The global economy should benefit everyone, yet inequality is rising, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said on October 2, 2017, during the Seventy-second Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He presented his remarks at the Third Committee debate on Agenda Item 27 (a,b), dedicated to Social Development.
“Each year we affirm that much progress has been made in the eradication of poverty, while acknowledging at the same time that progress remains insufficient,” Archbishop Auza said. He expressed concern for “the ever-increasing inequality, the rise in the number of people suffering from hunger” and “the sheer number of individuals who continue to be left behind”.
The archbishop pointed out that “economic growth does not guarantee social development and does not necessarily address the root causes of inequality and exclusion. He noted that increased investment, jobs and a diversified economy are essential, “a broader understanding of integral human development is needed to achieve lasting gains.”
Archbishop Auza stressed that “the current economic model tends to emphasize success and self-reliance over community”, and more must be done to “help the marginalized avoid exclusion”. He said: “This is especially apparent when considering the elderly, disabled, youth and migrants.”
Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Provided by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations
Let me congratulate you on your election as Chair of the Third Committee. My delegation looks forward to working constructively with the Committee during your tenure.
Each year we affirm that much progress has been made in the eradication of poverty, while acknowledging at the same time that progress remains insufficient. Even with renewed economic growth, continued technological advancement and the promising adoption and implementation of international agreements like the 2030 Agenda and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, we cannot help but be concerned by the ever-increasing inequality, the rise in the number of people suffering from hunger for the first time in the last ten years, and the sheer number of individuals who continue to be left behind.
One of the most glaring reasons for this widening disparity is that economic growth does not guarantee social development and does not necessarily address the root causes of inequality and exclusion. While increased investment and jobs, as well as a more diversified economy, are indispensable for lifting the poor out of extreme poverty, a broader understanding of integral human development is needed to achieve lasting gains. It is especially needed if we are to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalized among us are not excluded from the general achievement of progress.
Focusing on integral human development means reconsidering our understanding of the purpose of the international economy. As Pope Francis counseled in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, we can no longer treat “living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination…[because] this vision of might is right has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful.”
Instead, the global economy should seek to benefit everyone, both materially and spiritually. In practice, this means giving precedence to the principle of subsidiarity in every social and economic policy we promote. It also implies a culture of encounter, of going out and working with the poor. It means meeting and speaking with the vulnerable in our society. In a word, it means putting people first. When we encounter the marginalized, we cannot reduce their needs to purely economic terms. It is through the culture of encounter that those in positions of power learn what is required to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while gaining a greater sense of responsibility for the common good.
The current economic model tends to emphasize success and self-reliance over community, thus providing an inadequate response to the global realities we face today. Our increasing interdependence requires policies and investments that empower the vulnerable, strengthen natural communities, and help the marginalized avoid exclusion. This is especially apparent when considering the elderly, disabled, youth and migrants.
In particular, the elderly and disabled face some of the gravest forms of discrimination and violence. By definition, the economy is kindest to those that contribute to it with little assistance. For the elderly and disabled, however, access to essential support services in order to engage actively in society is a matter of basic human dignity. Increased investment in social safety nets like health-care and pension funds is also essential in reducing the vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged. Government support for family-based care not only has the potential to save public money, but also to provide the elderly and disabled with the kind of support that only loved ones can provide.
Social development means also dignified work for young people. As Pope Francis stated in Laudato Si’, “work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment”.  To make this a reality, policies should be put in place that encourage apprenticeships and that provide small loans and opportunities for youth to take risks and grow by doing, especially for young women and adolescent girls.
Lastly, the current situation of migrants and refugees deserves our utmost attention. Whether they are forced to migrate for economic reasons or for reasons of persecution and conflict, their human rights must be respected, and access to basic services, including primary health-care and education for children, must be guaranteed. Special attention and care for unaccompanied migrant children and youth will only benefit the societies where they remain or eventually return.
Like the theme of this year’s general debate, a real social development will require a renewed “focus on people”. With the requisite political will and attention to every human person, a better world is within our reach.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 82.
2. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 128.
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