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John Paul II: Globalization Must Not Be a New Form of Colonialism

In recent months John Paul II has been critiquing the economics of globalization, raising serious ethical questions about the way it is implemented. It is almost as if he knew that some prominent Catholic writers, especially in the United States, were advocating in the name of the Church an economics based on using people as commodities for economic advantage and approving the accumulation of wealth for the few at the expense of the many. The present fruits of economic globalization are an ever-increasing gap around the world between rich and poor, and the destruction of the middle class and small businesses in the poorer countries. Regulations from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization do not allow countries to grow food for their own people (but rather for export); laborers have to work under terrible sweatshop conditions at slave wages which enrich CEO’s and stockholders and impoverish the workers, who frequently are children. These are the realities, even though associations of maquiladoras in places like Central America give propaganda tours to convince visitors that workers are well-treated and taken care of in their plants.

According to the Vatican Information Service (April 27, 2001), in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences the Holy Father corrected those who, contrary to the social teaching of the Church, have presented their defense of individualism and the “enshrining a kind of triumph market and its logic” as ethics:

“Not all forms of ethics are worthy of the name. We are seeing the emergence of patterns of ethical thinking which are by-products of globalization itself and which bear the stamp of utilitarianism. Ethics cannot be the justification or legitimation of a system, but rather the safeguard of all that is human in any system.

“Ethics demands that systems be attuned to the needs of man, and not that man be sacrificed for the sake of the system.”

As he had done in Ecclesia in America, the Apostolic Exhortation of the Synod of America, where he openly condemned neoliberalism, the global market which operates without consideration for the human person in the workers around the world, the Pope insisted again on “the inalienable value of the human person” who “must always be an end and not a means, a subject, not an object, not a commodity of trade.” He stated that globalization “must not be a new version of colonialism-It must respect the diversity of cultures which are life’s interpretive keys.

“In all the variety of cultural forms, universal human values exist and they must be brought out and emphasized as the guiding force of all development and progress.” He said the Church hopes that all “elements in society will cooperate to promote a globalization which will be at the service of the whole person and of all people.”

When John Paul II received the members of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, on the occasion of their annual meeting, which was held in Rome this year, he emphasized that the process of globalization, “while opening up new possibilities for progress, poses urgent questions regarding the very nature and purpose of economic activity. It calls for ethical discernment aimed at protecting the environment and promoting the full human development of millions of men and women, in a way that respects every individual’s dignity and makes room for personal creativity in the workplace.

“It is my hope and prayer that your association, by advancing these eminently human goals, will enable future generations to enjoy a prosperity which is not merely economic but spiritual as well, corresponding to the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

On May 17 the Holy Father addressed 300 participants in a meeting promoted by the Ethics and Economy Foundation of Bassano del Grappa, Italy. He focused his talk on the phenomenon of globalization, underlining that “the word ‘global’, if understood coherently, must include everyone.”

The Pope encouraged the members of this new foundation as they strive towards a “well-articulated reflection on globalization, solidarity and free economic initiatives based on solid ethical and spiritual values.” He animated them “to pursue this work to insert into the economic field the expectations and indications of the Magisterium and Social Doctrine of the Church.”

He said that globalization is “no doubt a phenomenon which allows for great possibilities for growth and producing riches” but “many also admit that per se it does not assure fair distribution of goods among the citizens of various countries. In reality, the wealth produced often remains in the hands of only a few, with a consequent further loss of sovereignty of national States, already rather weak in the area of development.”

“The Church’s doctrine,” John Paul II affirmed, “teaches that economic growth must be integrated with high values, so as to become qualitative growth; therefore, fair, stable, respectful of cultural and social individuality, as well as ecologically sustainable.” He contended that “man must be the protagonist, not the slave, of the means of production. …

Globalization is a phenomenon which is intrinsically ambivalent, half way between a potential good for mankind and social damage with serious consequences.”

“There must be,” the Pope concluded, “intensified collaboration between politics and economy,” especially to care for “those who could be victims of globalization on a worldwide scale. I am thinking, for example, of instruments which could alleviate the heavy burden of foreign debt of developing countries, or legislation which protects infancy from exploitation which occurs when children are sent to work.”


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. 21, No. 4, July-August 2001.