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Conference on Humanizing the Global Economy


Introductory Remarks of Bernard Cardinal Law
January 28, 2002

Distinguished Guests, my brother Bishops, ladies and gentlemen, I join with Bishop Gregory, Bishop Jiménez, and Archbishop O'Brien in welcoming you to this important Symposium to consider the ethical dimensions of the phenomenon known as "economic globalization". Our goal this week is to reflect on what actions should be taken, which should be avoided, and by whom, in order to humanize the global economy.

The task is a very difficult one, and we approach it with a spirit of prayer and a sense of mission. During the past year, the Holy Father has called for collaboration among experts in politics, ethics, and the economy, to humanize the process of globalization. He has also outlined the keys that are necessary to achieve this goal, grounded in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly reminded the world that globalization must serve man, and that a global market must be balanced by a global culture of solidarity that is attentive to the needs of the weakest. Our role in the days to come is to take these keys of Catholic Social Teaching and bring them down to a practical level: how can we, collectively, help to influence the development of the global economy so that it respects the fundamental dignity of the human person.

Bishop Gregory has already outlined for us some of the background on the organization of this conference, and the decision to approach it from the perspective of the three regions represented here. I would add to these observations a word about how the participants themselves were chosen. We are privileged to have among us a highly distinguished group of individuals from a variety of disciplines: economists, academics, leaders of multilateral institutions, high-ranking members of government, civil society representatives, workers and union leaders, corporate executives, and environmentalists. Of course, we also have Church represented here. Our goal was to bring together decision makers, expert advisors, and leaders in business, ethics, and other disciplines, and to provide both formal and informal settings in which together we can search for solutions to the perplexing challenges presented by globalization. May I extend to each one of you first my thanks for giving us your valuable time, and second, my encouragement to enter into these proceedings with an open mind and a sincere hope of breaking new ground. I want to challenge you today: Let no participant consider that their task here is only to speak, or only to listen. We must strive for an in-depth exchange of views and work to produce some concrete suggestions for the future.

Perhaps what makes our mission so difficult is the amorphous nature of globalization. It is nearly impossible to define, and yet at the same time it is an irrefutable fact of life. Claire Short, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, has said that being accused of favoring globalization is like being accused of favoring the sun rising in the morning. At this stage, globalization seems inevitable and unstoppable. It also is, in principle, a moral neutral. The Holy Father says that "[g]lobalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself, and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good." That is a perfect summary of our starting point and our challenge. We arrive here convinced that globalization can neither be fully embraced nor completely rejected. Instead, the process must be guided and formed. It is a process that has great possibilities to produce growth and wealth, but at the same time it does not guarantee a fair distribution of benefits. In fact, globalization, unmonitored, can lead to an ever greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. How can today's leaders govern the globalization process to integrate economic growth with human values, to tend to the needs of the poor while not unduly impeding the functioning of free markets? The answer lies in good stewardship for the universal common good.

To help set the stage for our proceedings, I will offer, if not a definition, at least a framework for understanding what is meant by globalization, generally and in the economic context. In general, globalization is typified by the elimination of barriers, and by the integration of countries and peoples. In the specific case of commerce, the barriers being eliminated concern the movement of capital, goods, and even people. The integration taking place concerns financial exchanges, as economies become increasingly linked and in some cases function almost as one. One striking symbol is the common currency for the European Union, brought into circulation at the beginning of this year.

Integration is a key word in these reflections, because the consequences of integration are the prize to globalization's friends, and the worry for globalization's foes. Part of our task is to examine these consequences from an ethical perspective, including the principles that guide the integration process, and the concrete impact the process has on the lives of people in our respective regions.

This approach implicitly affirms the priority of ethics as a baseline for evaluation. As the Holy Father has pointed out, however, "not all ethics are worthy of the name". One by-product of the success of market policies in the Western world is a temptation to replace traditional ethics with principles of utilitarianism, efficiency, and profit. The principles of Catholic Social Teaching call us instead to ground our ethical analysis in the fundamental dignity of the human person. Those principles include solidarity, a preferential option for the poor, care for creation, subsidiarity, and the universal common good. Bishop Martin will speak about these core principles tonight. They provide the most trustworthy framework for assessing whether any societal process or movement is operating for good or evil.

Over the years, the Catholic Church has recognized the value of democratic market economies, in particular in the Papal Encyclical Letter Centisimus Annus. Market economies can be excellent means to respond to the economic needs of men and women, and to encourage, respect, and reward free initiative. Why, then, are people in the streets protesting globalization? Why are there losers and not just winners in this process? And what can we do about it?

There can be many possible responses from the variety of disciplines represented here this week. As a moral teacher, let me offer two thoughts on how the process of global integration may have gone off-track. First, the base-line values of the process may need adjustment. The best building blocks of our society are mutual respect, and a covenant for the common welfare. These values reflect the law of the family, and indeed the law of any good community. We know from experience that when family is strong, quality of life improves. When family breaks down, society pays a heavy price. This analogy may help show why the process of global integration is not improving quality of life for everyone. It does not follow the law of the family, but instead it enshrines economic principles as base-line values. Nearly every decision or policy appears to be subordinate to the unrestricted free market. This is "absolutizing" the economy, with an emphasis on individual gains over the global common good.

The second possible problem with the process of globalization is a reversal of priorities. The goal of integration – having persons and countries act almost as one – presses citizens and nation-states to lose their claims to distinctiveness, in order to remove the barriers to integration. In this order, the smaller is subordinated to the larger, and the large consumes the small. The objective may be to achieve one big family, but as some have said, one big family cannot exist if all the little ones are gone. The principle of subsidiarity in Catholic Social Teaching says that larger groupings should not take priority over small, and that larger groupings should build up from small ones rather than consume them.

These two problems I have mentioned – distorted baseline values and reversed priorities -- illustrate the tensions at work in the globalization process and the need to seek balanced solutions. Globalization's focus on economic base-line values would lead to a type of profit-oriented individualism, while the reversed priorities would lead to a kind of super-state, obliterating distinctiveness at lower levels. What is needed is a place somewhere in between: a society of freedom where individual initiative is respected but the global common good is paramount. I would reiterate that a model for this type of society is found in the family. Perhaps, then, the process of global integration should start from below, preserving smaller communities even as it builds on them.

In practice, the search for a balanced approach to globalization requires evaluating and addressing many specific concerns. It is impossible to cover all these concerns in depth in the three days of this Symposium, and so we have chosen to focus on one subset of issues, namely, economic concerns. It is difficult to isolate economic concerns from other aspects of the globalization process, however, and no doubt our discussions here will go beyond any narrow understanding of economic issues. For example, we cannot ignore the relationship of the economic side of globalization to the endangerment of culture. The logic of the market, and its values, can be imposed without respecting cultural distinctiveness. Again, there is a challenge to find balance, so that all peoples can share in the benefits of market economies but at the same time preserve their own values and beliefs.

Some of the economic questions that will be posed in the next days, as key concerns of the Church, include the following:

  • Are steps needed to ensure more equitable trade relationships between developed and developing countries? Should countries that promote free trade for the developing world remove tariffs on imports?

  • How can workers' rights be protected? Should there be minimum standards, locally or globally?

  • What is the potential and what are the limitations of development assistance? Has the debt relief effort of the last few years been successful?

  • Do transnational corporations have responsibilities to address the environmental consequences of foreign operations?

  • What criteria should a developing country consider for its foreign investment to ensure integral development?

As we take forward these inquiries, we must be ever mindful of the new reality in which we live following the terrorist attacks of September 11. As the U.S. Bishops said in our recent statement on this tragedy, "Our nation, as a principal force for economic globalization, must do more to spread the benefits of globalization to all, especially the world's poorest. The injustice and instability in far away lands about which we know too little can have a direct impact on our own sense of peace and security." The challenge, then, is to use the global economy and the process of globalization to address injustices, not to add to them.

I will conclude by giving a brief overview of the meeting. We are very privileged to have with us for plenary sessions leaders from major international institutions, government, and the Church. They will give us their perspectives on the ethical aspects of the global economy, and comment on the role they see for their respective institutions.

Tomorrow we will break into smaller groups to permit a more in-depth discussion on particular topics. Each Discussion Session will be moderated to allow dialogue among the main presenters and the audience. On Wednesday morning, we will conclude our proceedings with a Roundtable Discussion, moderated by Bishop Martin. This Roundtable Discussion is an excellent opportunity to synthesize our reflections and challenge all the actors – including Church – to take a more vigorous role in humanizing the global economy.

Together, let us make this Symposium a significant milestone in the debate on the ethics of globalization. I have great confidence in the ability of the eminent group gathered here to reach this lofty ambition. May God bless our work. Thank you.

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