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Forum: market, morals discussed

Molly Madden | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Notre Dame staff attempted to answer difficult questions about moral development at the panel discussion “Morals and Markets: Being Catholic in a Global Economy,” one of the first large events for this year’s Notre Dame Forum. 

“Our theme for the Forum this year is the global marketplace and the common good,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in his opening remarks. “I think that it is a specific calling for Notre Dame to address these issues with expertise.”

The panel featured Dr. Margaret Pfeil, assistant professor of moral theology, Dr. Bill Evans, professor of economics and Dr. Douglass Cassel, professor of law and director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. Mary Hirschfeld, a Ph.D. student in moral theology at the University, moderated the panel.

“[Forum] issues are complex and demand a discussion on morality from a variety of perspectives,” Hirschfeld said. “In modern times, we tend to specialize in our one form of knowledge and we may miss the other sides of the issue, which is why a discussion like this is so important.” 

Each panelist was given 12 minutes to deliver their views on the interplay between morals and the market, using Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, “Caritas In Veritate” as a foundation for how the Catholic Church should respond to the issues raised by the financial crisis and their effect on the developing world. 

“‘Caritas In Veritate’ is about people-centered economics,” Pfeil said in her speech. “The encyclical tells us that social justice is possible.”

Pfeil said Pope Benedict relied heavily on the concept of the universal destination of created goods throughout “Caritas,” and this should be a guiding concept for all people when concerning the role of the marketplace in today’s economy.

“God is the giver of all creation and humans respond to his gifts, primarily the gift of life,” she said. “He tells us that humans need to exercise responsibility in the world.”

Pfeil said signs of the current times speak to a disregard for universal responsibility, which elicits the need for more than a change in perspective.

“The ongoing crisis shows there is an urgent moral need for a new solidarity, especially between developing and industrial nations,” she said. 

While Pfeil focused on building a social conscious, Evans approached how the market system itself can be used to achieve the goals laid out in “Caritas.”

“‘Caritas In Veritate’ picks up on the importance of trade after the ferocious development we’ve seen over the past 40 years,” Evans said. “Much of this trade is coming from the developing world.”

While “Caritas” may be viewed as an attack on markets, Evans said Benedict actually expounded on the benefits of globalization and how it brought a new level of awareness to the world’s poor that had not previously been seen.

The rapid development of trade combined with more global awareness of world poverty brought about an opportunity where economic development and globalization can be used to actually improve the lives of those living in poverty, Evans said. 

“In a lot of circles, the phrase ‘economic growth’ is considered to have a dirty connotation,” he said. “But for others in the developing world, it can mean the difference between going hungry or not, or watching your child reach his first birthday.”

Evans told the students that it was their job to think about what effect their “everyday decisions” have on the developing world, but he also addressed the negative aspects that inevitably come as a result of globalization. However, he said there is no easy answer to these problems and the simplest solution may lie in the development itself.

Cassel said he believed the greatest way for students to address these issue was to be truly informed about the global economy and to understand the relationship the Catholic Church has with the market.

“There has always been a balance between the Church and the market,” he said. “The Church has never worshiped the market as a cure-all to the world’s problems, but they have also never declared it to be an instrument of pure evil either.”

Cassel said he thinks “Caritas In Veritate” stated that the market is subjective to communicative justice.

“We admit the market can be a negative force bus only because a certain ideology can make it so,” he said.

Cassel focused his talk on real-world examples and how specific marketplaces hurt global development when they try and further their own country’s interests by unethical and even illegal means.

“You should not for a single second believe China is the success of the free-market system, because it is not free,” he said. “China purposely keeps its currency weak, thereby creating a false trade market. When countries do this, they prevent other countries from access to markets that they desperately need.”

Knowing the truth about China’s market system is one example of several instances where Cassel believes students need to be educated in order to succeed at understanding morality’s role in the global marketplace.

“Part of the answer to these problems is what you’re doing tonight,” he said in his closing remarks. “You need to be informed. You need to use your faith so that you care. And most importantly, you need to act.”