IV. Politics and economy in dialogue for human fulfilment [189 – 198]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

189. Politics must not be subject to the economy,
nor should the economy be subject to the
dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy.
Today, in view of the common good,
there is urgent need for politics and economics
to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of
life, especially human life. Saving banks at any
cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing
a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming
the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute
power of a financial system, a power which has
no future and will only give rise to new crises after
a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The
financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity
to develop a new economy, more attentive
to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating
speculative financial practices and virtual wealth.
But the response to the crisis did not include
rethinking the outdated criteria which continue
to rule the world. Production is not always rational,
and is usually tied to economic variables
which assign to products a value that does not
necessarily correspond to their real worth. This
frequently leads to an overproduction of some
commodities, with unnecessary impact on the
environment and with negative results on regional
economies.133 The financial bubble also tends
to be a productive bubble. The problem of the
real economy is not confronted with vigour, yet
it is the real economy which makes diversification
and improvement in production possible,

133 Cf. Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Episcopal Commission
for Pastoral and Social Concerns, Jesucristo, vida y esperanza
de los indígenas e campesinos (14 January 2008).

helps companies to function well, and enables
small and medium businesses to develop and
create employment.

190. Here too, it should always be kept in mind
that “environmental protection cannot be assured
solely on the basis of financial calculations
of costs and benefits. The environment is one
of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded
or promoted by market forces”.134 Once
more, we need to reject a magical conception of
the market, which would suggest that problems
can be solved simply by an increase in the profits
of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope
that those who are obsessed with maximizing
profits will stop to reflect on the environmental
damage which they will leave behind for future
generations? Where profits alone count, there
can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature,
its phases of decay and regeneration, or the
complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely
upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity
is considered at most a deposit of economic
resources available for exploitation, with
no serious thought for the real value of things,
their significance for persons and cultures, or the
concerns and needs of the poor.

191. Whenever these questions are raised,
some react by accusing others of irrationally at

134 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium
of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 470.

tempting to stand in the way of progress and human
development. But we need to grow in the
conviction that a decrease in the pace of production
and consumption can at times give rise
to another form of progress and development.
Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural
resources are not a waste of money, but rather
an investment capable of providing other economic
benefits in the medium term. If we look
at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified
and innovative forms of production which
impact less on the environment can prove very
profitable. It is a matter of openness to different
possibilities which do not involve stifling human
creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather
directing that energy along new channels.

192. For example, a path of productive development,
which is more creative and better directed,
could correct the present disparity between
excessive technological investment in consumption
and insufficient investment in resolving urgent
problems facing the human family. It could
generate sensible and profitable ways of reusing,
revamping and recycling, and it could also improve
the energy efficiency of cities. Productive
diversification offers the fullest possibilities to
human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at
the same time protecting the environment and
creating more sources of employment. Such creativity
would be a worthy expression of our most
noble human qualities, for we would be striving
intelligently, boldly and responsibly to promote
a sustainable and equitable development within
the context of a broader concept of quality of
life. On the other hand, to find ever new ways
of despoiling nature, purely for the sake of new
consumer items and quick profit, would be, in
human terms, less worthy and creative, and more
superficial.

193. In any event, if in some cases sustainable
development were to involve new forms of
growth, in other cases, given the insatiable and
irresponsible growth produced over many decades,
we need also to think of containing growth
by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing
our steps before it is too late. We know
how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who
constantly consume and destroy, while others are
not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human
dignity. That is why the time has come to accept
decreased growth in some parts of the world, in
order to provide resources for other places to experience
healthy growth. Benedict XVI has said
that “technologically advanced societies must
be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles,
while reducing their energy consumption and
improving its efficiency”.135

194. For new models of progress to arise, there
is a need to change “models of global development";136

135 Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, 9: AAS 102
(2010), 46.

this will entail a responsible reflection
on “the meaning of the economy and its goals
with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and
misapplications”.137 It is not enough to balance,
in the medium term, the protection of nature
with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment
with progress. Halfway measures simply
delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is
a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A
technological and economic development which
does not leave in its wake a better world and an
integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered
progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality
of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration
of the environment, the low quality of food or
the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic
growth. In this context, talk of sustainable
growth usually becomes a way of distracting
attention and offering excuses. It absorbs the
language and values of ecology into the categories
of finance and technocracy, and the social
and environmental responsibility of businesses
often gets reduced to a series of marketing and
image-enhancing measures.

195. The principle of the maximization of
profits, frequently isolated from other considerations,
reflects a misunderstanding of the very
concept of the economy. As long as production

136 Ibid.

137 Ibid., 5: p. 43.
is increased, little concern is given to whether it
is at the cost of future resources or the health of
the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest
increases production, no one calculates the
losses entailed in the desertification of the land,
the harm done to biodiversity or the increased
pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating
and paying only a fraction of the costs involved.
Yet only when “the economic and social
costs of using up shared environmental resources
are recognized with transparency and fully
borne by those who incur them, not by other
peoples or future generations”,138 can those actions
be considered ethical. An instrumental way
of reasoning, which provides a purely static analysis
of realities in the service of present needs,
is at work whether resources are allocated by the
market or by state central planning.

196. What happens with politics? Let us keep
in mind the principle of subsidiarity, which
grants freedom to develop the capabilities present
at every level of society, while also demanding
a greater sense of responsibility for the common
good from those who wield greater power.
Today, it is the case that some economic sectors
exercise more power than states themselves. But
economics without politics cannot be justified,
since this would make it impossible to favour

138 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29
June 2009), 50: AAS 101 (2009), 686.

other ways of handling the various aspects of
the present crisis. The mindset which leaves no
room for sincere concern for the environment is
the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion
of the most vulnerable members of society.
For “the current model, with its emphasis
on success and self-reliance, does not appear to
favour an investment in efforts to help the slow,
the weak or the less talented to find opportunities
in life”.139

197. What is needed is a politics which is farsighted
and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary
approach to handling the different
aspects of the crisis. Often, politics itself is responsible
for the disrepute in which it is held,
on account of corruption and the failure to enact
sound public policies. If in a given region the
state does not carry out its responsibilities, some
business groups can come forward in the guise
of benefactors, wield real power, and consider
themselves exempt from certain rules, to the
point of tolerating different forms of organized
crime, human trafficking, the drug trade and violence,
all of which become very difficult to eradicate.
If politics shows itself incapable of breaking
such a perverse logic, and remains caught up
in inconsequential discussions, we will continue
to avoid facing the major problems of humanity.

139 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November
2013), 209: AAS 105 (2013), 1107.

A strategy for real change calls for rethinking
processes in their entirety, for it is not enough
to include a few superficial ecological considerations
while failing to question the logic which
underlies present-day culture. A healthy politics
needs to be able to take up this challenge.

198. Politics and the economy tend to blame
each other when it comes to poverty and environmental
degradation. It is to be hoped that
they can acknowledge their own mistakes and
find forms of interaction directed to the common
good. While some are concerned only with
financial gain, and others with holding on to or
increasing their power, what we are left with are
conflicts or spurious agreements where the last
thing either party is concerned about is caring for
the environment and protecting those who are
most vulnerable. Here too, we see how true it is
that “unity is greater than conflict”.140

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