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Rich and poor. A vision for the future of the economy.

Pope Paul VI, in his 1967 encyclical letter, Populorum progressio, noted that real progress must be human and that Christ shows us what it means to be human. Recently, Pope Benedict issued an encyclical letter, Caritas in veritate (Charity in truth), that praises Pope Paul’s teaching about the role of the church in promoting integral human development and that such development must involve the whole person.

Pope Benedict, however, sees that the current financial crisis presents “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future” (#21). Today sees a growth in the inequalities between the rich and the poor; in the globalization and integration of the world economy; in the world competitiveness that leads to a lessening of many social safety nets, especially for laborers and those seeking work; in the mixing of cultures – often with a loss of smaller cultures (what some call cultural imperialism); and in threats to the human person (food, water, respect for life and openness to life, religious freedom). These challenges demand solutions. Human reason, within the context of a “civilization of love” – that is, truth and charity in a close relationship – will help us respond to our times.

First, we must recognize that we do not create ourselves. Rather, all is a gift from God. This awareness counters selfishness and leads us to value fraternity in all that we do. John Paul II often spoke of solidarity – “a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone” (#38) as the basis for any really human economic system. Hence all our decisions should be for the common good, not just my good. One trouble today is that the international capital market is so anonymous that businesses rarely have a sense of social responsibility. Individuals, however, run businesses and need to be attentive to all the stakeholders affected by the business. All economic decisions have a moral significance.

In this light, we should not just throw up our hands in the face of globalization, but rather commit ourselves “to promote a person-based and community-oriented cultural process of world-wide integration that is open to transcendence ... to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods” (#42).

One of the main reasons for why this will be difficult, states Pope Benedict, is our overemphasis on rights and our under-emphasis on duties. He calls for society to support the centrality of the family and the treasure that openness to life is. Business must be guided by ethics in addition to the need for profit, and the human person (every human person) must always be at the center of all real development. This applies to international cooperation, care for the environment and responsible energy policies.

The Holy Father reminds us that “the development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family” (#53). God is the only foundation for such a truth. Thus there needs to be a place in the public arena for God, where faith and reason can relate to one another. This God-given familial relationship (not something we create or just talk about) means that individuals and groups really can accomplish things on their own (principle of subsidiarity) as an expression of human freedom and responsibility and solidarity. Subsidiarity always acts to limit tendencies toward a totalitarian state.

Then, the pope calls for programs and financial systems that create wealth for all and not just for some; that enable greater access to education; that respect the rights of immigrants; that promote the dignity of human work. He also does not let shoppers off the hook: “the consumer has a specific social responsibility” because all our acts are moral acts (#66). He urges reform of the United Nations and of international financial institutions, giving them greater authority so as to advance “authentic human development inspired by the values of charity in truth” (#67).

Finally, Pope Benedict sees a proper role for technology, not merely learning HOW to do things, but asking WHY we do things. Just because we can do something, does not mean we should; both the goal we seek (ends) and the means to get there must be moral.

“Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good” (#71). “Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is” (#78). “Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us” (#79).