Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Model of Development and Economics

This year, on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI’s message focused in part on economics. I thought I would highlight parts of that message over the next two or three weeks. This is the second such posting. The designation of January 1 as the World Day of Peace began in 1968 under Pope Paul VI. Herewith some thoughts on the right to work. The full message is accessible here.

In order to emerge from the present financial and economic crisis—which has engendered ever greater inequalities—we need people, groups and institutions which will promote life by fostering human creativity, in order to draw from the crisis itself an opportunity for discernment and for a new economic model. The predominant model of recent decades called for seeking maximum profit and consumption, on the basis of an individualistic and selfish mindset, aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness. Yet, from another standpoint, true and lasting success is attained through the gift of ourselves, our intellectual abilities and our entrepreneurial skills, since a “livable” or truly human economic development requires the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity and the logic of gift.

Concretely, in economic activity, peacemakers are those who establish bonds of fairness and reciprocity with their colleagues, workers, clients and consumers. They engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations. Thus they work not only for themselves, but also to ensure for others a future and a dignified employment.

In the economic sector, states in particular need to articulate policies of industrial and agricultural development concerned with social progress and the growth everywhere of constitutional and democratic states. The creation of ethical structures for currency, financial and commercial markets is also fundamental and indispensable; these must be stabilized and better coordinated and controlled so as not to prove harmful to the very poor. With greater resolve than has hitherto been the case, the concern of peacemakers must also focus upon the food crisis, which is graver than the financial crisis. The issue of food security is once more central to the international political agenda, as a result of interrelated crises, including sudden shifts in the price of basic foodstuffs, irresponsible behavior by some economic actors and insufficient control on the part of governments and the international community. To face this crisis, peacemakers are called to work together in a spirit of solidarity, from the local to the international level, with the aim of enabling farmers, especially in small rural holdings, to carry out their activity in a dignified and sustainable way from the social, environmental and economic points of view.

In the lead-in to this section, the Pope emphasizes that the underlying value system must be “structured with God as the ultimate point of reference.” Therefore, obviously, we see here, implicitly, the contrast between two kinds of value systems, a utilitarian and a transcendental. The utilitarian or pragmatic may be tailored large or small. It will be tailored small if only the interests of the owners of property and means are considered. Viewing society in the whole—and time as extended beyond the next quarter or the next budget cycle—is easy if a transcendental value system is inherently felt within.

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