The economy and society
Once the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, had cynically stated “There is no such thing as society”. Her line of thinking was quite straightforward. People have the duty to look after themselves first and, when they have a problem, they cannot cast their problem on to other people. She was seeking to emphasise the importance of the individual and the responsibility each individual has towards oneself.
However, several believe that although the individual is responsible towards oneself and that one should not burden society with one’s problems, society should still see that those most vulnerable are provided with adequate support. In effect, society does exist and it is made up of individual men and women and of families. Together they form our society.
This means that we must integrate ourselves in one society and what unites us should be solidarity.
Solidarity ensures that we have cohesion, that is we do not have people who have a lot and people who have nothing. A good society is one where we do not have those who waste and those who are treated as waste. As Pope Paul VI said, a good society will ensure the development of every person and of the whole person.
One may think that these could be very noble words but not very practical in today’s world. I beg to differ. As we all seek to make Malta prosper economically, we need to appreciate that the economy is not everything. Moreover, we must appreciate that it is not enough to ensure that we have economic growth but that economic growth needs to be fairly distributed to all levels of society.
Everyone needs to share in the benefits of economic growth and not the few. Without such fair distribution, our economy cannot be sustainable.
It may be said that this is not in line with current economic thinking as it is too egalitarian. I also beg to differ on this point. We should not confuse the concepts of solidarity and fairness with the concept of egalitarianism. We should have a fair society. We should have a society where solidarity is the expected mode of behaviour.
However, fairness and solidarity also require that as much as there is the principle of entitlement, there is also the principle of the responsibility to contribute to the society one lives in.
The development of every person and of the whole person requires integration. There needs to be the integration of all persons, where everyone has a contribution to make to the economy and society in general. The balance between entitlement and responsibility is better served if everyone’s possible contribution to the economy is valued. It would also ensure that no one is excluded from the economy.
Integration also means integrating the various aspects of society. So the economic aspect would need to be integrated with the cultural, social, educational and religious aspects. Moreover, the economic aspect cannot be taken to mean just the financial aspect but must also include the labour market, the productive activities, the international dimension of the economy, etc.
Unfortunately, the globalisation of the economy has brought with it a paradox in relation to society. On the one hand, globalisation has generated an over-emphasis of the individual over society, to the point that every individual can consider oneself an island. However, it has also brought with it a system where private economic powers seek to dictate rules that go against the interests of the individual and society.
The economy cannot be considered to be the starting point and the end point of society. Society cannot be subjected to economic rules but rather the economy needs to be subjected to social rules. The balance of power needs to be tilted in favour of society and not in favour of the economy. If we do this, the economy is likely to grow more.