Money must serve not rule has become Pope Francis’s mantra whenever he addresses the state of society today. The message challenges people in business, politics and all citizens as consumers, self-employed craftsmen and professionals, savers and small investors.
In his address to the members of the Fondazione Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice, at the Vatican at the end of May, Pope Francis deplored the “false dichotomy” between ethics and its teaching in religious circles on the one hand and the opportunism and practicality of business on the other. He said there is a natural bond between profit and social responsibility, and that economic gain cannot be separated from the search of the common good.
This resonates the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, where he writes that the “conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be ‘shielded’ from the influences of moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way.”
Money and pride, without a genuine solidarity conscience, might gratify us for a moment but leaves us empty and directionless
The following three questions need to be answered by policymakers, business decision-makers and consumers: Is there an understanding of the purpose of business, which goes beyond financial profit? Are decisions taken with a reason that goes beyond profit and private utility, but which take society at large into consideration? And do we have the correct definition of ‘common good’ or do we wrongly define this in its very narrow sense of a ‘better quality of life for everyone’?
A joint document that underlines the integration of ethics and economics, ‘Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones: Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system’ published in mid-May by two Holy See dicastries, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, addresses these three questions, but starts by expressing its disappointment that the 2007-2014 crisis seems to have not changed anything in the way business is run and States are governed. They blame this on the “myopic egoism” that prevails in politics, business and consumption and which confuses economic growth with “authentic development”.
The dash for economic growth without considering the consequences on society, with widening gaps of inequality, social issues of migration and foreign workers, and the collapse of honesty and integrity due to pressures of liberal views that are not consonant with local cultures and traditions, has caused a “reckless and amoral culture of waste” that has marginalised “great masses of the world’s population, depriving them of decent work and left them without any means of escape”. Citizens have been dumbed down by the intrusion in their lives of social media which is by nature manipulative and exploitive.
The way forward lies in the values imparted in the family, schools, universities and the media, but predominantly in the family. We need to relearn how we take decisions and understand the value of prudence, patience, perseverance and restraint. The focus needs to be on an ‘integral good’, not on a ‘public good’, where an improvement of the quality of life, much mentioned by politicians, is translated into the sustainment of human dignity and development in full respect of human rights and freedom.
Social development needs to be redefined based on the value of solidarity, peace and justice. Society scores badly on this today as we confuse the State and its institutions with the government and we do not appreciate the distinction between the two.
The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11;1-9) has been built with the foolish idea that by constructing this edifice, man can be independent of God, strengthening popularity as it plays on the instincts of selfishness and envy. Money and pride, without a genuine solidarity conscience, might gratify us for a moment but leaves us empty and directionless in the long run.
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