Economy trumps justice at G20

  • June 29, 2010
Toronto DemonstrationTORONTO - On paper, the G20 and the Catholic Church want a lot of the same things. But they're not necessarily talking the same language.

"We've entered a world where the only language that matters is economics," said Redemptorist Father Paul Hansen after the motorcades of world leaders had left town.

The leaders of the world's 20 largest economies agreed to cut their government deficits in half by 2013 and stop growth of public debt relative to Gross Domestic Product by 2016 at the summit held in Toronto June 26-27. Voluntary financial constraints on government borrowing will allow poorer countries to participate in a healthier world economy, said the final G20 communique.

"Increasing global growth on a sustainable basis is the most important step we can take in improving the lives of all of our citizens, including those in the poorest countries," said the G20 leaders.

But Hansen, director of the Redemptorist Biblical Justice Consultancy, was disappointed they chose to ignore the opportunity to clamp down on speculation in financial markets.

"What we have developed is no longer an economy based on goods and services, but an economy based on paper, transfer of hot money, currency speculation, derivatives, hedge funds that have zero basis in goods and services," said tHansen. "This is money made by the few in enormous, massive ways that (the papal encyclical) Caritas in Veritate challenges."

CIDSE, the Brussels-based alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies, was disappointed the G20 failed to reign in the financial industry.

The Canadian ecumenical social justice group KAIROS is looking ahead to Seoul, South Korea, where the G20 next meets in November. KAIROS' global economics researcher John Dillon hopes that in Seoul the G20 will learn to speak the language of justice.

"(Caritas in Veritate) is very clear that charity without justice is not sufficient," said Dillon. "Not to be cynical about the money for maternal and child health, but it's in a charity mode. It's not addressing the causes of poverty that contribute to maternal and child death. We believe that something like a financial transactions tax would begin to redress some of the justice issues."

With crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, the G20 missed the opportunity to address environmental issues and climate change, said Fr. Jim Profit, director of the Jesuit Collaborative for Ecology, Forestry and Agriculture.

"The thinking is that the economy runs everything else, so the economy should run the ecology as well," said Profit. "The economy is nothing without the Earth community.... There's no talking about the larger context at all."

G8 and G20 resolutions will be a topic of conversation among Canadian bishops before the next G20 meeting, said Kingston Archbishop Brendan O'Brien. The chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' commission on justice and peace said the bishops plan to have a letter to Canadians on poverty ready by the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17. The paper will draw heavily on Caritas in Veritate.

Though the summits haven't addressed every question or solved all the problems in the world economy, O'Brien was encouraged by the common ground he sees between the G20 resolutions and the Catholic concept of solidarity.

"There is that language there of solidarity," he said. "We can certainly support that kind of vision."

O'Brien hopes the G20 follows through on the "accountability agenda" promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"There's the vision, there's the commitment, and then there's the follow up," O'Brien said. "I see a reason for hope. There's certainly a lot of good will there. The question is to what extent can they operate on that."

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