The Pope's New Broadside on Globalization, the Crisis and Everything

One of the more unusual curtain raiser documents for the G8 summit last week was ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (Charity in Truth), the latest encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI. NGOs and development wonks tend to ignore these kinds of documents, but research shows that churches matter far more in the lives of poor people than NGOs do, so it’s worth paying attention to important position statements from the different faiths. For the Roman Catholic Church, they don’t come more important than encyclicals. This one has the usual odd (to the secular eye) blend of economics, workers’ rights, spirituality and reproductive rights (or denial of them) (see the Economist for a good overall analysis). Herehere are some highly selective quotes from the 47 page document (paragraph numbers in square brackets, italics in the original, subheads mine rather than the Pope’s).

Inequality and Injustice
The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “superdevelopment” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. “The scandal of glaring inequalities” continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries….On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development. [22]

Grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution. [36]

Globalization and the Race to the Bottom
The market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State…. cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers’ associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers…. uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage.  [25]

The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; if badly directed, however, they can lead to an increase in poverty and inequality, and could even trigger a global crisis. [42]

Food and Agriculture
The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed within a long-term perspective, eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries. This can be done by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level, while guaranteeing their sustainability over the long term as well. All this needs to be accomplished with the involvement of local communities… It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination. [27]

Labour Rights
The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner, and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone….  Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development. [32]

Role of the State
The integrated economy of the present day does not make the role of States redundant, but rather it commits governments to greater collaboration with one another. Both wisdom and prudence suggest not being too precipitous in declaring the demise of the State. In terms of the resolution of the current crisis, the State’s role seems destined to grow, as it regains many of its competences. In some nations, moreover, the construction or reconstruction of the State remains a key factor in their development. The focus of international aid, within a solidarity-based plan to resolve today’s economic problems, should rather be on consolidating constitutional, juridical and administrative systems in countries that do not yet fully enjoy these goods. Alongside economic aid, there needs to be aid directed towards reinforcing the guarantees proper to the State of law: a system of public order and effective imprisonment that respects human rights, truly democratic institutions. [41]

Reforming Aid
It is to be hoped that all international agencies and non-governmental organizations will commit themselves to complete transparency, informing donors and the public of the percentage of their income allocated to programmes of cooperation, the actual content of those programmes and, finally, the detailed expenditure of the institution itself. [47]

In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all. …more economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid….One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State. [60]

Climate Change
There is a pressing moral need for renewed solidarity, especially in relationships between developing countries and those that are highly industrialized. The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens. It should be added that at present it is possible to achieve improved energy efficiency while at the same time encouraging research into alternative forms of energy. What is also needed, though, is a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them. [49]

Strengthening the UN
In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect, and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. [67]

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Comments

2 Responses to “The Pope's New Broadside on Globalization, the Crisis and Everything”
  1. Tomás

    I’m certainly amazed to read from you something that I have long suspected: that religious institutions are often more important in terms of social work than NGOs or other institutions. It always seemed common sense for me, especially in the case of my own country, Argentina. They’ve been around longer, and their presence all across the nation can only be paralleled by that of Quilmes beer. I believe that any positive work that truly benefits people is worth it, whether it is delivered by a non-religious, catholic, Jewish or whatever organization.

  2. I appreciate your giving so much space to Pope Benedict’s latest work, which I admit I haven’t finished reading yet!

    That said, I wanted to speak up right away to point out that some NGOs–such as Catholic Relief Services–don’t ignore encyclicals or other Church teaching. Indeed, as the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, the CRS is motivated by the example of Jesus Christ to assist the poor and suffering in more than 100 countries on the basis of need, without regarding to race, religion, or nationality.

    The CRS program I work for–Fair Trade–quite specifically turns to Catholic social teaching to inform our efforts. For example, the call to “promote the common good” aligns quite nicely with Fair Trade principles related to supporting community-based associations and cooperatives. Indeed, some of us in the Fair Trade movement trace its development origins in the work of faith-based groups such as the Mennonite church. We very much look to official teaching and programming to help make development impacts.

    Jackie

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