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Lord Griffiths on Caritas in Veritate: Pope is the man on the money

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Commenting on how Pope Benedict XVI addressed the economic crisis and development challenges in “Caritas in Veritate” is Lord Brian Griffiths of Fforestfach, a member of the British House of Lords and Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International. He has served in an advisory capacity to the Acton Institute and delivered published papers on globalization and Third World development at the Institute’s international conferences.

Click here for the original article appearing in The Times.

July 13, 2009
The Times

Pope Benedict is the man on the money

The best analysis yet of the global economic crisis tells how people, not just rules, must change.

By Brian Griffiths

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, his strengths and weaknesses seemed clear. Here was an eminent theologian, philosopher and guardian of Christian truth, but a man unlikely to make the Church’s message relevant to the world today. How simplistic this now looks in the light of his third encyclical, in which Pope Benedict XVI confronts head-on the financial crisis that has rocked the world.

The language may be dense, but the message is sufficiently rewarding. The encyclical analyses modern capitalism from an ethical and spiritual perspective as well as a technical one. As a result it makes the Government’s White Paper on financial reforms published two days later look embarrassingly one-dimensional and colourless.

It is highly critical of today’s global economy but always positive. Its major concern is how to promote human development in the context of justice and the common good. Despite heavy competition from some of the world’s finest minds, it is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared. It should strike a chord with all who wish to see modern capitalism serving broader human ends.

The Pope makes it clear that the encyclical takes its inspiration from Populorum Progressio, the encyclical published by Paul VI in 1967, at the height of anti-capitalism in Europe. It attacked liberal capitalism, was ambivalent about economic growth, recommended expropriation of landed estates if poorly used and enthused about economic planning.

It was in stark contrast to Centesimus Annus (1991), the most recent encyclical dealing with economic matters, published after the fall of communism by a Polish Pope. John Paul II affirmed the market economy as a way of producing wealth by allowing human creativity and enterprise to flourish.

Pope Benedict is highly critical of modern capitalism. He believes that the international economy is marked by “grave deviations and failures”. Economic growth is weighed down by “malfunctions and dramatic problems”. Businesses that are answerable almost exclusively to their investors have limited social value. The financial system has been abused by speculative financial dealing and has wreaked havoc on the real economy. Globalisation has undermined the rights of workers, downsized social security systems and exploited the environment. As global prosperity has grown, so has “the scandal of glaring inequalities”.

Despite these criticisms, the encyclical has a positive view of profit, providing it is not an exclusive goal. It recognises that more labour mobility resulting from deregulation can increase wealth. It accepts that economic growth has lifted billions out of poverty and enabled some developing countries to become effective players in international politics. Globalisation offers an unprecedented chance of large-scale redistribution of wealth worldwide.

The kind of market economy Pope Benedict defends is much closer to the European social model than the “spontaneous order” of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. For him, market capitalism can never be conceived of in purely technical terms. Development is not just about freeing up markets, removing tariffs, increasing investment and reforming institutions. It is not even about social policies to accompany economic reforms. At the heart of the market is the human person, possessing dignity, deserving of justice and bearing the divine image. The market needs to be infused with a morality emanating from Christian humanism, which respects truth and encourages charity.

The encyclical suggests six major ways to make global capitalism more human. First, it calls for “the management of globalisation” and a reform of international economic institutions. They are needed “to manage the global economy, to revive economies hit by the crisis, to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis . . . to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration”. Not surprisingly, for this huge task we need “a true world political authority” through reform of the United Nations.

Next, there needs to be greater diversity among the enterprises that create wealth: mutual societies, credit unions and hybrid forms of commercial organisation. Third, globalisation has weakened the ability of trade unions to represent the interests of workers, something that needs to be reversed. Fourth, the scandal of inequality requires countries to increase the proportion of GDP given as foreign aid.

Fifth, because the environment is the gift of the Creator we have an intergenerational responsibility to tackle climate change.

Finally, everyone involved in the market, traders, producers, bankers — even consumers — must be alert to the moral consequences of their actions. “Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the common good.”

Pope Benedict’s words are not just platitudes. They affect every person at work every day. In the City they are a challenge to management to create a culture of prudence, responsibility and integrity.

There has to be zero tolerance for misleading clients, fudging conflicts of interest and inflating valuations. However great the revenue they produce, those who deviate must be disciplined. This kind of ethos cannot be imposed by regulation alone

Michael Severance


  • I was thrilled the day Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope. But based on this column, Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical sounds like it has some disappointing aspects.

    For example, I’m afraid the UN is beyond reform.

    Foreign aid can be as much hindrance as help to a country’s advancement.

    Climate change occurs and has been occurring but the case for further disabling our already battered economies in order to “save the planet” has not been made. Too many scientists disagree on what is happening and what approach to take, if action is even necessary.

    Trade unions are great but they can also become a contributor to companies leaving states and countries, as well as helping to drive one of the nails into a company’s bankruptcy coffin.

    What is and always has been imperative is, as the Pope says, upright people. As Lord Acton and AI have pointed out, the markets are not some abstract system managed “out there.” The markets are us and the morality of markets is dependent on our actions.

  • Charles

    Mark, I suggest you read the encyclical for yourself. It is a well-thought out reflection on social justice and related issues.

    The UN being a body run by humans is not beyond reform.

    While foreign aid can hinder a country’s development, it is often necessary in the here and now as part of human solidarity to ease difficult human conditions of the underprivileged e.g. hunger, disease, aftermath of natural catastrophes, etc.

    The Pope clearly condemns anti-development philosophies, and this is a counter-weight to his support for concerted action to enhance the environment for the sake of future generations (inter-generational concerns).

    Trade unions may have problems, but they definitely are one way of workers associating to improve their working conditions, and hence enhance their human dignity.

  • Roger McKinney

    “it is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.”

    I don’t understand that attitude at all. Does he really mean to say that the Pope understands economics better than any economist? I have read quite a few papers that explained the crisis better than does the encyclical. Thomas Woods’ “Meltdown” is an excellent example. The encyclical had almost no economics in it at all. It’s all about morality, love and justice, although the definition of justice is vague and can mean greater socialism or less.


    I agree with your remarks that mainly the Pope treated the moralist aspects, which is ovvious since economically we have many scholars in the world, but since the conscience is no longer considered as a capital principal we arrived where maybe we could not arrive. Why especially when the globalisation principal express the greedy and egoism, in the sense that with that notion the right of the strongest is the better. The strongest, the powerful can go everywhere, any how, any moment, collect what he wants and others not allowed to do the same. Now that is the man problem. For essence during the coldwar, many undercountries like my country Congo Democratic Republic was placed at the front. when Westernians won, they no longer considered that country as an allied, al contrary they considered as enemy because of his row material they don’t want to buy to take them untill they have killed more than 6 million of it people using the neighbouring countries. which they no longer try with Asia country.
    Since the strongest countries will continue to not consider the right to elementary life of other weak people, poor though they have everything it will not be easy to get forward. Since the force and will always triumph and aheaded the future will be compromised.
    It needs integration, effective participation of all in justice, peace and transparency.
    Otherwise, l’équation will be complicated.
    Thank you!