Fighting Global Poverty

Pope Benedict XVI has written two encyclicals, one on love, the other on hope. Especially last year, which was the 40th anniversary of Paul VI’s Development of Peoples and the 20th anniversary of John Paul II’s On Social Concern, speculation was rife that the pope would write a social encyclical on globalization. In his World Day of Peace Message, published on Jan. 1, Pope Benedict has now issued a commentary on poverty in the global economy under the title Fighting Poverty to Build Peace. It extends the teaching of his predecessors on solidarity in development to today’s globalized economy, with a renewed plea for the inclusion of the poorest nations in the world system.

The heart of the message is that solidarity, especially with those nations that participate least in the global economic system, is the virtue that meets the challenges of globalization. It urges us, “in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are all called to form one family in which all—individuals, peoples and nations—model their behavior according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.” Amid its praise for the productivity of the post-World War II economy—world poverty has been cut by as much as 50 percent in the last 30 years—it focuses intently on the world’s poorest nations, which stand outside the global economic system, especially in Africa. These countries are strapped, on the one hand, by lack of fair access to world markets for their products and, on the other, by the rapid rise in world commodity prices during the last year. Like Pope Paul VI’s Development of Peoples, the 2009 message appeals “for all countries to be given equal opportunities of access to the world market, without exclusion or marginalization.”


Though the message ends with John Paul II’s radical call in Centesimus Annus for “a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power,” its content seems less radical, surveying the dimensions of poverty today, the ambiguous effects of globalization and the implications of the world financial crisis for the prospects of alleviating poverty in the most disadvantaged nations. It is devoid of the insightful biblical analogies and ambitious proposals of Paul VI and the incisive social spiritual diagnoses of John Paul II. Given the shocking drop in the world economy, its confidence in economic growth as an engine of progress seems surprising. On the epochal dereliction of financial institutions leading to the current economic crisis, it simply comments that the “lowering of the objectives of global finance to the very short term reduces its capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future, and as a stimulus to the creation of new opportunities....”

The message seems to break with previous church teaching on the importance of holding inequalities in check as a step to preventing deeper and more widespread poverty. Given the expansion of inequality worldwide during the last 30 years of growth, a phenomenon the message acknowledges, its outright dismissal of redistributive programs (“mere redistribution”) as an “illusion” is all the more remarkable. Only when redistributive measures, like investment in education, health care, maternal and infant nutrition and job creation, are in place has economic growth proven to reduce poverty across the population, and not just in a privileged segment of it.

The reality of contemporary poverty, the message points out, possesses several features in need of the world’s attention, including pandemic disease, child poverty, military expenditures and the food crisis. The food crisis, it notes, results primarily from speculation in petroleum and other basic commodities, including the price of imported food. It also results from the unfairness of so-called free trade regimes that open up poor countries to industrial products, whose prices “rise much faster than those of agricultural products and raw materials in the possession of poorer countries,” which in their turn have more restricted access to markets in developed countries.

The message gives special attention to the moral relationship between disarmament and development. Pope Benedict reminds his audience that “immense military in fact diverted from development projects for people, especially the poorest....” He continues, “The resources saved could then be earmarked for development projects to assist the poorest and the most needy individuals and people....” He concludes, “Efforts expended in this way would be efforts for peace.” We should expect high interest on the part of the church, therefore, in resolutions to be proposed to the new U.S. Congress and to the United Nations in 2009 that money spent on nuclear weapons should be applied instead to meeting the needs of children.

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10 years 3 months ago
Poverty, a vague and malleable term, is like wealth: It is a word often used to generate envy, and instill hatred and victim status. It is usually unhelpful and divisive. Nonetheless, at least "America" recognizes that the period since free markets became politically popular,and we experienced 20 or more years of pro-market American leadership, we have made huge progress in increasing the world's general standard of living. Here is to hoping that such progress will continue, and not be halted because of anxiety about the rich getting richer. I thank the rich every day for contributing to my well being and prosperity.
10 years 3 months ago
This article does not mention two of the most effective means of reducing world poverty. The first is free trade. What is most important to people in under developed countries is a JOB. Free trade will produce that. Yes the first year the wages of those jobs will not match those of a UAW worker. However, in a relaively short period of time the wages will be up significantly. The economic history of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea to name a few attest to that. Secondly we need to free these peoples from dictators and socialist economies. Billions of people in the last century can vouch for the failure of socialism. We can give aid to these countries and it will help a little bit. What they need the most are jobs and a free enterprise economy.
10 years 3 months ago
I join Mr. Flynn in thanking the rich for contributing to my well being and Mr. Collins for emphasizing jobs and economic freedom. My contribution: Benedict indicates the developed countries restrict access to agriculture. I have yet to hear the left decry farm subsidies and sugar and peanut quotas--policies that deny our neighbors the opportunity to work to their strengths, to all our benefit. Shame, Jimmy Carter and farmers on the dole.
michael baland
10 years 3 months ago
Try as I might, I cannot find any mention of free trade, free market, or free enterprise in the Gospels. I must have a defective copy.
10 years 3 months ago
I fully agree with all that is been stated in said article. Time has arrived for developed countries to lead some kind of spiritual revolution worldwide, taking advantage of the new political wave that seems to blossom in the United States. No wonder both financial and economic crisis will hurt many geographical areas, mostly the poorest, but hopefully the deepness of its effects will also imply a change in people's sense of solidarity and brotherhood.
10 years 3 months ago
In order for the U.S. and other developed countries to lead some kind of "spiritual revolution," we have to find our spirituality first. Don't expect the new political regimes to move us in that direction. While developed countries worry and fret about the economy, the neediest will continue to slip through. As a nation and a global community, we have failed to live the Gospel message. Our Catholic hierarchy is too far removed to have much impact with statements and encyclicals. An honest assessment that developed nations widen the disparity through greed and short term expectations for profit and a grass roots effort to loosen the hold of capitalism - perhaps that is the new spirituality we have to develop. Jesus was a true revolutionary, and as Church, we have failed to live out his ideals. Perhaps it is too difficult to walk behind his placard.
John Walton
10 years 3 months ago
The effects of globalization "ambiguous"? I don't think that the residents of India, China, Korea, Taiwan or Brazil find them to be ambiguous at all. The middle class in India now exceeds the entire population of "Old Europe". India exports rice fer crissakes -- a concept which would have been unbelievable if the anti-trade attitudes of the post-separation era had been maintained. GWB tried, and failed, to open markets for Sub-Saharan producers of agricultural and textile products. At the forefront of opposers were the first daughters of the Church, the hexagonites with their garlic, snails and Gauloises. With regard to the "radical" concept of JP-II's Centissimus Annus -- radical means root -- at the radix of his encyclical is the notion that if one respects another's dignity they will, at the same time, be committed to respecting the other man's possesions.
10 years 2 months ago
It is hard to argue that disarmament and redirection of monies into development would be the road to peace but which should occur first? Reducing violence first will allow reduction in military spending. It may be that income inequality is more important than absolute poverty levels. Our conspicuous consumption, broadcast to the world in our movies and television shows, fans feelings of disrespect and humiliation that Gilligan[i] showed triggers violence among young men. Pickett[ii] showed that income inequality correlates with violence among young men even in rich countries. Investing in developing world basic infrastructures that we take for granted e.g. clean water, safe sanitation disposal, basic immunizations, and access to basic nutrition, will empower developing world people to help themselves. Reducing the feelings of disrespect and humiliation and increasing the feelings of hope, is not only the right thing to do for our global family, it also will be beneficial to our national security. We see ourselves as a generous people, and in many ways we are. Our public pledge has been that 0.7% of our Gross Domestic Product will go for Official Development Assistance, i.e. foreign aid, but we are stuck at 0.17%. Our current financial crisis will make it a challenge to look beyond ourselves to the developing world peoples, but we must.


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