August 18, 2010 An Economist's "Take" on Caritas and What It Means for Catholics

By Bill Evans, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics in the Dept. of Economics at the Univ. of Notre Dame

I read Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate from the perspective of an economist who is also Catholic. As an economics professor, I am struck by the many places where the document provides the same lessons we teach in economics classes. As a Catholic, I am reminded that true development is not just economic but requires a broader view of man.

The roots of Caritas were planted in Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (published in 1967), which outlined the interest of the Church in the “progressive development… of peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance.” The encyclical noted that the path to development was through industrialization which “…is necessary for economic growth and human progress.” Paul VI cautioned however that development would not occur unless nations could eliminate the “…unstable trade relations between rich and poor countries.” The pontiff’s belief in the power of trade to encourage development is echoed by economists. In a recent survey of academics, no single policy issue generated more agreement among economist than promoting free trade.

In Caritas, Benedict XVI outlines the unprecedented growth in trade that has occurred over the past 40 years. Benedict XVI notes that “Paul VI had partially foreseen” the globalization of the world economy, “…but, the ferocious pace at which it has evolved could not have been anticipated.” As global trade barriers have declined, world trade has exploded, growing at a rate substantially more than growth in world-wide GDP. Caritas notes that globalization has “…been the driving force behind the emergence from underdevelopment of whole regions…” and an important advance in meeting the “progressive development” goals set by Paul VI.

At the same time, Benedict XVI gets to the heart of the Church’s concern over globalization when he notes that the rise in global economic activity has not been “… matched by ethical interactions of conscience and minds.” The key point of Caritas for Catholics is that “…development requires a transcendent vision of the person, it needs God.” Without God, Benedict notes that man “…ends up promoting a dehumanizing form of development.” The difficult question for Catholics is how we can harness the benefits of economic growth while at the same time encouraging “authentic human development” that concerns “the whole of the person in every single dimension.” The list of concerns cited by the document is daunting and includes environmental degradation, rising inequality, and the growth of child labor. There are no clear solutions to any of these issues, but Caritas outlines principles Catholics must consider when tackling these problems.

Author: Bill Evans

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