Either the economy is open to the person or it becomes inhuman

A reflection on the words of the Pope at the Caritas Youth Hostel in Rome

by Fabio Colagrande

Rediscover "the propelling force of development" in charity. Pope Benedict XVI launched this invitation last week during his visit to the Caritas Youth Hostel at the Roma Termini Train Station, and it had a persistent echo. It is still only possible to unite these indications of the Pope with the criterion that regulate the economy if - as the Pope himself repeats - the human person is placed at the center of market and finance and not interests. Luigino Bruni, associate professor of Political Economy at the University of Milano-Bicocca, reaffirms this conviction while speaking with Fabio Colagrande.

"Charity is in the person who acts," he said. "It is in the person, not in the structures. Therefore, the idea that, if the economy forgets that its propelling element - that is, what innovates and what becomes the standard of truth and justice in the economic system - is the human person and not capital, not institutions, not finance, etc., then this economy leaves the human realm over time. It´s not longer human. Therefore, I believe that the Pope´s message is an appeal that calls economy back to its humanism: either the economy is open to charity, open to full and total love, which Christianity has brought, or it not only goes into crisis but it becomes inhuman. The Pope reminds us that we can get out of this crisis, from any crisis, with charity - being that "excess", that "something more", which is the person capable of going beyond simple duties to open himself or herself to gratuitousness."

Citing the second chapter of Caritas in Veritate, the Pope remembered: "Charity is the basis not only of micro-relationships, but also of macro-relationships: social, economical and political relationships." This phrase is also an appeal to institutions...

"Definitely. It is an appeal to institutions and an appeal to those who work in institutions, because if macro-relationships are not open to charity, they are simply open to something that is against this.  In other words, there is nothing neutral in economy. If economy is the place of human life, it´s not possible to imagine an environment where you can behave in a neutral way from the ethical point of view. Either it´s for the person, it´s for justice, or it´s for injustice and, obviously, for abuse of power. Therefore, this invitation that says either macro-relationships are important to justice and to charity or these are non-love and injustice. It´s a message of great relevance today."

Professor Bruni, the Pope seems to be inviting people to rediscover the dimensions of gift and gratuitouness in a world where the logic of profit and search for self-interests seem to prevail. Is the logic of profit always negative in itself?

"Absolutely no. Meanwhile, we need to understand well what gratuitousness means, because today we confuse it with "gratis" or "free". Gratuitousness is an infinite price, not a price of zero. It is something that has such a high value that it cannot be paid with money, and therefore, the only answer to it is gift. Gratuitousness is a "how we do what we do" in economy and in life, not a "what we do". The way which I live economy is what says gratuitousness, and it is not to be associated with presents, as I said earlier. We cannot associate it with the word "free". And so, it´s not true that there is an opposition between profit and gratuitousness. Obviously, if profit is understood as the goal of economy, as the aim of economic action, then there is an opposition, because profit is an indicator of efficiency, it is a signal of wealth produced, but it cannot be the final goal. If, instead, profit is one of the many variables of economy, it is an indicator of efficiency, and why not? Better still: without profit, there is loss, and an economy that does not create profit destroys wealth in the long run, and I don´t think that any of us want an economy that destroys wealth instead of creating it. Therefore, gratuitousness is compatible with profit, provided that profit is not the only goal of economic action and is an indicator of something broader called - rightly - "added value", "wealth," "efficiency."

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