COVID, Russia/Ukraine, recession…does the Bible have a say?

Over the past three years i.e. since 2020, the world has faced two epic shocks that no one predicted – the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, and the Russia/Ukraine crisis in early 2022. In this note, I look at some of the important mega trends that these shocks have accelerated. Specifically, I highlight how these shocks seem to affect almost all countries in similar ways, leading to similar responses. Also, how these shocks are driving more cohesion by world leaders and peoples in how they deal with what they consider to be a shared problem. What is really happening? What could it imply for your money? And does the Bible have anything to say about all this?

COVID-19

This was a pandemic. It affected all countries around the world. None was spared. All countries had infections and deaths, albeit to different degrees. At the time of writing, Google reports 613mn cases and 6.5mn worldwide deaths. To curb the pandemic, countries responded in strikingly similar ways, some of which I summarise below:

  • Closed borders
  • New travel restrictions
  • Vaccine requirements
  • Working from home
  • Banks suspended interest payments and restructured many loans
  • Social payments to consumers and businesses, particularly in wealthy countries
  • Central banks printed huge amounts of money to help prevent their economies from facing a terrible recession (for example, the US Fed more than doubled its balance sheet from c. $4trn to c. $8trn in early 2020 to stave off the potentially damning economic effects of COVID on the US economy – see diagram below.
The US Fed doubled its balance sheet in 2020 due to COVID, printing more cash than it ever has in any period in its history

Due to these changes in human, business, and economic behaviours, a number of developments quickly took root, such as significant technology reliance and adoption world-over, facilitating working from home, home education, e-commerce, social commerce, digital banking (cashless economy), agency banking, video communication, social media adoption, meme stock trading (perhaps in the absence of sports to fuel typical betting behaviours), online gaming etc.

But COVID had led to some rather drastic changes in the economic equation and balance. Big shocks (positive and negative) to consumer demand led to big changes in business behaviours. For example, the sharp increase in reliance on technology led to an unanticipated rise in demand for semi-conductors and resultantly production and supply delays. Also, the closure of national borders and stricter travel requirements led to massive idling of airplanes, hotels and other industries and countries reliant on tourism and travel. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

But a year after COVID, as consumers returned to a normalised life, after having been locked away at home for so long, this led to sharp jumps in demand which businesses, suppliers and service companies struggled to meet. This ultimately led to supply chain problems all around the world, causing logistics companies to hike their prices, which started to feed the inflation monster. Many companies also struggled to find enough employees to fill available jobs so they had to pay up. These factors, plus the jump in aggregate demand around the world at the same time, partly fuelled by consumers’ excess savings during COVID, further fuelled the inflation monster. Let’s not forget the underlying pressure from decades of money printing (quantitative easing) evinced in the chart above.

Russia/Ukraine shock

In what was a shock to the world, on 24 February 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine. This led to commodity supply shocks, ranging from food supplies to oil, gas, minerals etc. These supply shocks were so acute because both countries are some of the largest producers and suppliers of many commodities to the rest of the world. Naturally, the loss of these large suppliers meant that some other countries benefited from the rapid rise in prices of those commodities. For example, Middle Eastern countries benefited from the sharp rise in oil prices, while Latin American countries benefited from the rise in oil and food prices etc. But for most countries around the world, this accelerated the inflation pressure that was already rearing its head. With many countries facing inflation, they were all threatened with risks of reduced aggregate demand and consumer spending, rising poverty levels, weaker business cycles, lower GDP growth, and potentially higher unemployment levels – dampening the economic outlook a la Sri Lanka, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria etc.

As countries world-over face these problems at the same time (albeit to varying degrees), they’re having to tackle it at the same time. Central banks have needed to raise interest rates (and some implemented quantitative tightening) to tackle inflation and defend their currencies. The US in particular has led from the front, in fear of repeating its policy mistakes of the 70-80s. The result has been that as interest rates rise relatively quicker in the US than the rest of the world and capital flows back into US assets, the dollar has been strengthening while the currencies of many countries around the world have been weakening.

The US Dollar has been strengthening against many currencies around the world i.e. many currencies have been depreciating against the Dollar. To illustrate: the above chart shows the GBP is 15% weaker vs the USD over the past year. So, for a dollar-priced product (say a laptop) that you bought with GBP last year that cost you GBP1,000, assuming that laptop’s dollar price hasn’t changed, but because the GBP is now 15% weaker vs the dollar, that means you’ll now need an extra GBP150 to make up the GBP1,150 that you now need today to buy the same laptop.

Taking a step back

The 9/11 attacks led to significant tightening of government oversight and enforcement of know-your-customer (KYC) and other monitoring protocols around the world, including in the financial system. The 2007/8 global financial crisis led to a global recession that required money printing of epic proportions by central banks, which pulled global interest rates to their lowest levels in centuries (even negative in places). Low interest rates for longer and all that excess liquidity:

  • inflated the value of financial assets,
  • fuelled animal spirits and tremendous risk taking,
  • led to significant liquidity capture by private capital vehicles (private equity, private credit, venture capital),
  • high levels of leverage (debt) by consumers and businesses, and
  • low levels of trust in fiat (i.e. national currencies), leading to the birth of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
  • Finally, inequality levels between the richest and the poorest are at their highest ever levels. According to Oxfam, “Billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At $5trn, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began. The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700bn to $1.5trn — at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3bn a day — during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99% of humanity fall and over 160mn more people forced into poverty.” [NB: Isaiah 5:8-10 warns against the hoarding of real estate assets to such an extent that the poor have nowhere to live. James 5:1-6 warns against the accumulation of corrupt wealth and its associated woes in these last days. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 has positive advice on what the rich should do with their wealth.]

We’ve now faced two shocks of epic proportions that threaten to stop the music, with inflation being the hydra-headed monster that needs to be caged.

Now, bringing it all together – what’s next?

Basically, the last 2-3 years have forced the world closer in more ways than ever before, in that many countries faced similar problems that required similar solutions. Additionally, post the COVID shocks, when you consider responses to the Russia/Ukraine shock, you find that the world is now in a place where it easier reaches common agreement on what it considers to be a common problem.

Coming into 2022, no one foresaw that we’ll be where we are today. Still, no one knows with certainty what comes next. Maybe inflation remains so troublesome that central banks will need to raise rates by so much that they force a global recession? But how long will it take? When they feel inflation is sufficiently tackled, what will they need to do to drive growth once again? Will they print money again or start to lower interest rates? If so, what happens to the value of our cash and investments? Should we be investing in financial assets (stocks, bonds etc.) as interest rates rise and asset values fall, so that we benefit from the rising tide when the cycle turns? Since we don’t know how long it will take, do we have the waiting power? If you live in a developing country, should you be saving as much as you can in dollars? Will there be so much economic pain that it leads to social unrest, authoritarian leaders and more nationalism? Is some other global shock lurking around the corner that no one even forsees? There’s so much to unpack.

Does the Bible have anything to say about these developments, and what could they mean for the Christian?

The Bible tells us that in these last days, for their faith in God, the saints will be persecuted by all nations (Matthew 24:9). Basically, those who keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus will be commonly seen by the world as a problem (Revelation 14:12). It happened during the dark ages and it will happen again. Basically, there needs to be a cohesion of minds, a coming together of the world in how it reacts to what it considers to be a common problem. I believe that the twin shocks of COVID-19 and Russia/Ukraine and the resultant reactions to them are possibly just a prelude i.e. driving a cohesion of minds around the world, accelerating end time events unto the final day.

The Bible also tells us in Revelation 13:16-17 that in these last days, people around the world will be forced to receive the mark of the beast and that whoever does not receive it will not be able to buy or sell. Looking at the events of the last few years, what I see at play is the setting up of conditions for an enforcement of this nature, when God determines that the time is due. The mental cohesion of global leaders and peoples continues to strengthen. Technology (and the drive towards a cashless society and digital adoption, including digital currencies – CBDCs) will also play a central role in helping to prevent buying/selling (like we’ve seen in the cut-off of Russia from the global financial machinery for example), and facilitate the tracking of people at a local/global level. I mean think about it – how else could this happen without technology? 🤔 Governments and technology companies now have significantly more data on all of us than at any time in the world’s history. It is therefore not a stretch of imagination to say that this is by no means a coincidence.

So, while we continue to watch these mega trends play out on a grand scale, we are strongly cautioned by God to be sober and vigilant because the devil, our adversary, is working masterly like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). There are other factors at play worth watching which are clear end-time indicators in the Bible, including global warming, climate change, natural disasters, moral depravity etc. Read Matthew 24, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3, and Romans 1:18-32.

In fact, it is even more pertinent to be watchful now because the Bible tells us that these last day prophecies will be playing out in the very front of our eyes but we may miss them because they would look like the normal course of everyday events! Luke 17:26-30 tells us very clearly:

26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

So, take heart and have peace, Jesus Christ has overcome the world so that we too might overcome and live with Him eternally (John 16:33). He has given us all that we need (through the Bible and the Holy Spirit) to live a godly and righteous life, so that we can escape the world’s corruption caused by evil human desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4).

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