Oxfam has informed us that the wealth of the [richest]1 percent of the world population has almost reached that of the remaining 99 percent. The growing inequality jeopardizes both the efficiency and the stability of our societies . . . It is a fact that an inequality rate exceeding a certain threshold reduces health and increases the mortality rate of people. [And] it is a principal cause of conflict and ultimately of civil war.
— Economist and Professor Stefan Zamagni at the 9th International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education, February 26-28
THIS cannot be morally right. As the destitute across the globe go hungry, suffer preventable and curable diseases, and live unclothed, unsheltered, uneducated, unprotected, unjustly treated, and powerless, the wealthiest 1 percent now have nearly half the world’s wealth, are allowed to use it as they please with little or no regard for what the rest of humanity need.
The Oxfam report containing that appalling figure, further forecasts that next year the 1 percent will also own more than half of all assets, though some economists have disputed this. Still, the spread of poverty and the rising estimates of asset values make it easy to believe, as has been reported, that the rarified 1 percent increased their wealth by nearly a third between 2007 and 2012, while the bottom 40 percent of humanity lost 6 percent of their meager possessions.
Those unconscionable yet all-too-real statistics, raised in the keynote address on Thursday by University of Bologna and Johns Hopkins Professor Stefan Zamagni, added even more import and urgency to the 9th International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education on the last three days of this month.
The CST forum, co-hosted by the Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle universities, brought together more than 200 business, theology, and other educators, as well as business people, to share ideas and research on how the Church’s teaching can more strongly inform, influence and edify practitioners and students of management. Besides the presentation of expert papers, the conference would also visit social enterprises established for poor communities, including Gawad Kalinga projects.
Starting with this article, this writer will cover key themes and findings presented at the symposium in some of the coming instalments of the Faith Healer column on Saturdays. |
Among broad and substantive topics discussed in more than 80 papers and presentations over three days were:
• Major social teachings by Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis
• How Christian virtues underpin successful management
• Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and long-term business performance and value
• Modes of profit-sharing that help enhance corporate success
• The morals and social impact of lending and usury
• How the digital divide is hampering authentic human development
• Green solutions for power generation in impoverished areas
• Volunteerism in the service of spiritual poverty alleviation
• Learning economics and social justice from poor households
• Recasting news coverage in light of Catholic social teaching.
Among listed conference participants are leading CST professor Michael Naughton, co-author of the book, Managing As If Faith Mattered; business leader Ramon del Rosario Jr., and top economist Bernardo Villegas, who spoke on organizing good and productive work. They were joined on the conference podiums by professors, business people, social enterprise practitioners, and other experts from dozens of countries.
Fixing the failings of free enterprise
This first of several articles on the symposium will highlight major issues in Professor Zamagni’s opening paper, “Prosperity, Poverty and the Responsibility of Business”, including key aspects of reciprocity, the Catholic-influenced economic theory to counter the globally dominant paradigm of free-market capitalism and its resulting perversion of values, exploitation of people, and destruction of nature.
The overarching point of Zamagni’s address is one that the Catholic Church has long asserted, most recently in Pope Francis’s “Evangelii Gaudium” Apostolic Exhortation, but is disputed by economists, business and political leaders, especially in the West: that the entrenched economic model of free enterprise and markets is not working and has been causing inequality, suffering and injustice across the globe.
From Zamagni, the symposium got nuggets of solid research and analysis showing precisely what critics of unbridled capitalism have long lamented.
He cited the concept of pecuniary externalities, or harmful effects of economic and business activity due to the operation of free markets and pricing. The world accepts and addresses technical externalities like pollution, enacting laws and imposing fines and penalties against such damage.
But the pecuniary kind is seen as the inevitable result of efficient markets, and most business people and enterprises, as well as governments and even the citizenry, do not condemn or seek to stop the ill effects on communities, especially the poor, of market forces and trade and investment flows. Yet there is real harm to people that cries for justice and compassion.
The Italian economist even has a rejoinder to colleagues espousing neoclassical laissez-faire theories, including the “invisible hand” concept of Adam Smith, said to promote general wealth and welfare even if each person strives for his own gain. In fact, Zamagni clarified, Smith, a moral philosopher, posited the need for simpathos — “sharing” in Greek — for market forces to work for the common good.
In conclusion, the good professor recalled then-Pope Pius XII’s “Five Peace Points,” cited in a 1940 statement by British bishops, for every economy to follow:
“Extreme inequality in wealth and possessions should be abolished. Every child, regardless of race or class, should have equal opportunities of education, suitable for the development of his/her peculiar capacities. The family as a social unit must be safeguarded. The sense of a Divine Vocation must be restored to a man’s daily work. The resources of the earth should be used as God’s gift to the whole human race and used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generations.”
That clearly won’t happen without good people running upright enterprises that seek more than just maximum profits in free markets with neither simpathos, nor justice.