Bringing Populorum Progressio into the 21st Century

Jim Hynes, Catholic lay activist from North Wales reflects on the relevence of Populorum Progessio to poverty and globalisation today.

Next year is the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the encyclical POPULORUM PROGRESSIO 1967, (The Progress of People) issued by�� Paul VI. Preparations are being made by some Catholic, organisations led by CAFOD to remind people of their obligations arising out of this, a document, which set out to discover why there are such great differences between rich countries and the poor countries ravaged by hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance.

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As, one of the ���Vatican���s best kept secrets���,�� Populorum Progressio will be taken out of the closet and re-presented to the faithful, most of whom will never have heard of it. So is it important for them to hear about it now? Yes, because its warnings about the growing gap between the ���have����� and the ��� have not����� nations widening still, even as the economic power of America gives way to the growing powers of China and India. Within nations the gap between the wealthy and the poor is becoming a chasm to the shame of us all! Furthermore despite the encyclical���s identification of the economic sources of war, the�� current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still wars of gain waged by the wealthy nations against ill equipped poor ones under the pretext of liberating them.�� Little has changed in that respect. In fact in a recent statement in the UN�� Kofi Annan,�� Secretary General, gloomily told the assembly that over the past ten years the problems of an unjust global economy, disorder and contempt for human rights and the rule of law had considerably worsened.

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The encyclical���s warnings to the wealthy still apply as the number of millionnaires and billionaires has grown along with their conspicuous spending within our new consumerist society. Few heed the encyclical���s�� remonstrance, ��� But the acquisition of worldly goods can lead men to greed, to the unrelenting desire for more, to the pursuit of greater personal power. Rich and poor alike���be they individuals, families or nations���can fall prey to avarice and soul stifling materialism.��� Further, the encyclical warned the wealthy that,�� ���Continuing avarice on their part will arouse the judgment of God and the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foresee.��� Were they, are they, listening?����

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The big problem about getting this encyclical out of the drawer is that much of it is desperately out of date. In fact parts of the document were out of date or inappropriate at the time of its publication. In seeking the ���agents of change��� the Pope was recommending�� change from the top down. But hope for such a change is a vain hope if ever there was one. ��For that to happen we will need eternity��� and longer! Hell would have to freeze over. The encyclical acknowledges that people with power yield reluctantly but the Pope hope that by consensus they would being a measure of justice for others. But the rich and powerful do not bring social justice. They hang on to what wealth they have and continue to grab more from the poor. They are masters of avarice. The people at the top of what the later encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Social [Social Concern] 1987 calls ���structures of sin��� are out of the redemptive frame. Forget them! Change will have to come from those working near the bottom of political and socio economic structures. They are the Men[ and indeed the Women]�� of Good Will, mentioned in the�� encyclical. They will be the people who have traditionally led revolutions: the artisans, artists, poets, teachers, professors and lawyers but�� not the corporate ones.

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Forty years ago greed was hard at work in the post colonial relationships between the former master and servant nations and it is still active witin the New World Order. Greed, the primal sin, has been around for a long time and no doubt will stay around for a long time yet. It has taken its place in a changed world order, a neo colonial era,�� but appeals to the powerful and their servants will not curb it.

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Donal Dorr writing in Option for The Poor in 1983 pointed out that there was no sign in Populorum Progressio that the poor themselves had been called upon to transform society. That was yet to come.�� There was no encouragement for the poor to organise themselves politically but at the same time the encyclical warned us that if gross inequalities continue then the poor might resort to violence and the Church knows from experience that it will always be the poor who suffer most in any war.

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In his commentary, Dorr wrote, ��� This is not to say that ���option for the poor��� necessarily means approval for violent resistance to oppression; but it could mean refusal to make a blanket condemnation of all such resistance; and that is what we find in Populorum Progressio.��� Confrontation cannot be avoided at any level of human relationships but it does not have to be violent. The Bolivian peasants refusal to accept water privatisation is a case in point.

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Peace without justice is no kind of peace at all. There was nobody more confrontational than the carpenter from Nazareth. Witness the incident in the Temple when He showed His anger at the oppression of the poor, in the very place where God was to be found. The Temple was a place where monetary transactions of an oppressive nature took place and Jesus decided that out- and- out confrontation was necessary so he plaited a whip and drove the moneychangers off the premises! Today several such Temples are to be found dedicated to the worship of money and they too have to be confronted. Head on confrontation of the money market is impossible for people without power but quiet subversion could work. People themselves can sometimes opt out of the structures of sin and opt into structures of virtue: fair trade initiatives, credit unions, farmers��� markets, co-operatives and the like.�� One of the most effective confrontations with global power would be to recover some of those teeming billions of monetary units sloshing about in the money market by lobbying hard for the implementation of a Tobin Tax. Populorum Progressio asked for a world fund to relieve destitution so that could be it. A�� Tobin Tax, a world government tax on speculative deals in the money�� market,�� would fill the need beautifully. Such a tax, first proposed by the Nobel Peace Prize economist James Tobin in the 1970���s,�� would ensure that�� small charges would be made upon currency transfers. The tax�� would calm damaging speculations while raising big sums of money for third world development. Tobin Tax Initiative and War on Want

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Populorum Progressio was an apt analysis of the conditions of its time and prophetic of things to come, but now forty years later inevitably aspects�� of���� the encyclical have dated? Things have move on at a frenetic pace and much has�� worsened. It would be very dfficult indeed to measure how much impact Populorum Progressio has had upon�� Catholic�� top down decision makers.�� If any!�� When the encyclical was written the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had been in existence for about twenty years and few realised just how much those two structures needed reform to achieve justice for the poorer nations. Many activists now believe that they should be abolished altogether and replaced by structures which are not simply reflections of the one- size- fits- all monetarists who run them.

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What other feature of Populorum Progressio dates the document? The word ���globalisation��� did not appear in it.�� Of course it could not have done so because the word had not yet been coined although the encyclical picked up on the beginnings of the process of globalisation. For example, ���Unless the existing machinery is modified, the disparity between rich and poor nations will increase rather than diminish; the rich nations are progressing with rapid strides while the poor nations move forward at a slow pace. ��� Para 8

The word ���globalisation��� first appeared around the years 1981 and�� 1983 in�� the Harvard Business Review. Since then the supposed benefits if economic and political globalisation have been:�� increases in the standard of living;�� increased prosperity in developing countries and increases in wealth for all living on this globe. This view claims that economic prosperity brings about social prosperity too. With all emotive language stripped away from the word and the process globalisation has been described�� as economic , social technological cultural and political changes showing up as increasing interdependence , integration and interaction between and among people and companies world wide. Is all sweeetness and light then?�� Have we entered an era of the kingdom of God on earth. Certainly not, there is much evidence to the contrary convincing us that globalisation is like a roaring lion prowling the earth�� seeking whom it may�� devour. Roaring lions are easily seen but one of�� the worst aspects of globalisation emerged some years ago more like a thief that comes in the night! The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI),�� negotiated among�� members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development between 1995 and 1998 was to be that thief.

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The United States, determined to to avoid interference and resistance from poor countries, worked on the drafts of the MAI at�� the OECD Council whose�� membership was restricted to the rich countries only. There was no publicity. National governments and their citizens would not be let into the secret. They were to wake up one morning and find that they had been taken over completely by the global corporations. Fortunately for us all , copies of the draft agreement were leaked to a Canadian citizen group�� and the secret was out. The aim of the MAI was to draft�� new�� universal investment laws guaranteeing corporations unconditional rights to conduct�� financial transations�� world- wide unchallenged by�� national laws and citizens��� protests.�� If implemented corporations and multinationals could�� sue governments when national health, labour or environment legislation threatened their interests. An MAI in place would have been a gigantic structure of sin spread like a cancer across the globe. As it is, even now,�� few governments exercise any real power in the face of the global corporations an MAI would have made total slaves of them all!

Confrontation began from the bottom up. Hundreds of grassroots organizations and individual activists protested again and again with much of the protestation passing through and along the Internet. Few governments had woken up to what was going on with the MAI. One alert government, the French, acted decisively standing alongside the people in their opposition. Activists in many other countries gave lessons on the MAI to their elected members of parliament who had, for the most part, remained totally ignorant of the threats to their own limited powers. Opposition was such that the MAI beast was forced back to its lair to await a transmogrification which would allow it to emerge sometime in the future.�� This action towards the development of peoples, Populorum Progressio, began not with the agents of change mentioned in the encyclical but with the humble masses who could recognize an enemy when they saw one!

What else has happened to place Populorum Progressio into the historic past? There was of course the foundation of the European Union in 1993 and a couple of years later, the World Trade Organisation, 1995. Both have had the most tremendous impact upon the progress of peoples and both have made positive moves towards playing a part, as the encyclical advised, ��� in the construction of a new world order.��� Unfortunately too, some of their policies have impeded the progress of peoples by giving heavier weighting in subsequent legislation to the thousands of big business lobbyists in Brussels rather than to the common good. For example, who needs the MAI when you can impose the privatisation of water through European legislation?

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Of course post-1967 encyclicals have picked up on socio-economic and political changes since Populorum Progressio but surely it is now time for another social justice encyclical analysing the world order at the beginning of the twenty first century as the gap between the rich and the poor widens ever more. Surely such an encyclical would boldly criticise all the features of modern socio economic and political life which oppress and diminish human life, especially the rampant hedonism of the western nations. Perhaps it could point the way towards alternative ways of being human, closer to what Jesus would have asked to bring good news to the poor. It should do it without being too prescriptive. Unfortunately the tenor of first two social justice encyclicals, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, were adopted by various fascist regimes who put corporatist spin on them.

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The 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI encouraged corporatism.�� Corporatism was a kind of class collaboration, thought to be better than class conflict.�� Arising out of Leo XIII���s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum corporatist ideas were�� adopted by Catholic trades unions to�� counterbalance the socialist ideology of other trades unions. At the time,�� both church and state as traditional supporters of feudalist and aristocratic traditions opposed unrestricted�� capitalism on the one hand and Marxist socialism on the other. Corporatism was suggested as a Third Way. ( Haven���t we heard that Third Way recently within New Labour!) Corporatism became badly tainted in the hands of Mussolini���s fascists, Hitler���s nazis and Salazar���s Portuguese Constitution of 1933. Austria, a very conservative country,�� also dallied with it. To some extent it was redeemed by Roosevelt whose New Deal was modelled upon corporatist ideology much to the dismay of�� out- and- out capitalists of America, the ones who owned the country, the unrestricted capitalists. We feel sre that all new social justice encyclicals would avoid expressing any alternative ways of being human that could be misinterpreted for use by the powerful against the powerless.

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What then should we get from the re-presentation of Populorum Progressio? We should get reminders of our duties in meeting our obligations towards a positive option for the poor. As we go about our liturgical practices will we be asked to sell that second home in the Algarve or the Cotswolds and give the money to the poor? ���For as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the things they sold���. and distribution was made to every one according as he had need.��� Douai, Acts 4:32-37. As St. Ambrose put it: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich."�� Will we be asked to cease playing over indulgent consumers as determined by our masters in the global economy? Will we give up our three of four TV sets, two or three computers, two or three cars, ipods, and high carbon emission journeys to the Maldives or shopping sprees in New York?�� Will we rejoice in buying clothes at ridiculously low prices because they have been made by wage slaves in other parts of the world?�� Will we buy Fairtrade; call mega stores to account about slave like worker conditions among their suppliers? Will we buy locally to support our high street shops and insist that our trades unions work in solidarity with the poor abroad?�� Will we call our politicians to account for starting wars which blast human lives and neighbourhoods to shreds? Will we get any reminders from the pulpit? And why not? Are we merely liturgical Christians or are we the salt of the earth? Go ahead then and prove it!

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James P. Hynes

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The writer currently serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council for Lay Associations; for many years led�� the St. Vincent de Paul's��Social Welfare and Social Justice��Committees��in�����redressing situations that cause poverty���; served on the Catholic Bishops' of England and Wales Social Welfare Committee until its dissolution; and was a founder member of the Anti-Poverty Network Cymru and acted as��its representative at meetings with the European Anti-Poverty Network��.

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