Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Pope on Development

. Saturday, July 11, 2009

[Ed.: This is a guest post by Christopher R. Dittmeier, a fellow graduate student at UNC]

Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI released his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), his first high-level document on social doctrine since becoming Pontiff in 2005. The theme of this encyclical is development, particularly "integral human development." While the bulk of Caritas in Veritate had been completed by 2007 (the 40th anniversary of Paul VI's treatise Populorum Progressio, which focused social doctrine away from European industrialization and toward global development issues), Pope Benedict revised it to take into account the current economic crisis. Here are a few key points from the encyclical that have bearing on IPE:

- Inequality is a systemic risk. "Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of `social capital': the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence." Development, if it contributes honestly to the betterment of a state's poor, is connected to democratization, pacification, and global integration.

- Given global interdependence, getting out of the economic crisis will require not only restructuring of the market in terms of regulation, but also a rethinking of the nature of the state. "Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State's public authorities directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers, which need to be prudently reviewed and remodelled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of today's world." Several important issues, including social security, labor mobility, and migration, are no longer national issues, but require transnational attention. Benedict appears to support a more vibrant interpretation of the theory of responsibility to protect, to include endowing states positive (and not only negative) humanitarian responsibilities.

- International organizations are key to the international stability and development, but current institutional arrangements lack effective agency and have strayed from their intended purpose in practice. "In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth." The Church has for most of the twentieth century been a proponent of subsidiarity (now most well-known as the operating principle of the European Union's organization), so the proposal of investing both authority and power to supranational entities indicates skepticism of both state-centered and market-centered methods of development. The encyclical points to the role of civil society at local, national, and international levels as the primary innovators of development.

- There is no one right methodology of development. "Technologically advanced societies must not confuse their own technological development with a presumed cultural superiority, but must rather rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history." This attack on the Washington Consensus is part of Benedict's larger opposition to the ideology of technology. He specifically attacks the effects of austerity measures on social security, noting that in committing to foreign lenders, governments in developing countries often sell their own people short, weakening the long-term sustainability of their development.

- The Pope gave official blessing to microfinance. "`Ethical financing' is being developed, especially through micro-credit and, more generally, micro-finance. These processes are praiseworthy and deserve much support." Traditional banking has tended to shy away from ground-up development projects in favor of larger (and supposedly more sound) top-down projects, which are nonetheless more prone to corruption and the creation of dependency. Microfinance, on the other hand, establishes firm links between capital in developed countries and entrepreneurship in developing countries, allowing for internal capacity-building, institutionalization, and sustainable economic development.

While a Papal encyclical is unlikely to make waves in the IPE community (at least outside of Italy), the Church's position--one that transcends normal academic and partisan schools of thought--provides a fresh perspective on development theory that can prompt greater discussion on how to approach economic and political development in the 21st century.

[Ed.: For more on the encyclical, see Tyler Cowen in the WSJ. The text of the encyclical itself is here.]

7 comments:

Emmanuel said...

Although not everyone agrees with him, there is no doubting the Pope's thorough grasp of contemporary political-economic issues.

And yes, the UN is badly overdue for reform to make it more relevant to today's challenges.

Alex Parets said...

Sorry Emmanuel. I'm a doubter (what else is new!) when it comes to the Pope's thorough grasp of contemporary political economic-issues. I hope you were being sarcastic when you wrote that!

Sarah Bauerle said...

Moreover, how is this really NEW Catholic Thought or a new perspective on development economics? Catholic teachings on Social Justice have a long tradition, and are particularly strong on Catholic University campuses. Ross Douthat has a good Op Ed over at NYTimes about how the encyclical underscores a "non-left/right" political identity of the Catholic church, but this is nothing new. Really, the mere regurgitation of already established religious and social thought is hardly newsworthy.

PS - Catholic Relief Services has been working with Microfinance Organizations for YEARS, so I don't think a formal endorsement of the development tool is at all earth-shattering.

Alex Parets said...

I completely agree with you Ms. Bauerle. The letter is extremely dated and actually, in terms of economic and political analysis, rather useless.

The Pope's words and input in this day and change just don't really matter, and this is mostly the Church's fault. The figure of a billion Catholics around the world is always thrown around, but I am quite skeptical of this number. This may be the number of living baptized people on earth, but is nowhere near the number of actual, practicing Catholics. How many people actually follow the direct words and teachings of the Pope, especially on economic issues? My guess is that it's a rather small number.

As Tyler Cowen said, "How will the rise of non-Christian powers affect the practice of capitalism? Will Christian and non-Christian societies understand each other well enough to negotiate successful international agreements? To what extent will Europe even manage to stay Christian? By some accounts Islam is the most frequently practiced religion in the Netherlands today.

You'll search this encyclical in vain for answers to these questions or even for a framing of their import. To consider such questions would be to admit that Christianity, and Catholicism, are not as universal as many people would like them to be. When the church comes to terms with that idea, maybe then we'll start seeing some intellectual progress."

Sarah Bauerle said...

Well, I am not saying that the Catholic Church is completely wrong regarding economic development. The teachings of Catholic Social Justice bring an important ethical perspective to the discussion. Development is an economic issue, but it is also an ethical and moral issue. The thing is to remember to keep the two types of arguments separate - the economic and the moral.

Alex Parets said...

I'm not either and I agree that the teachings of CSJ do bring a different perspective to the argument. But, in my humble opinion, the moral/ethical side of the argument is the extent of their influence.

The positions taken in the encyclical are nothing new and in certain places uninformed. The Church is throwing out endorsements and opinions on practices that it doesn't look like they had really studied up on. The encyclical wasn't written on a blog. You'd think they would have done their homework a bit better. The Church would be better off sticking to the moral/ethical side of the argument.

Emmanuel said...

Cowen has trouble making an elementary distinction between Catholicism and Christianity while discussing the pope's encyclical.

The famous Dutch Orange, of course, stems from William of Orange kicking out the Spanish largely because of dislike of Catholicism. Now, encyclicals are primarily aimed towards believers--which a majority of Dutch aren't. Non-Catholic Cowen should take note of this.

The Pope is not dated at all on matters such as IMF pressure on poor countries to perform "structural adjustment" while giving the US and other wealthy Western ones the green light to run unprecedented deficits. Yes, he may be "old-fashioned" in the modern sense of "anything goes," but he does understand what is going on.

I sure would like to hear what the religious figure Cowen follows has to say on globalization. Given his libertarian leanings, he may be rather Dutch-like in following no religious authority. If he doesn't like the Catholic Church's treatment of moral issues, then he should at least mention one that provides what he perceives gives better guidance. Ayn Rand, perhaps?

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