Mark Engler: What the Obits Are Neglecting ... John Paul II's Economic Ethics





Mark Engler, in Foreign Policy in Focus (4-5-05):

A steady feature in Pope John Paul II's obituaries has been mention of his unwaveringly conservative stances on issues such as abortion, birth control, gay rights, and the ordination of women. While these positions were sources of consternation for many American Catholics, they far from represent the whole of John Paul's ethical beliefs. Particularly in his teachings about the global economy, the Pope advanced a vision of social justice that challenges the current, narrow political debate about "moral values."

Many commentators have highlighted the Pope’s extensive travels throughout the world and his use of advanced telecommunications to spread his message. Less noted is the fact that John Paul's vision of globalization sharply countered the pro-corporate triumphalism spread by "free trade" boosters.

Reflecting on the process of globalization during his 1998 visit to Cuba, the Pope contended that the world is "witnessing the resurgence of a certain capitalist neoliberalism, which subordinates the human person to blind market forces." He claimed that "from its centers of power, such neoliberalism often places unbearable burdens upon less favored countries." And he remarked with concern that "at times, unsustainable economic programs are imposed on nations as a condition for further assistance."

Coming at a moment when protests against the type of "structural adjustment" mandated by the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund were beginning to make headlines, the targets of John Paul's condemnation were not mysterious. Because of such economic policies, the Pope argued, we "see a small number of countries growing exceedingly rich at the cost of the increasing impoverishment of a great number of other countries; as a result the wealthy grow ever wealthier, while the poor grow ever poorer."

John Paul elaborated on his arguments in his 1999 exhortation, Ecclesia in America. There he asserted that the increasing global integration of the current era presents an opportunity for progress. "However," he warned, "if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative." He spoke out against "unfair competition, which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority."

The Pope's sentiments reflected the church's wider understanding of political economy. In a 2001 address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, John Paul reiterated the faith's teaching that "ethics demands that systems be attuned to the needs of man, and not that man be sacrificed for the sake of the system." Furthering this idea, the Pope insisted on "the inalienable value of the human person" who "must always be an end and not a means, a subject, not an object, not a commodity of trade."

John Paul also pointed toward an alternative to the vision of market fundamentalism that is "based on a purely economic conception of man" and "considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters." He contended that "solidarity too must become globalized." ...


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