The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, visited Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican yesterday, and the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano carried a front-page article by Piñera on “Economic Development and Integral Development,” a theme of great interest to us at Acton and the subject of our current conference series Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development.

Chile is justly famous for its acceptance of free-market economics through the influence of the “Chicago Boys” who studied under Milton Friedman and others at the University of Chicago. Chileans can and should be grateful that their dictator, Agosto Pinochet, decided to leave the economy alone, unlike the other meddling dictators in Latin America who submitted their peoples to decades of economic planning and resulting misery. (Watch this clip from the fascinating PBS documentary The Commanding Heights on the Chicago Boys and Pinochet.)

Piñera’s article is noteworthy because 1) he takes economics seriously as a moral and human endeavor and doesn’t simply assume that it is vulgar albeit necessary aspect of life, and 2) he realizes that as important as economics is, it is just one aspect of life. He also backs up his economic arguments with facts and gives concrete examples of what his government plans to achieve.

If I were to quibble with anything, it would be his support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). No one will deny that the MDG are laubable goals, but as someone who worked for the Holy See Mission to the UN when these were being drafted, I find it a stretch to support them from a Catholic free-market perspective. The MDG rely far too much on mechanisms of the state to re-distribute wealth and do far too little to encourage entrepreunership through the core functions of the state – fighting crime, protecting private property, etc. Acton followers will recognize these arguments in our Poverty Cure initiative.

All in all, the President of Chile should be forgiven this misstep. His article nicely encapsulates what many of us know to be the surest way to promote material and spiritual advancment – through the promotion of a limited government, free entreprise, and a civil society based on sound religious and moral principles.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science, I know, but it’s always surprising how many religious leaders and development “experts” miss the boat on this.

Here’s my translation of Piñera’s piece from the Italian:

Economic Development and Integral Development
by Sebastián Piñera, President of the Republic of Chile
L’Osservatore Romano Italian daily edition, 3 March 2011

Development has always been a central objective of humanity and constitutes a top priority for nations, governments and the international community. Countries are usually classified as developed or developing, but in recent years a third category has arisen: emerging nations.

True development, however, is much more than the simple production of goods or the attainment of a certain economic output. In Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI has deepened and emphasized the concept and necessity of an integral development, as proposed by Catholic social doctrine. Such development must favor the realization of the human person in his material and spiritual dimensions. So conceived – embracing the whole dimension of man – development is called to promote the quality of life, the common good, and defend the life and inalienable rights of the human person at all times and in all places and circumstances, with a view to a transcendent humanism.

This richer and more complete understanding is reflected in the quality of life and human development measures of the United Nations, which include evaluations that complement simple economic development such as life expectancy at birth, literacy of the population, access to quality primary and secondary education, social inequality and equity, democratic governance and care for the environment. Progress in each of these areas, however, presupposes and requires sustained economic growth.

In my country, Chile, average per capita annual income is currently $15,000, placing us in the category of emerging nations.

When I became President of the Republic about one year ago, we launched a program to govern with concrete objectives that were daring and noble: to end extreme poverty in our legislative term and lay the foundations so that, within the decade, Chile would succeed in overcoming poverty and would have the per capita income of a developed country. This is not just any kind of development, however. We aspire to an integral development that creates the opportunity of unprecedented material and spiritual progress for all. This was the dream our fathers and our grandfathers always cherished even if it was never realized. But today it appears more achievable than ever. This is exactly why it is a not only social and economic imperative but also, more importantly, a moral and ethical one, as John Paul II reminded us in his 1987 visit.

We are working tirelessly to reach these objectives. Our goals are: to obtain an annual rate of growth of 6 percent: to create 200,000 new jobs per year: to reduce delinquency and drug trafficking so that families can exercise their right to peace and security: to improve substantially the quality of education and health; to strengthen the family, to expand fundamental liberties: to deepen and increase participation in, and the transparency and vitality of, our democracy; and to protect human rights, above all the right to life from the moment of conception to natural death. For each of these aspects we can already show very concrete and significant progress.

Last year, notwithstanding the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami that struck our country – the fifth phenomenon of this type of violence in our history costing us $30 billion in damage, that is, 18 percent of our national income – Chile grew 5.2 percent and the projections for this year exceed 6 percent. Four-hundred thousand jobs were created, which represent almost 6 percent of our workforce. Measures of fear and crime are at their lowest in decades and drug arrests have increased substantially. We have applied deep structural reforms to the educational system, we have decisively improved the access to and quality of health care and we have launched a series of pro-family reforms, such as promoting the entry of women into the workplace without weakening their role as mothers and wives and increasing pre-school education.

In these ways, with everyone’s help, we are progressing towards development that is not only economic but also profoundly human, comprehensive and in line with the material and spiritual reality of the person. It is a commitment that goes beyond a government and even the state because it concerns each and every citizen. As the Pope has observed, it is a true vocation of the individual and the country to summon the will and effort of each and everyone to progress, realize and advance in the search for a fuller and happier life. In this, the Church and civil society play an active role.

The virtues of a united and shared national cause were fully appreciated in the rescue mission of the 33 miners who were trapped 700 meters deep inside a mountain of the Atacama Desert. For nearly three months, Chile was united like a big family, overcoming differences and making all the necessary efforts to find and save these miners. In this tight spot, as with last year’s earthquake, we could appreciate the toughness and courage of a people, ready to make any sacrifice to make Chile a freer, more prosperous, more just and fraternal country, which is, by definition, to achieve half of integral development. In all this, we know we could count on, and continue to do so, the prayers of the Pope and millions of men and women of good will all over the world.

  • Vidrine

    This article captures the essesnce of economic goals, which is to assist with the development of mankind. Hopefully, his country will avoid moving toward a materialistic culture that has confused and prohibited the “true” growth of so many people in developed countries.