Acton Commentary

Human Dignity Goes Global


I was pleasantly surprised by the manner in which the participants at the recent World Economic Forum discussed the topic of globalization. It is not surprising that members of the world's commercial elite would discuss this important issue, as many of their multinational business interests require a world economy that is thoroughly globalized. Interestingly enough, many of the reported discussions centered on the moral, not economic, issues involved in the globalization of the world economy. Furthermore, it seems that many of the participants were profoundly concerned about the effects of globalization on the world's developing countries.

While globalization is usually discussed in economic terms, and its positive effects on economic development are well documented, the moral dimension of this economic reality is usually passed over. This is precisely the dimension, however, that should be most carefully examined. The participants at the World Economic Forum were convinced that the overall impression of many in the developing world is that globalization exploits the weak to suit the needs of the strong. This charge, even for advocates of increased globalization, should not be ignored or dismissed as the rhetoric of class warfare. Rather, the moral issues surrounding globalization deserve a close examination, especially as they impact the poor.

For the Christian believer, the plight of the poor is always of the utmost concern. Pope John Paul himself has echoed such concerns and has called for a careful look at how the structures of the globalized economy are arranged. In his post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesia in America, he offers:

“The ethical implications (of globalization) can be positive or negative… The increases in economic efficiency and production can offer better services to all… The consequences of globalization will be negative if it is organized just to suit the interests of the powerful.” (No. 20)

The caution here is not a blanket condemnation of globalization or its arrangements. It is offered as a point of examination—an examination that is well presented for those involved in multinational business.

Many World Economic Forum participants were quite willing to discuss, review, and examine this very point throughout much of their deliberations. As a point of responsible moral deliberation, I think it quite fitting for the world's business elite to seriously discuss the moral obligations of multinational business life and how it might adversely effect the lives of people in the developing world. This is an example of taking the commercial vocation seriously.

Given the rapid development of new forms of business and changing economic models governing multi-national operations, a concomitant development in the moral lexicon guiding the discussion of the forces and effects of globalization must also occur. To this end, Pope John Paul offers further insight on this matter. The Pope has called for globalization to be analyzed in the light of social justice and encourages the development of “an authentic globalized culture of solidarity.” Such a globalized culture of solidarity identifies the dignity of the human person as the place where all analysis of globalization must begin. Such a “culture” is one that recognizes the need for economic development in poor countries and places the needs of fellow “persons” front and center for the morally responsible corporation. In order to realize such a culture, however, one need not lament the free market, nor view it as an obstacle to creating this culture of solidarity within the forces of economic globalization.

Rather, given the interdependency created by the forces of globalization, it seems that the market economy has become a medium of a new culture and a new source of connection to those once on the fringes of world economic activity. No doubt, the issues surrounding the effects of globalization must be examined in the light of human dignity. Such a moral examination provides the assurances for an economic development that does not merely yield more goods and services, but one that is supportive of the dignity of the human person. It is the true vocation of business.