Canadian Catholic News
The world is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the last depression, a Montreal-based economist told Canadian bishops Sept. 25, and “there is no miracle cure.”
Pierre Piché, an expert in international investment and advisor to the Power Corporation of Canada, spoke to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at their annual plenary Sept. 24 to 28 in Sainte-Adele, Que.
Piché said governments do not have much leeway to help those affected, though economies that are more flexible will suffer less.
“There is not much choice,” Piché said to the gathering of more than 90 Canadian bishops.“Either we suffer, or we need to adjust. We’re going to suffer even if we adjust.”
He said the crisis affects the whole world economy, especially its key engines North America, Europe and Japan, which has been experiencing malaise since the 1990s. “It goes really bad when you’re on a plane and you have three of the four engines not working."
Piché gave a macro view of the problem through key indicators: unemployment that is more and more structural and composed of people who have been looking for work for a longer time than previously before, or have abandoned looking for work altogether; sluggish rates of growth; and rising government debt.
He said fears of inflation have been replaced by fear of deflation where prices go down in a generalized manner. This explains the behavior of Central Banks in trying to pump money into the economy.
“Deflation is horrible,” he said. “It’s very serious, because it changes the behavior of people. When they know prices are going down, they won’t spend. It creates a vicious circle.”
Now there is a cycle where governments and individual households are rejecting a pattern of heavy indebtedness that preceded 2007, he said.
We’re facing what economist John Maynard Keynes called the “paradox of thrift,” he said, noting while it is good and ethically right for households and corporations to be thrifty, “if nobody consumes, then nobody sells anything and everyone goes broke.”
Father Bill Ryan, SJ, of the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice in Toronto offered a theological reflection on the crisis, pointing out Pope Benedict XVI calls for the logic of profit to be replaced by the logic of gift “that is the opposite of putting a price on everything.”
At the basis is the right relationship we must develop between God and human, among humans and with creation, including a preferential option for the poor, Father Ryan said, stressing the “essential relationship between faith and justice and justice and evangelization.”
“How will we learn to take personal and collective responsibility for the integral human development of all persons,” he said.
“The whole planet is our neighborhood and in need of evangelization,” he said, noting the Pope’s social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate also concerned itself with evangelizing and civilizing the global economy.
Faith and justice cannot be separated, nor can evangelization and justice, he stressed.
Father Ryan called a “new and global humanism” a “sign of the times”, saying the secular world is coming to a “growing consensus we need a new mindset.”
“Our models and tools are proving inadequate; we seem to be walking where no clear purpose,” he said.
Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd said the “logic of the gift ties in with our preoccupation with the family.”
“The family is an economic unit, but its internal relations are supposed to be based on the logic of the gift,” he said. “You don’t have kids just because you want someone to look after you in your retirement.”
Families’ internal relationships are becoming “atomized” he said, and less and less based on the logic of the gift, Bishop Dowd said. “That’s the canary in the coal mine, a sign the whole thing is disordered.”
Father Ryan said it is important to not always look at big economic structures but at the problems of the small ones. One problem, he said, attacking families is the level of family debt which is higher in Canada than elsewhere. “If we don’t have strength at the bottom,” needed values “won’t come into institutions."
“The family is the first community,” he said. “If we don’t have community there, we’re not going to have it in the world.”
The true success of any institution is how it contributes to integral human development, Father Ryan said. He said the economy exists to serve the global common good and the Pope wants the entire economy to be humane.
Father Ryan said the Pope has looked to a greater role for civil society in addressing social needs such social businesses, non-profit or cooperative enterprises like the businesses formed by the Focolare movement.
Changing the “materialist, individuality, money-mad culture will take a profound conversion on the part of individual Catholics and the Church,” Father Ryan said.
Piché also called for the need to restore ethics to the marketplace and to help business leaders, especially Catholics, to ways they can act in ways more in conformity with the Church’s social teaching.
“The Church can contribute and sanctify the business activity on the basis of these principles,” he said.
After the plenary session, the bishops divided into several workshop groups to discuss how the economic crisis has impacted people in their respective dioceses and what responses have they or people in their dioceses made.