SIR - 19/12/2012

The meeting of Christian Churches and the views of the economist Luigino Bruni

Economy and Europe: No to the single model

Logo_SirThe Christian Churches of Europe convened in Brussels to discuss the challenges of social market economy, and to address major themes, namely, a highly competitive European economy in a globalized world, which at the same time is open to solidarity and social justice. The meeting took place in December 14. It was promoted by the European Commission, by the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and by COMECE, the Commission representing the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. One of the central themes of the works was also youth unemployment, which was defined by the Churches as “an impending challenge i which involves all of Europe”.

In a time of profound financial, economic and social crisis in Europe - Frank Dieter Fischbach, CEC, told SIR Europe - the dialogue seminar is an opportunity to discuss the concept of social market economy and its consequences, for a shared social and economic policy in Europe and its Member States”. Maria Chiara Biagioni, for SIR Europe, collected the views of Luigino Bruni, professor of Political Economy at the University of Milano-Bicocca.

What is “social market economy”?

"It is a concept developed in Germany around the second half of the twentieth century within the social doctrine of the Church by Christian thinkers who conceived the idea of a market economy that recovered the dimension of solidarity, with a strong presence of the State in the economic arena, aimed at ensuring that very fairness which the market alone is unable to provide. Over the past twenty years, however, this expression has been incorporated and endorsed, by strongly conservative and right-winged authors, especially in the U.S. Then with time it has become a concept that is largely appreciated owing to its strong ecumenical content, that is open to the market and to the social realm, where everyone gives her/his own contribution, which is not necessarily shared by others. Thus it is an expression, that says little on the practical plane, and that necessarily needs to be further articulated".

How?

"It was the effort put into effect by the European economic model as a whole, by the French, Italian, Spanish, models. Unfortunately, in the last twenty years we have witnessed a strong tendency towards the single thought, imposed by the American financial model. A large part of the social tradition, closely bound to Christianity, was lost: it has been replaced by a model whereby the market has its own rules and its laws and the relevance of the social realm is increasingly diminished. My concern is that while in Europe we have a long tradition as a social market - Social Europe is brought us from the time of the Middle Ages - over the last twenty years, the world has tended towards a single thought and a single model, followed by the USA, China and Japan".

With which consequences?

"The market is a principle but it is not the only one. In addition to the market, there is also the public dimension and the community. Up to twenty years ago in Europe nobody would imagine combining the market at the school or healthcare because there was a very clear idea, according to which the market took care of goods and services, while the realms of culture, art, education, and healthcare, depended on the logic of the community, not on the logic of profit. It was a deeply Christian concept, which has been slowly but incessantly been replaced by the single market model, whereby the market is the only criteria regulating the life of a community".

This model has favoured some but at the same time it has caused poverty and social exclusion. Why isn’t it said that this model was unsuccessful?

"Market performance is good when the market isn’t the only benchmark. When it’s just a principle alongside with other principle, such as the principle of distribution guaranteed by the State, and as the principles of solidarity and reciprocity implemented by the civil society, then we have good market performance. If, conversely, it’s the only point of reference for all political decisions, the market destroys itself. The economy has taken on a central role in people’s lives and before the inability to understand it has become a kind of Moloch. Thus economic experts have become the new scribes, viewed as those who are able to decode the mysterious message of the new scriptures".

In this situation, how can the Churches contribute?

"I see two important roles to play. While in the twentieth century the Churches have largely invested in politics by raising the awareness of the clergy and the laity on this aspect of society, now the opponent is the economy, thus if people are don’t have an economic culture, they run the risk of being left out, and even of no longer being able of reading the grammar of society. The second this is to do implement initiatives. In the history of Europe, in its darkest times of crisis, the Church’s thought was to be found in her works: that was when the Church built hospitals and schools; founded unions and cooperatives on the basis of the fact that ideals stem from individuals but last for institutions. Without institutions, ideals have no social effects. We must ensure that more is done, especially in these times of crisis. If the finance and the economy are hit by the crisis, then different banks should be created. And if the realm of enterprises follows a purely capitalistic model, cooperative enterprises should be created".

 

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