Changes in the world political situation since 1991 - first respondent

Professor Rocco Buttiglione

The fall of the Soviet Union and the democratization of Eastern Europe was the major political backdrop of Centesimus Annus. What is the global political situation today and which elements require greater attention by both the international community and by Catholic social teaching?

Centesimus Annus is addressed mainly to Europe. What path should be chosen for the reconstruction of cultural, social, economic and political institution after the collapse of the communist systems? It was one step in the great effort of St. John Paul II to orient the energies of those societies away from revenge and civil war and towards reconciliation and reconstruction. The path indicated was a new alliance of free market and solidarity. After 25 years we can appreciate both the successes and the shortcomings of the process initiated by the encyclical. Flourishing market economies have been established but their alliance with solidarity is rather precarious. The European Union refused to incorporate the reference to Judeo/Christian values in a Constitution, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why it was so utterly unprepared to face the economic crisis and the migrations crisis. We did not support the creation of an area of liberty and prosperity both in the east and in the Mediterranean. The result has been in time the freezing of democracy in Russia, the Ukrainian crisis, the great upheavals on the southern borders of the Mediterranean and the rise of Isis. Our cultural system in Europe refused to incorporate Christian and personalistic values in our self/consciousness and rather preferred a rampant individualism. Centesimus Annus has had certainly a dramatic impact on the new world that emerged from the ruins of communism, this world is however fairly different from the aspirations and desires of the author of the encyclical. In Europe and in the area immediately surrounding Europe we are struggling to a large extent with the problems indicated in the encyclical. We the Europeans have entered in the path proposed by St. John Paul II but then we have not displayed the determination needed to go all the way up to the end. The problems of today are largely a result of this lack of courage. An interesting question is whether there is a connection between our lack of courage and the growing secularization ( in the proper sense of the word outlined by José Casanova) of our societies.

Although the main focus of the encyclical is on Europe it sees tensions and problems arising in the whole world and has a universal meaning. I shall try now a Latin American reading of the encyclical. When the encyclical has been written the Latin American situation is not very dissimilar from the European one. Latin America stands in front of an age of reconstruction. The military dictatorships of the so called "Seguridad Nacional" or "Segurança National" had been substituted (in most states) by new democratic regimes that often came to power as an effect of mass non- violent struggles for human rights in which the Catholic Church had had an important role. I wish here to remember at least the names of Msgr. Angelelli of La Rioja and Msgr. Romero of Salvador who, together with many others, fell in the course of this non violent struggle. At the same time the so-called economics of underdevelopment, that had offered the theoretical basis of the guerrilla movements of the '60 and of the '70 had lost their appeal. They proposed a violent break with the world market and the construction of a collectivist economy out of the world market. Those who tried to follow that path were ruined whilst countries that succeeded in negotiating their access to the market were successful. The collapse of Soviet Union, the conversion of China to the market and the Marrakech agreements of 1994 close one historical epoch and open another. For Latin America as well as for Europe the main issue is a new alliance between free market and solidarity. In his speeches during the journey to Mexico in occasion of the III Conference of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) John Paul II anticipates many of the issues of Centesimus Annus in a Latin American perspective. It is a kind of continental encyclical, written together with the Latin American bishops with the intention of helping in giving form to the future of Latin America. The main issue was then Liberation Theology and Marxism. John Paul II is well aware of the fact that Latin America needs a theology thought from the point of view of the Latin American poor. He is equally well aware of the historical defeat of communism and of its model of collectivist economy. He calls for a Latin American revolution based on the Christian soul of the Latin American poor and on his demand of justice. He stands at the beginning of a new stage of the struggle for justice, a post Marxist stage.

In Argentina, in Uruguay, in Chile and in other Latin American countries many Christians were well aware of the failure of Marxist guerrilla movements and, at the same time, of the situation of


poverty, marginalization and injustice in which lived the Latin American poor. Among them Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Juan Carlos Scannone, Lucio Gera, Alberto Methol Ferré and others... They had already begun to develop their own liberation theology or rather their "teologia del pueblo" and they readily followed the impulse given by Puebla. They continued it through the history of the Latin American church up to the V Conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Puebla.
The growth of so called populist movements in Latin America in this period must be understood on the backdrop of the situation we have tried to describe. Marxism had offered a false way out of the situation of marginalization and poverty, this situation of marginalization and poverty was however real. What is the way in which a struggle for justice can be led in the concrete situation of Latin America today? The social and political elites of many Latin American countries seem to have lost contact with the demands, the passions and the feelings of a large section, sometimes of a vast majority, of their people. New politicians speak on behalf of the people and represent their demand of justice. The Marxist movements of the '70 pretended to possess a science of society enabling them to lead a transition process towards a new economy and a new society. These new leaders do not possess, as a rule, a general theory of economy and society or, if they pretend to have one, this is clearly fragile. The bureaucrats who possess the specialized knowledge of the market mechanisms do not have the confidence of the people, do not have the smell o the flavour of the people ( I am here using the language of Pope Francis) , stand under the suspect of being corrupt or of representing the interests of restricted interest groups. The populist leaders very often do not have the knowledge required to transform the demand of justice of the people into concrete and coherent political and administrative actions. What we need now perhaps are popular forces that can negotiate for their people a reasonable access to the world markets in which their peoples are respected in their fundamental rights as human beings. Some political forces that are usually criticized as populist have adopted wise policies that have created better living conditions for their peoples. Their language may sound a bit odd to our European ears but we must judge not so much the rhetoric they use but the policies they implement. This is an ongoing process in which we register successes and failures but perhaps we should look to it with hope and readiness to cooperate in what is good. Instead of disqualifying this process we should look to it with critical attention and we should ask the question if and in which measure Christian social doctrine offers criteria of judgment and action that may help to lead this process. Equally interesting is to see if in this process these criteria are being rediscovered also by those who were not educated in that cultural tradition. One could wonder whether in Evangelii Gaudium and in Laudato sii we find a reformulation of some aspects of Christian social doctrine in dialogue with this great effort to pursue the cause of the liberation of the Latin American people in this age of the history of Latin America and of the World.

The globalization is changing profoundly the way of living of mankind. We need perhaps new categories to understand what is really going on. The old idea that the wealthy become more and more wealthy and the poor become more and more poor does not describe accurately the world situation. The percentage of the extremely poor is decreasing and the gap between rich and poor countries is becoming narrower. The tremendous growth of countries like China and India gives evidence of the fact that the economic geography of the world is changing fast. The gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider within each country. When we say that China is growing this means that perhaps three hundred millions Chinese have reached living standards not very different from those of the affluent countries. But for one thousand millions very little has changed. This situation causes enormous social tensions. It is comparatively easier to be poor when everybody is poor. It is much more painful to remain poor whilst your neighbour becomes prosperous.

There is a problem of growing inequality also in the wealthier part of the world. The globalization is a great opportunity for the rich people of the rich countries. They can move their capitals freely and produce goods and services where the opportunities are more favourable (and this means often where the salaries are lower and the rights of the workers more compressed). The globalization is also a great opportunity for the poor of the poor countries. Millions and millions of jobs migrate from the rich to the poor countries. The globalization is a terrible threat for the poor of the rich countries.

The capital migrates to countries where it has better investment opportunities (and this means often where human labour is less protected and can be better exploited) and pays less taxes. Millions of jobs are lost, the salaries do not grow any more because the workers are exposed more and more to the competition of their colleagues of poorer countries who are ready to work for very small wages. The free movement of capital changes the nature of our democracies. It becomes increasingly difficult to finance a reasonably generous welfare state because capital flows freely towards those states who have lower tax rates. The working classes in the rich countries become poorer and increasingly nervous. The gap of social inequality becomes broader also within the richer part of mankind.

Another kind of inequality grows because of the spreading revolution of the information and telecommunication technologies. In the era of the great geographical discoveries the soul of commerce consisted in the fact that a commodity that could be bought for one coin in Bombay or in Singapore could be sold for ten coins in London or Amsterdam. Those who controlled the routes of commerce appropriated the difference. Britannia ruled the waves and dominated the world. Today if a small company wants to sell its products worldwide it has to make use of one of the great vehicles that dominate internet and those who dominate the net appropriate a large share of the profits. When you travel usually you make a hotel reservation through, if you want to rent an apartment abroad you make use of Airbnb, if you want to sell in China you have to stay on Alibaba etc.. In each of these cases a large share of the value of the transaction remains with the company that has intermediated it. Not by chance the new rich of our time are the great innovators and businessmen of internet. A great divide arises between those who have access to internet and those who do not. And one of the great problems of our time is: does the value produced in the net pay taxes? And where?

Capital becomes global, workers rights and politics remain local. The capital can look for the best conditions for its use and these best conditions may include low wages and low taxes and the elusion of the social responsibilities of the Company. We have had in 1994 the Marrakech agreements for the globalization of capital, the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade. Now we stand in need of a globalization of workers rights, a kind of General Agreement on Wages and Labour.

We need also an agreement to stop the fiscal competition among the states. Taxes on Companies should be kept reasonably low in order to encourage and reward risk taking and the spirit of enterprise but also reasonably high in order to support adequate policies of social solidarity. We need to stop the migrations of capital in order to avoid the burden of solidarity.

In his famous book of 1936 The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money J.M. Keynes sustained that in periods of economic depression, when workers remain unemployed, capitals remain idle in the banks, the interest rates are low and nobody is willing to invest, the state should borrow the idle money and spend it in the building of infrastructure and on social programs. The obvious question is: how will the state repay its debt? Or will the state go bankrupt? The answer of Keynes is that the workers who find a job in the investment programs of the state will spend their salaries creating additional demand, this will stimulate new investments and the creation of new jobs. The whole economy will grow, the new jobs will generate new taxes and with the increased revenue the state will be able to pay for the public debt. Keynesian theories have had considerable practical success in the 60s but have become increasingly outmoded in the age of globalization. The reason seems to be that in a globalized economy the workers who find a job through the deficit spending of the state spend a significant part of their salaries in goods that are produced in other states. The stimulus effect on the aggregated demand is real but the new jobs are created to a large extent out of the national borders. The benefits are global but the debt remains local and cannot be paid back. Does this mean that Keynesian policies are of no use and all reasonable economic policies must be restricted within the narrow limits of the new monetarist consensus? Not necessarily. Keynesian policies to sort out of the crisis can be used but their must be coordinated at a world level through a kind of global governance, as it is envisaged in Caritas in Veritate. If all the states divide among themselves the task of giving to the economy the needed stimulus then they will all harvest the fruits of the common effort.


This issue of world governance is crucial also to many other topics that have been mentioned in this paper. It encompasses the problem of limiting and regulating the fiscal competition among the states as well as that of the global protection of workers rights or of the global protection of the world environment that stands in the centre of the encyclical Laudato sii.

One last issue that deserves to be mentioned in this context is that of fundamentalism. We are all used to think that what sets people in motion are economic demands and economic constraints. On this point Centesimus Annus still has to teach us something of value. Men are motivated by their material needs. Even more deeply, however, men are shaped by the idea they have of themselves, their self-consciousness. Even the way in which they consider their material needs and organize their satisfaction is wholly dependent on their value system and upon the idea they have of the absolute. Man has a deep need to give meaning to his actions, to belong to a community, in the last instance to stand in front of God. Centesimus Annus tells us that communism collapsed because it misunderstood this fundamental structure of the human heart. Today we usually try to give a materialist explanation of fundamentalism reducing it to a response to an inadequate supply of material goods. Most terrorists, however, are the offspring of rather well to do families. Their frustration that leads them to violent action and even to the sacrifice of their own lives is not caused by a lack of material goods but rather is the outcome of a lack of non material goods like a meaning for life, the sense of belonging to a community, ultimately the presence of God in one's life. If fundamentalism is a religious phenomenon than it demands an alternative religious response. What is the religious response of the West?



Centesimus Annus 25 Years Later

Conference 15-16 April 2016 - Everyone knew that Pope John Paul II would issue a social encyclical... Read more

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