First of all, I do want to thank the organizers of this very important international meeting for the very privileged opportunity of being part of this Forum. It is surely a very most important Round Table, at least I am very sure that it is since, except for me, the speakers are all outstanding. I am truly honored to be one of them and I hope that my contribution can be of some usefulness.
Actually, I hope my contribution is truly a special one in that I want to look at the spiritual questions and the economic crisis through the eyes of two special prisms. One is the powerful encyclical of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate, which was just issued within the last few weeks, and the other is this very interesting and important work of a group known as the Caux Round Table, which I shall describe in the course of my presentation.
The Holy Father’s encyclical was very much related to the question which we are assigned to consider. It was actually meant to be published sometime ago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the major encyclical Populorum Progressio of Pope Paul VI. However, it was dealing with social and economic questions, Pope Benedict wisely chose to refashion it in such a way that it might speak to the question of the economic turmoil in which the world finds itself at this time and to point out the spiritual implications and possible solutions of the present crisis. The encyclical as it has been presented is very clear in examining, analyzing and projecting the present situation in the globalized world economy. The Caux Round Table does the same thing in its own specific expertise. It has found the Holy Father’s encyclical to be so very close to its own already published principles that I would be able to use both of these documents as my analysis of the question that is before us.
The Caux Round Table is an international network of business leaders that has as one of its primary aims the promotion of ethical behavior or, as it proclaims, "Moral capitalism for a better world." Its work in the field of ethical analysis of economic reality began with its presentation of a series of principles for business which aims to provide a framework for free-market business decision-making that serves the interest of all stakeholders. (It has expanded its concerns in these general areas of ethical and moral business responsibility to look at a new initiative which is the work to help recover proceeds of public corruption that have been taken from developing nations. This initiative, which I mention just in passing, aims to use civil remedies and asset forfeiture to try to recover assets lost to corruption and return them to developing countries.)
The global executive director of Caux prepared a very thoughtful and careful analysis and commentary on the encyclical, since so many of its points are dovetailed rather completely with the work of the Caux Round Table. I will be quoting from it rather freely with his permission as I make my presentation.
In what I am presenting now would be divided briefly into three areas, although since I am restricted to ten minutes they will be just touched rather briefly. The first is to talk about Catholic social principles which do affect the construction both of the Holy Father’s encyclical and the work of the Caux Round Table, or CRT, as I will refer to it. Secondly, I would like to talk very briefly about the history of the present economic crisis and thirdly, to come to some generalized solutions that are found in the teaching of the Holy Father and in the commentary of the CRT.
Their Principles for Responsible Business were designed to engage "the moral conscience and the personal and social responsibility of those who make their living in the market economy, including financial markets of all type." Remembering that President James Madison of the United States in one of his famous Federalist Papers wrote that "If men were angels, there would be no need for government." The thought is that the same applies as well to markets and business. CRT bases its work on the assumption that there is an increasing awareness of the need for greater social responsibility on the part of business. They believe that there is a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interest of the proprietors, but must also accept responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business - the workers, the clients, the supplier of various elements of production, and the community of reference. This is also, by the way, very clearly the mind of the Holy Father in his own presentation. (Paragraph 40) The CRT issued its principles back in 1994 when they called attention to this very important aspect of business decision-making - going beyond shareholders to stakeholders. Indeed, Caux was founded to find such fundamental values from which a more responsible and sustainably profitable business culture could grow and thrive.
Let us move on to the Holy Father’s encyclical. It is very clear that the encyclical of the Holy Father - and the constant teaching of the Catholic social principles - begins with the dignity of the human person. The Holy Father notes, "The primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity." (Paragraph 25)
(In an important part of his argument, the Pope continues, "In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them in order to satisfy their needs and desires…in fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.) Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function and today it is this trust which has ceased to exist and the loss of trust is a grave loss." And so, the Holy Father leads us to the question of today, the ethical and, if you will, spiritual foundations on which not just society must be built, but in a special way the world of business and economics. Catholic social teaching, which depends in its very foundation on the recognition of the dignity of the human person, also requires principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, the common good and stewardship in order to create the kind of reasonable, moral and truly progressive world which the Holy Father and institutions such as Caux are attempting to prosper.
I have a personal experience of the way in which these principles just mentioned are not only the basis of Catholic social thought, but in a wonderful way find their echo in the writings of the Holy Koran and in the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. I was in Malaysia giving a sort of retreat to the faculty of the graduate school of theology of the International Islamic University and, having presented the Catholic social teaching in the first half of the retreat, the second half found my scholarly audience reflecting on the fact that these principles are also present very beautifully and very clearly in Muslim social thought.
Moving on to the reasons for the present history, although we have mentioned the Holy Father’s concerns on this subject a few minutes ago, it is fair to say that His Holiness looks at the global dimension of the financial crisis as an expression of the moral failure of greedy financiers and investors, of the lack of oversight by national governments and of the lack of understanding that the global economy requires internationally recognized global control. The Holy Father goes on to say, "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 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." This is from the Holy Father’s language. I will not dwell on the causes of the economic crisis, since I believe that we have already said enough to pinpoint some of the basic questions which began to point us in the way toward their realization and understanding. Let me spend the last part of my time talking about solutions.
Some of these suggestions are practical ones, such as that of the Holy Father which I cited before, indicating that a reform of our international institutions is necessary to underline the proper understanding of the family of nations. The Pope calls for "a true world political authority" in order "to manage the global economy, to revive economies hit by the crisis, to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result, to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration." This is already a tall order, but the crisis has provoked us perhaps into a greater understanding that a tall order is the only one which has a chance to make a difference in the critical situation the world faces economically.
On the deeply spiritual level, Cardinal Paul Cordes, who is the head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which seeks to alleviate the problem of poverty in the world, reiterated the teaching that "the heart of the social doctrine is always mankind." He went on to explain that "the anthropological question requires us to respond to a more basic question for us - what kind of man do we wish to promote? Can a civilization survive without fundamental points of reference, without looking to eternity, and denying mankind an answer to his most profound questions? Can there be true development without God?"
The Pope very strongly makes the point that the task of preparing us for wise action "cannot be undertaken by social sciences alone. Insofar as the contribution of disciplines, such as metaphysics and theology, is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood." Pope Benedict worries that modern technological thinking can only suggest that business investment is merely a technical act, not a human and ethical one which, in truth, it is as well.
Finally, the Holy Father observes that "evolving societies must remain faithful to all that is truly human in their traditions, avoiding the temptation to overlay them automatically with the mechanisms of a globalized technological civilization." He adds, "In all cultures there are examples of ethical conversations, some isolated, some interrelated as an essence of the one human nature."
Building on the great social teaching encyclicals of his predecessors and citing also his own thoughtful presentation in his first encyclical, God is Love, the Holy Father places the solution to the economic crisis of this time and of any time squarely in the realm of ethical and spiritual values. He summarizes much of his teaching in these words: "Locating resources, financing, production, consumption, and all the other phases of the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus, every economic decision has a moral consequence." (Paragraph 37)
In a sense, as the Holy Father comes to the conclusion of his encyclical, there is a paragraph which entwines the vital importance of spiritual values where the Holy Father outlines how "the development of peoples depends above all on a recognition that the human race is a single family. Hence, Christianity and other religions ‘can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm.’" "True human development," the Holy Father insists, "needs Christians with their arms raised toward God in prayer, just as it needs love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace."
Coming back to his original analysis, Pope Benedict teaches that "without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market - and in a sense the whole economy - cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function." And today, it is this trust which threatens to cease to exist and the loss of trust is a grave lost.
We who are believers tend to join with the Holy Father as he concludes that it is surely only by a return to spiritual values and to the importance of the individual human being that humanity can once again find the trust to rebuild an economy based on justice and on respect for one another, an economy that serves not just the shareholder but the stakeholder as well, an economy that lifts up the poor, the fragile and the stranger and pulls us all together in God’s one human family.