Accounting for the social spread
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Accounting for the social spread

When speaking to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI stated that governments should strive hard to safeguard employment in the real economy, which should not be governed only by the principle of making profit at any cost.

He said that economies need to reacquire a drive towards employment creation and having a level of profit that is proportionate to this. The economic crisis that has now been with us since 2008, has developed also because all too often the profit principle became absolute, at the cost of employment creation. Moreover, the financial sector was given more importance than the real economy, and to resolve the crisis, governments need to attach less importance to sectoral interests and give more priority to the common good.

It is also interesting to note that the Pontiff encouraged states to work together to resolve the international economic crisis, even if some states may be held back by those that are not performing so well. Together we can go further, as otherwise we run the risk of a few rich become richer and the many poor becoming poorer, with no possibility of getting out of the poverty trap.

The Pope claimed that while seeking to reduce the ‘finan-cial spread’, we should not resign ourselves to have a widening ‘social spread’.

The speech of the Pontiff takes us back to the article he wrote in the Financial Times just before Christmas, which he described as a time for great joy and deep reflection. In that article, he claimed that Christians, whatever they do in life, should not shun the world but engage with it. However, their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology. In this regard Christians are expected to fight poverty, to work for more equitable sharing of the world’s resources, to care for the weakest and the vulnerable, to oppose greed and exploitation and to promote peace and justice for all.

The speech of the Pope to the diplomats and the article he wrote in the Financial Times are very much to the point and place politicians on the spot.

Governments need to ensure that public finances are strengthened. However, they also need to ensure that there is economic growth that is not restricted only to certain sectors of the economy, which means that economic growth must be accompanied by more employment and more social cohesion.

Stopping the ‘social spread’ from widening does mean having more social cohesion. Equity and efficiency no longer need to be placed in conflict with each other, as we need to find solutions that place them is support of each other.

The employment figures published on Tuesday across the European Union are quite frightening in this respect. For example, one-third of Italy’s young people are unemployed. A quarter of Spain’s labour force is also unemployed. Unemployment in the US is also high, in relation to what is the normal level of unemployment in that country. The number of persons falling into the poverty trap is increasing in a number of countries.

In Malta we are going through a different experience with unemployment at 6.6 per cent and youth unemployment at 14.7 per cent, but I question whether we should ignore the bigger international picture. In practical terms, it is worth looking at the report in the Wall Street Journal about the launching of a new School of Business and Economics by the Catholic University of America.

The new school seeks to integrate an education in strategy, accounting and marketing with instruction in morals, character and religious values, based on the premise that business is meant to promote social good and not just financial success.

As we look forward as a country, I strongly believe that these social considerations need to start featuring in our economic debate as well. Otherwise we run the risk of losing all sense of the values that should guide us in our lives, even as economic players. At that stage the ‘social spread’ will become a real issue in this country.

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