December 11, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: Economic globalization

John F. Fink(Third in a series of columns)

When he starts writing about human development in our time in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI starts with the concept of profit.

“Profit” is not a dirty word, and the pope says that it “is useful if it serves as a means toward an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it.”

It is only when profit becomes an end in itself, or when it is produced by improper means and without considering the common good that it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty, the pope says. Profit that produced real growth, he says, “has lifted billions of people out of misery.”

However, he continues, there are many malfunctions and dramatic problems. Chief among them is the fact that, although the world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, “the scandal of glaring inequalities” not only continues, but is on the increase. Furthermore, most of that is happening in rich countries, far too often because of corruption and illegality.

The principal new feature of the economy, Pope Benedict notes, has been the explosion of worldwide inter-dependence, commonly known as

globalization. By its very nature, it has spread to include economies throughout the world and has been the driving force behind the emergence from

underdevelopment of whole regions, and the pope says that “in itself it represents a great opportunity.”

However, he says, globalization needs the guidance of charity in truth because otherwise it can cause damage and create new divisions within the human family.

Thus, the pope faults large multinational companies for failing to protect the rights of workers. One way they are doing that is the now-common practice of outsourcing production to areas where they can pay workers less.

This practice has the benefit of reducing the prices of many goods and accelerating the rate of development in poor areas. However, it also has led to the downsizing of Social Security systems with grave danger for the rights of workers whose work is taken away. Therefore, the pope calls for promotion of workers’ unions powerful enough to defend their rights.

Globalization is also responsible for a greater mobility on the part of workers. This, the pope says, has positive aspects because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange. However, it can also create difficulties when mobile workers plan their lives, including marriages.

When considering outsourcing, he says, companies must think of more than shareholders. They must consider all stakeholders—the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society. Management has a social responsibility for all those who contribute to the life of the business.

Greater mobility also means greater interaction among cultures, and the pope pointed out two possible dangers. First is what he called a cultural eclecticism, which means that cultures simply exist side by side, but remain separate with no attempt at integration. The second is the opposite, cultural leveling, the indiscriminate acceptance of all types of conduct and lifestyles. †

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