Because false personal and economic choices led to the global financial crisis, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate , addresses the fundamental principles regarding the authentic development of people. The encyclical primarily focuses on solidarity with the billions of people struggling for a dignified life in developing countries, but the same principles apply to those areas of poverty and oppression in the midst of the fully industrialized nations.
The U.S. “Fourth World,” a term referring to those excluded from the mainstream, consists of certain minorities and disadvantaged people in our inner cities, Native American reservations and rural areas like the Delta, the Rio Grande and Appalachia. The dense 28,000 word encyclical demands close examination, but a few points beg consideration regarding the development of people within pockets of poverty in our own country.
“The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility toward the poor, toward future generations and toward humanity as a whole” (par. #48). Yet, in Fourth World U.S.A. we find toxic waste dumps located in poor rural areas and abandoned hazardous manufacturing sites in inner cities. In Appalachia, mountaintop removal assaults the mountains, pollutes the water and destroys the ecosystem. People in these areas stand powerless when economic forces put profits before people.
Benedict reminds us that authentic development does not allow a total technical dominion over nature because “the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure” but rather, contains an inbuilt order, or “grammar,” that prescribes the “criteria for its wise use” (par. #48). He elevates this relationship by referring to the “covenant between human beings and the environment” (par. #50).
The answer to economic arguments that strip-mined coal means cheap energy, or toxic waste dumps are the price of progress lies with lifestyles. He advocates new lifestyles, quoting John Paul II, “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others” should be the basis for consumer choices and investment (par. #51). He means we cannot sacrifice the poor, the environment or future generations for current frivolous consumption.
In Fourth World U.S.A. jobs remain scarce. The global economy has sucked the light manufacturing and fabrication jobs overseas leaving little opportunity for a stable local economy. Benedict writes “the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility toward the stakeholders–namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society–in favor of the shareholders” (par. #40). While affirming the useful role of profit, he says, “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal…without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (par. #21).
His counsel highlights the two principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Since “the human race is a single family,” i.e. the basis of solidarity (par. #53), subsidiarity, i.e. the assistance to individuals or groups “unable to accomplish something on their own,” must inform the governance of globalization (par. #57). In other words, corporations have a responsibility to local communities and communities have a right to participate in the coordination of economic plans.
The Church’s vision of economics serves all people and not just the better off. From its earliest social encyclicals it taught “that the civil order…needed intervention from the state for purposes of redistribution” (par. #39). Currently, health care reform, comprehensive immigration reform and labor reform all reflect aspects of solidarity promoting authentic human development. These considerations represent moral choices wrapped in economics intended “to build a more human world for all” (par. #39).