A better kind of politics

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2020 - 12:00am

When one talks of papal encyclicals, the common impression is that they focus on the spiritual aspects of our lives. However, the fact is that many of these encyclicals form part of the Catholic social teachings. Together, this is the body of social principles and moral teachings that is articulated in the papal, conciliar and other official documents issued by the popes since the late 19th century dealing with the economic, political and social order.

This is true of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti. It is composed of eight chapters; I have written about the first four chapters in previous columns. Chapter V is titled “A Better Kind of Politics.” The first paragraph states: “The development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good. Sadly politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards a different world.”

In this chapter, the pope condemns both of the most popular movements in the world today – populism and liberalism. He writes: “Lack of concern for the vulnerable can hide behind a population that exploits them demagogically for its own purposes, or a liberalism that serves the economic interests of the powerful. In both cases, it becomes difficult to envisage an open world that makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable and shows respect for different cultures.”

The document asserts again that eliminating inequality is much more important than economic growth. In a previous encyclical, Pope Francis stated that the “trickle down” theory has never worked. This is the belief that if an economy becomes richer, the wealth of the rich will “trickle down to the poor.” Instead, what we have seen is that as economies become richer, the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider. Even during these pandemic days, many of the rich have become richer while the poor bear the brunt of the economic sacrifices.

Pope Francis writes: “Eliminating inequality requires an economic growth that can help to tap each region’s potential and thus guarantees a sustainable equality. At the same time it follows that welfare projects which meet certain needs should be considered merely temporary response.”

Here again the pope emphasizes that everyone is entitled to a life of human dignity. This concept cannot be left to the private sector alone since the capitalist instinct is to lower costs, including labor costs, in order to maximize profits. Even now we hear businessmen objecting to increasing minimum wage to the level of a “living wage” because it would make them non-competitive in the world of business.

Pope Francis writes: “Hence my insistence that helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. For there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work. In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world and ultimately for our life as a people.”

One of the most profound parts of this chapter is the discussion on “concupiscence” which is a human weakness, the proclivity to selfishness. It is the human inclination to be concerned “only with myself, my group, my own petty interests.”

In his proposed solutions, Pope Francis repeats the message he has articulated in previous encyclicals. He says: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of ‘spillover or trickle’ – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.”

The pope writes that financial speculation aimed at quick profits will continue to wreak havoc. He also said: “The fragility of the world systems in the face of pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom.”

Pope Francis does support real popular movements. He says: “There seems to be no place for popular movements that unite the unemployed, temporary and informal workers and many others who do not easily find a place in existing structures.”

Surprisingly, Pope Francis defends politics: “For many people politics is a distasteful word often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians... Yet can our world function without politics? Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without sound political life?”

In the end, politicians should ask themselves: “What did I do for the progress of our people? What mark did I leave on society? What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?”

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An invitation to online writing classes: Adult series on writing human interest stories, Nov. 28, 2-3:30 p.m. with Paulynn Sicam.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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