After Hurricane María, there are two things in the future of Puerto Rico in which a group of economists and demographers agree: There will be economic contraction and the population will continue to tailspin. Apparently, there is very little that can be done to avoid this scenario.

In the Pablo Casals Symphony Hall in San Juan, the fiscal control board held Thursday the first of three “listening sessions” to receive input from different experts and sectors of society ahead of its revision of the government’s fiscal plans.

On Oct. 31, the entity created by the federal Promesa law required the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to submit new drafts for the central government, the Electric Power Authority (Prepa) and the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa) on or before Dec. 22. The board expects to certify the new fiscal plans, which should contemplate the new reality after María, on or before February.

Present at the meeting were the fiscal board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko; its chairman, José Carrión; members Ana Matosantos, David Skeel and Arthur González; and the deputy director of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (Aafaf by its Spanish acronym), Alejandro Camporreale. However, the session was led by economists Andrew Wolfe and Rafael Romeu, who advise the board and the government, respectively.

During the afternoon, the board also heard presentations by mayors, politicians and representatives of the tourism, healthcare, energy, construction and retail sectors, among others.

Like a bucket of cold water, the presentation of Irish economist Amir Jina, of the University of Chicago, warned about the harsh reality faced by hundreds of jurisdictions that have experienced storms and hurricanes.

“There is no evidence of recovery to the previous level [before the storm] even up to 20 years later,” Jina said about his research. The conclusion is the same for countries regardless of size or whether rich or poor; their economies never managed to recover to the levels before the weather event.

For Wolfe, the findings of Jina’s study present “a very revealing implication…”

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