gust of wind could have a negative impact on our economy. That’s because our economy is perpetually in the ICU, convulsing at every germ that a healthy immune system would dispatch with the efficiency of a thirsty southerner with a glass of sweet tea.
Covid-19 is basically stress testing us. And it has discovered quickly that we are not anchored deeply into sound financial practices. We are actually barely tethered to the torn corner of a paperbag that managed to get stuck under a rock. And the reason I know this is because people are excited about getting free money from the government.
Don’t get me wrong…I like free money. It’s just that I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no free money. Something tells me that wealth is actually created by hard work, commerce, savings, and a numerator and denominator that reflect more is coming in than is going out. Wealth can’t be printed down at the local government aid office. And when the guys up top find no problem with a national debt that’s got so many 0’s in it we have to borrow comma’s from China, it makes sense that their solution to any economic problem is to spend more money that we don’t have. Hey, we were never going to pay back the first trillion anyway!
And why do we tolerate this? Why do we live in isolation so that we might not burden anyone with our germs, and yet we are perfectly willing to burden our children and grandchildren with our debt? The reason we tolerate this is because we are collectively guilty of the same thing. We are up to our necks in student loans, auto loans, home loans, personal loans, furniture loans, credit card loans, etc… that we think this is a strategy for long term economic health, when it’s really more like our economy is flat-lining and the economic EMT’s are rushing in with experimental drugs, shock paddles, and aggressive radiation treatment. Cut the fed rate! Sure, it might kill the kidneys, but hopefully it will kill the cancer. Bail out the guys that are “too big to fail”! Yeah, it might damage the lungs, but at least we’ll get a few more beats out of the heart. This is not health: this is desperation.
So what I’m talking about is less the impact of the coronavirus: it’s the state of our economic immune system. And while most of us feel – rightly so – that we are small fish in a big ocean being tossed about by the whim of every current, I would remind you that even the sharks and whales can’t predict where and when the next storm will arise. The only reasonable way to live is by having some principles that will help you weather the storms.
Absolutely go support small businesses. Don’t let your favorite coffee shop go out of business! Help those who are laid off. But the broader picture here is that we need to do better for 10 years down the road. We need to be more economically healthy for the next crisis (because it will come!). How do we do that?
First, get your own house in order. Pay your bills on time and have some money in savings. Have a budget that keeps you in the black. Save up for a big purchase instead of borrowing for one. This one hurts me as much as it hurts you. But we will continue to tolerate leaders who take us deeper into debt if we have not worked hard to live without debt.
Second, give. The best thing about having your house in order is that you get to give. But you will also find that one of the steps toward getting your house in order is to become a giver. Randy Alcorn once said something like “not giving to God didn’t keep you out of debt, and not giving to God won’t help you get out of debt.” Good advice.
Third, we should strive for sound financial stewardship in our churches. Not every dollar that comes in should be predestinated toward a line in the budget. We should have liberty to give freely during times of prosperity, but not be so committed that our budget cannot handle economic downturns, pandemics, and even the loss of members.
Fourth, teach your children about money. They’re going to be voting soon.
So the government is going to give you free money. The government is going to bail out the airlines. Money shall pour forth from the fountain of government and everything will be free! Funny…I didn’t think Bernie Sanders was president yet. My bad.