Catholicism, Discipleship, Ethics and Moral Theology, Pope Francis, Social Justice

Another World is Possible: A Call to Action on Economic Inequality

The Elite at Davos

The Elite at Davos

Today, the annual “tradeshow” for the world’s elite begins in the Swiss resort town of Davos. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a “who’s who” of corporate, financial, political and (western) cultural power. Heads of state, CEOs, media leaders and Hollywood Celebrities gather to discuss the global economic situation and make barroom deals that will impact us all. While they mingle under the slogan “Committed to Improving the State of the World” and invite a select group of fashionable social activists, it is difficult to see how this event will improve the state of the world for those who are poor. Unlike a major United Nations conference, participation at the World Economic Forum is not accessible to civil society groups and is not balanced by regional representation. Most participants are older European and American men (only 15% of participants are women and the average age is 52). To see the skewed picture of participants, see the nifty graphic on the WEF’s blog: 

In his address to the WEF, Pope Francis reiterates familiar themes—albeit in a more conciliatory tone—from Evangelii Gaudium. After praising some of the major successes in providing more access to healthcare, education and communication technologies, the pope emphasizes that this is not enough:

I wish to emphasize the importance that the various political and economic sectors have in promoting an inclusive approach which takes into consideration the dignity of every human person and the common good. I am referring to a concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought. Those working in these sectors have a precise responsibility towards others, particularly those who are most frail, weak and vulnerable.

 He then continues:

It is intolerable that thousands of people continue to die every day from hunger, even though substantial quantities of food are available, and often simply wasted. Likewise, we cannot but be moved by the many refugees seeking minimally dignified living conditions, who not only fail to find hospitality, but often, tragically, perish in moving from place to place.

Earlier this week, the well respected humanitarian NGO, Oxfam International, issued a message to the WEF decrying the global economic system as rigged to favor the most powerful—precisely those who are meeting at Davos. In its detailed report (must read), Oxfam highlights a sobering statistic about economic inequality:

Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population… 

Let’s think about that for a minute. The 85 richest individuals have the same amount of wealth as half of humanity- more than 2 billion people! The vision of a radically unequal futuristic world depicted by the film Elysium does not seem that far off. 

The year, economic inequality has become a central theme in global political discourse from Pope Francis to the new mayoral race. The World Economic Forum has taken note of this and the topic of inequality is a topic of this year’s meeting. This is defiantly an improvement, but how can a meeting of mostly rich, white, powerful, older men address income inequality in a complex world?

In 2001, Catholic social activists from Latin America joined with others in creating the World Social Forum as an alternative to the WEF. The World Social Forum and its related events gathered tens of thousands of mostly young people, from Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the theme “another world is possible.” This movement also helped to spark other social movements, including Occupy Wall Street.  

Another World is Possible

Unfortunately, the momentum around the World Social Forum (and Occupy Wall Street) has died down. While many of us decry the continued reality of poverty, conflict and injustice, we rarely take action. Yes, we profess our love for Pope Francis on Twitter and share various stories on our Facebook pages, but what are we (especially those of us in positions of power) really doing to change the reality?

I worry that with all the hype around Pope Francis we are missing the deeper challenge, the call to conversion and social action in the face of the globalization of indifference. It is not enough for us to simply “like” a social justice statement of Pope Francis on Facebook, we must also take action. Some have described this reality as “Slacktivism,” whereby we feel-good about ourselves through brief engagements on social questions on social media. Rather than supporting the message of Pope Francis, this Slacktivism, however, ultimately supports what Pope Francis describes as the globalization of indifference by lulling us into inaction in the real world. 

What to do then about global economic inequality. Oxfam offers some practical policy proposals that need to be considered.   Solutions to economic inequality, however, will not come from the powerful in Davos, Switzerland; nor will it come from “likes” and “tweets” about Pope Francis. Real change, lifesaving change, will only come if we join together in social movements and evaluate our lifestyle choices on how they support or challenge the structure of sin of extreme economic inequality.   

Pope Francis washing feet on Holy Thursday

Pope Francis washing feet on Holy Thursday

 

 

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About Kevin Ahern

Kevin Glauber Ahern, PhD is an assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College. He defended his doctoral dissertation in Theological Ethics from Boston College in 2013. His dissertation was entitled “Structures of Grace: Catholic NGOs and the Church’s Mission in a Globalized World.” From 2003 to 2007, Kevin Ahern served as the President of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-Pax Romana), an international network of students in over eighty countries. He continues to be active on the boards of several national and international networks, including he Catholic Common Ground Initiative, the board of directors of America Press and as a Vice-President of the ICMICA-Pax Romana, He has edited the Radical Bible and Visions of Hope: Emerging Theologians and the Future of the Church, both with Orbis Books. When not teaching, writing, or going to international meetings, Kevin enjoys hiking, Cape Cod, and spending time with his wife. Follow him on twitter at @kevin_ahern

Discussion

One thought on “Another World is Possible: A Call to Action on Economic Inequality

  1. I have been working on social and financial inclusion for two years now. It has been like a roller coaster ride knowing the efforts made world over for economic empowerment. World Economic Forum is just one of the events, there are end number of events like these that happen almost every month , day in different parts of the world. I am glad you mentioned the concept of economics , as this is really important to ensure that we break the cycle of poverty for inclusive growth. Right Based Approach in terms of Economic Rights too is hard to define or rather difficult to see in praxis, as the rich dominate the economic setup. Practices like Fair Trade, local income generation sources, savings concepts, financial literacy is marching towards finding some scope for economic growth. Though there are many opportunities available, i still feel the real sense of economic empowerment has not showed up yet. I recently organized a financial literacy session for catholic youth with a friend who is banker and good at these concepts. This exposure also helped them compare their economic status with the indigenous people and the standard of living that the urban youth have, compared to the ones in the rural setup. Nevertheless, i really want to appreciate your write on economic challenges in our global world. So we really need to dialogue and check where are we lacking to act where economic inequality is concerned.

    Posted by Marina D'Costa | January 22, 2014, 1:12 pm

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