John Paul II´s Pointers on How to Humanize Globalization

New Culture, New Rules, New Institutions Needed

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2002 ( Economic and social observers are not the only ones divided on the topic of globalization. Among Catholics, opinions differ widely on the pros and cons of the subject. To guide this reflection, John Paul II has spoken out on the issue a number of times.

In the 1999 document that concluded the work of the Synod of America, “The Church in America,” the Pope stated that for globalization, “The ethical implications can be positive or negative” (No. 20). He observed that the increases in economic efficiency and production can offer better services to all. But he warned that the consequences of globalization will be negative if it is organized just to suit the interests of the powerful.

Further on, John Paul II called for globalization to be analyzed in the light of social justice (No. 55). He called for “an authentic globalized culture of solidarity,” as well as cooperation in helping the poor and preserving the values of local cultures.

The triumph of markets One of the most salient features of globalization is the growth of financial markets. On Sept. 11, 1999 John Paul II addressed the members of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, at the conclusion of a meeting in which they had examined the theme of ethics and finance.

The Pope noted that the financial sphere has grown so much that it has acquired its own autonomy from the rest of the economy. From an ethical point of view, he said, this creates the need for new principles to guide our judgments. In the old-style economy there was a clear relationship between the amount of work done and the quantity of wealth produced. But in financial markets, enormous sums can be earned without the need for much work.

John Paul II stated that in judging this type of activity we should keep in mind that “Financial activity, in accordance with its own characteristics, must be directed to serving the common good of the human family.”

The Pontiff noted, however, that there is no international juridical or normative framework to guide financial markets. A first step toward creating an ethical framework would be the preparation of codes of conduct for the financial sector, he suggested. This is important, he observed, because in times of financial crises it is normally the weakest who pay the highest price.

The Pope was careful to say that the globalizing markets in themselves are not bad, and that a summary condemnation of them is not justified.

Christians who work in the financial sector, continued John Paul II, are called upon to apply the principles of social justice in their activities. “The objective of all your activity in the financial and administrative field must always be never to violate the dignity of man and, for this reason, to build structures and systems that will foster justice and solidarity for the good of all,” he urged.

The globalization of work

On May 1, 2000, during a homily at a Mass for the Jubilee of Workers, the Pope stated that globalization “must never violate the dignity and centrality of the human person, nor the freedom and democracy of peoples.” People must not “become tools but the protagonists of their future,” he said.

The following day the Pope met with Italian business and trade union leaders. He commented that globalization is making the world of work more complex. Whether globalization is positive or negative depends on some basic decisions, said John Paul II. For it to be positive, globalization must be governed by solidarity, participation and responsible subsidiarity.

The Pontiff also stated that “the more global the market, the more it must be balanced by a global culture of solidarity that is attentive to the needs of the weakest.” We should also avoid the mistake of making economic factors absolute, warned the Pope. The economy should always be “integrated into the overall fabric of social relations, of which it forms an important, but not exclusive, component.”

Concerning the lack of institutions to govern globalization, the Pope on this occasion went beyond just calling for codes of conduct. “Globalization requires a new culture, new rules and new institutions at the world level,” he said.

In a speech to members of the Foundation for Ethics and Economics last July 11, John Paul II spoke again on the question of distributing the benefits of globalization. The Pope observed that while globalization has created much growth and wealth, there is no guarantee that this will be fairly shared.

“Economic growth must be integrated with other values, so as to become a qualitative growth,” he stated. Referring to the business slogan of “total quality,” the Pope called for the concept of quality to include not only the product “but in first place, those who produce it.” Economic growth must also include investment in people and in the creative capacities of individuals who are the basic resources of society, he said.

Values and culture

Often globalization is criticized for imposing a materialistic cultural vision. Last April 27 the Pope examined the role of markets and culture. Addressing the members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Pontiff noted how “the market economy seems to have conquered virtually the entire world.”

The market, he noted, “has become the medium of a new culture.” This has led some to consider globalization as a “destructive flood threatening the social norms which had protected them and the cultural points of reference which had given them direction in life.” The danger, observed the Pope, is that changes are taking place too quickly for cultures to adapt to the new conditions.

There are attempts to guide globalization according to ethical principles, commented the Pope. But some of these ethical systems are based on utilitarianism and are, in fact, byproducts of globalization itself. Yet ethical values cannot be drawn from economics, the Holy Father insisted. “They are grounded in the very nature of the human person,” he said.

“Ethics demands that systems be attuned to the needs of man, and not that man be sacrificed for the sake of the system,” stated John Paul II. Ethical discernment should be based on two fundamental principles: the inalienable value of the human person, and the value of human culture.

Universal human values exist, noted the Pope, and they must be used to guide economic development. If this happens, globalization will be “at the service of the whole person and of all people,” he said.

The Pope addressed the question of culture again last Nov. 8 in an address to the Pontifical Academies of Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Globalization creates the risk of making people feel they are just part of “faceless globalized mechanisms,” and can also lead to a “superficial syncretism” in the area of culture, noted the Pontiff. We are therefore faced with the challenge of orienting the cultural choices of the Christian community and of all society. There needs to be a dialogue between faith and culture, revelation and human problems, so as to safeguard the dignity and growth of the human person, concluded the Pope.

Globalization could indeed benefit from a constructive dialogue on matters of ethical principles. John Paul II has given us valuable pointers on how to do this.

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