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"In a world of 5 billion people, the top billion hold 83 percent of the world's wealth, while the bottom billion have only 1.4 percent."

U.N. Human Development Report,1992


"Globalization is a reality present today in every area of human life, but it is an area which must be managed wisely.

Solidarity, too, must become globalized."


Pope John Paul II



  October 15, 2001

Church Social Teaching and Globalization

By Michel Camdessus

Of all the rhetoric generated on the topic of globalization, the words of Vaclav Havel address the heart of the matter. “We often hear about the need to restructure the economies of the developing or the poorer countries,” said the president of the Czech Republic. “But I deem it even more important that we should begin to also think about another restructuring—a restructuring of the entire system of values which forms the basis of our civilization today.”

Can Catholic social teaching contribute to the development of this new system of values? Given the formidable challenge of globalization, can we identify within Catholic social teaching a core set of values that “all men and women of good will” can jointly embrace in order to make sense of history and to ensure that globalization helps the poor, not just the wealthy and the powerful? I propose three key values that address three of the main issues raised by globalization.

Global Sense of Responsibility

Responsibility is a key aspect of Christian anthropology and ethics. As Havel put it, “Given this state of affairs, we have only one possibility: to search, inside ourselves as well as around us, for new sources of a sense of responsibility for the world.” These “new sources” could be:

• the responsibility of each country—large or small—for the world at large,

• the responsibility of the world community to institute an ethically rooted new development paradigm and

• the responsibility of all agents in society, not just governments, to play their part in the direction the world takes.

Because of the intricacy of globalized relationships between countries, what affects one country affects many others in the new world economy. The crisis in Thailand in 1997 and the string of subsequent catastrophes in Korea, Indonesia, Russia and Brazil clearly demonstrated that whether a country is large or small, any economic crisis can now become systemic throughout the global marketplace. Domestic economic policy must, therefore, take into account its potential worldwide impact. Every country, large or small, is responsible for the stability and quality of world growth. This adds a new dimension to the duty of every government to manage its economy with excellence.

They must discover the consequences of the two-way relationship between good monetary and financial management and reducing poverty. The International Monetary Fund surveillance has a particularly important role here. While sustained poverty reduction will not be achieved without sound macroeconomic policy, economic policy itself is not sustainable if deeply entrenched social inequality is left unaddressed. There is now a growing recognition that establishing the groundwork for participatory development toward the eradication of poverty can be a decisive factor in sustaining economic growth. The necessary popular support for lasting stabilization and reform efforts cannot be counted upon unless the whole population, including the poorest, has a say in the formulation of economic policies and benefits from them.

All this is crucial in recognizing that economic progress is strongly dependent on the basic value of responsibility: that each player is responsible for the advancement of all, for harmony in social relations at the national level and for peace internationally. This should eventually allow each country to play a greater role in the prosperity of the global economy. Catholic social doctrine teaches that each person has a duty and a responsibility to bring about this prosperity.

Nor is concern for the world community the responsibility of governments alone. Other key agents take part: corporations, financial institutions and all organizations of civil society, such as labor unions, nongovernmental organizations (N.G.O.’s), religious organizations, etc. All can play an important role in the success of the newly emerging paradigm in humanizing globalization. As far as corporations, banks and financial institutions are concerned, international finance has become mainly private, and these enterprises are now given the opportunity, and indeed the duty and responsibility, to contribute to the production of essential common goods for the public.

The last half-century has shown that public and private entities can and must be guardians and promoters of universal values. Globalization will not be humanized without their active contribution. This implies nevertheless that N.G.O.’s, which spearhead many initiatives in this domain, cannot lose sight of what has always been key to their achievements: patient and nonviolent efforts to help sensitize the public to the issues of global inequalities. Promoted in such a responsible way, a new economic development paradigm could offer a distinct opportunity to overcome “the ultimate systemic threat” of poverty.

Solidarity in Reducing Poverty

The reference made by M. A. Gurria, Mexico’s minister of finance, to the “ultimate systemic threat” echoes the remarks of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter on social concerns Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987): “Either development becomes shared in common to every part of the world, or it undergoes a process of regression, even in zones marked by constant progress.”

Considering all the positive dynamics at work in our world, the excruciatingly slow progress toward reducing poverty is all the more unacceptable. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor within nations, and the gulf between the most affluent and most impoverished nations, are morally unacceptable, economically wasteful and potentially explosive socially. We know now that it is not enough simply to “increase the size of the cake”; the way the cake is divided is deeply relevant to the dynamics of development. Moreover, if large numbers of poor are left hopeless, their poverty will undermine the fabric of our societies through confrontation, violence and civil disorder. If we are committed to the promotion of human dignity and peace, we cannot afford to ignore poverty and the risks to peace that such indifference may entail. We all must work together to relieve this human suffering: this is what solidarity means.

The tragic situation of a significant part of Africa—where at least one-third of the nations are directly or indirectly involved in military, civil or tribal conflicts—challenges any illusion that progress in the human condition can be achieved if these conflicts are not brought to an end. At least a more concerted effort should be made to reduce tensions and to prevent new ones. Skeptics and cynics aside, with the lives of so many people at stake, I have no hesitation in supporting the many proposals made to contain arms trade and military expenditures, including those by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Many other factors will have to be considered for real development to become effective. Some poor countries themselves are already showing what can be done when the ultimate objective is human development. But a program will work only if a country’s citizens want it to work—not just the government, but the people and organizations within its society. In short, success lies in national “ownership” of the policies through a participatory approach that engages civil society in a constructive dialogue. Absolutely central to the spirit of what the Bretton Woods institutions are doing now is to make sure that the country is in the driver’s seat of the process. And the rest of the world should then be ready to move promptly with the needed support in at least the following three areas.

First, rich nations should assign the highest priority to providing unrestricted market access for all exports from the poorest countries, so that these countries can begin to benefit more fully from integration into the global trading system.

Second, we should support policies that encourage the inflow of private capital, especially foreign direct investment with its twin benefits of new financing and technology transfers.

Third, we should not only promise financial contributions; we should also deliver on our promises. This goes beyond the simple provision of badly needed financing. The basic fabric of a unifying world community requires mutual trust; giving one’s word means just that.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed two paradoxes. On the one hand, while the industrial countries have happily been collecting their peace dividends, they have steadily reduced their official development assistance. This has fallen far short of the target of 0.70 percent of gross domestic product that all—with the exception of the United States—had pledged to achieve for the year 2000. At the same time, at one world conference after another they committed themselves, along with developing countries, to promote measurable and achievable human development objectives. For example, at the Copenhagen Declaration the signatories promised to reduce by half the number of people on this planet living in abject poverty by 2015.

But many of the world’s top leaders have been losing sight of these pledges. I am nevertheless pleased that they agreed each year to consider, on the occasion of future meetings of the G-8 (the top eight industrialized nations), a detailed report providing an evaluation of progress made toward meeting these goals. If there are delays in reaching the goals, the report is to propose additional measures needed to achieve them.

This is only a small step, but it shows how fragile our collective commitments are, and how small the chances are that they will be fulfilled without a worldwide mobilization of public opinion, like the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief. If I were asked what should be the theme of a new campaign, I would not hesitate to say that we must work to ensure that the pledges we have made are fulfilled. We must make the first decade of the new century one of fulfilling pledges. If we allow cynicism to prevail, we may as well give up the dream of a more fraternal global society. This is a matter of great urgency. I fear the moment is coming soon when we will be told that considering the time lost since these pledges were made, the original targets will no longer be attainable. The situation is pressing. We need a jolt of responsibility and solidarity.

Two other initiatives could also make a major difference. One is a vigorous implementation of the debt reduction initiative for the heavily indebted poor countries (H.I.P.C.’s). We should go on pressing for the quick adoption of measures needed for those interested countries to benefit fully from this initiative. Industrial countries should undertake to open their markets completely to the products of H.I.P.C.’s. This is of the highest priority, together with the provision of adequate financing for this initiative, remembering that debt reduction should in no way be seen as a substitute for new funds.

What I am proposing is not an obligation of generosity toward a world much poorer than ours. Rather, it is our contribution to strengthening the very fabric of a world that is now one, a fabric crucially dependent on the elimination of war, respect for commitment to the less fortunate and active support for those who want to stand on their own feet.

Universal Public Authority and Subsidiarity

In addition to poverty, many people today suffer from a lack of control over their own destiny. They fear that there is no legitimate authority to deal with increasingly global problems like threats to the environment, increased drug abuse, widespread corruption, international crime and money laundering. In order to address all these issues, developing and maintaining an institution with worldwide authority is crucial.

In a prophetic move at the beginning of the 1960’s, Pope John XXIII called for the establishment of a public authority with universal appeal and support. Such a suggestion, even if its implementation seems as remote today as it appeared then, should be revisited. In conjunction with the principle of subsidiarity, it could help to create the institutional conditions for a better protection of the world community against collective risks on a global scale, and to obtain a clearer perception of our common destiny.

What is currently being accomplished through the United Nations and other international institutions is certainly not negligible. But we could achieve better results if we revisited the broader issue of world economic governance, not by setting up some sort of world economic government, but by finding a global response to inescapable problems of worldwide dimension. While globalization has until now operated at the whim of more or less autonomous financial and technological forces, it is high time that progress toward world unity be made consistently and in the service of humankind. What is required are institutions that can facilitate joint reflection at the highest levels and can ensure that globalized strategies are adopted and implemented, when it appears that those problems can be dealt with effectively at the global level.

The problems are serious and numerous. I would like to point out just three of them:

1. the lack of internationally effective institutions in new fields of major global concern such as the environment, immigration and initiatives to curb monopolies,

2. the lack of fair representation in international economic decision-making and

3. the lack of response to political concerns on the part of international institutions.

The lack of response to political concerns calls for a framework in which leaders at the highest political level can define strategies for multifaceted issues that are currently addressed by various officials in different departments of national administrations.

Equally important and urgent is the “political responsibility” of international institutions. Too often the latter are portrayed as unaccountable technocracies. The truth is that they are in fact responsible and accountable to their member governments, but they are not perceived as such. From time to time, some governments find it politically convenient not to endorse publicly actions that they support in those institutions. Nonetheless, it is crucial that these governments voice their unequivocal support for the positions taken in the executive bodies of these institutions. Such proposals have been made, at least in the I.M.F. Far from leading to an undue politicization, such clear support would, in the eyes of the public, place political responsibility squarely where it already lies. But most governments are not yet convinced of this.

A major factor behind the resistance to change stems from the fear that national sovereignty might be handed over to anonymous and distant institutions that are outside any democratic control. This would of course be contrary to a basic principle that Catholic social teaching has pursued since the Middle Ages: the principle of subsidiarity. As Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) clearly states, the worldwide public authority must evaluate and find a solution to economic, social, political and cultural problems that affect the universal common good. These are problems that, because of their extreme gravity, vastness and urgency, must be considered too difficult for the rulers of individual states to solve with any degree of success. But it is no part of the duty of universal authority to limit the sphere of action of the public authority of individual States, [but rather] to create world conditions in which the public authorities of each nation, its citizens and intermediate groups, can carry out their tasks, fulfill their duties and claim their rights with greater security (No. 140-1). Thus the more we see the need to grant new responsibilities to worldwide bodies, the more it is also necessary to make clear that their contribution can only be subsidiary.

Nothing can be accomplished globally unless it has been taken up at the grass roots and supported by initiatives of the entire institutional chain, initiatives in which N.G.O.’s can play an ever greater role. Responsible citizenship at all levels must be one of the key values of the 21st century. A new kind of citizenship must be created—not simply a vague cosmopolitanism, but a genuine citizenship at all levels of government: local, regional, national and global.

A global sense of responsibility and solidarity, a renewed world governance based on subsidiarity and a new sense of world citizenship—would these values be sufficient for all people of goodwill to transform globalization into a tool for human progress? Provided all the suggested changes are undertaken, I would be inclined to respond positively.

Nevertheless we should keep in mind what Havel added to his suggestion to restructure our system of values: “How can this new value system be achieved without a significant advance in human spirituality?” Do we have what it takes to generate this? This is a domain where the church has a comparative advantage. Allow me to suggest that the church make, in the simplest language possible, a pronouncement on this. At the very heart of its message would be what Christ himself revealed to us about God as Trinity: the triune community in which all communities and societies, including the community of nations, have their origin, their model and their basic sustainability. This is the basis on which the church has been able, over time, to elaborate its social teaching and offer its followers the principles and values on which to build a more fraternal world. This is the source to which we must return: an inexhaustible source of progress in spirituality and humanization.


Michel Camdessus is the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund.