R&L: Do you believe that there is widespread ignorance among religious leaders with regard to economic reasoning?
Gheddo: No, I do not believe that the majority of Roman Catholic religious leaders have a great prejudice against liberalism or, more precisely, against capitalism. It is certainly true that we have seen a certain development in the church’s social doctrine. In the last century, documents such as Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno and the discourses of Pius XII and John XII advanced a certain orientation that condemned a “savage capitalism.” With Pope John Paul II, the church has arrived at a more balanced judgment. Centesimus Annus, like Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, clearly recognizes the legitimacy of the free market and the fact that only the market creates wealth.
What is more, Centesimus Annus recognizes that the free market embodies the fundamental human value of liberty. So-called political liberty is not enough for man; he also needs to be able to experiment in the area of economics, to vent his creativity, to have space for his need to build something. All of this Pope John Paul II has expressed beautifully, especially in this historical moment in which statism has begun to collapse.
R&L: In your book, you seem critical of those forms of protection that are typical of the welfare state in Europe. “The absolute guarantees of the state,” you write, “have brought about a passivity in people toward economic growth and poverty.” Do you believe that the existence of the welfare state has had some effect on the general irresponsibility of individuals?
Gheddo: If, on the one hand, we must speak of solidarity, of establishing rules to help those worse off than we are, then, on the other hand, we cannot ignore the two values of responsibility and liberty. To think, as happens more frequently, “I pay my taxes, so the state can do it,” is a tremendous mistake. It is not the state that must deal with our neighbors; we all must do it. There is one thing I never tire of repeating in public meetings everywhere in Italy: We ourselves must carry the burden for our brothers who are ill. We ourselves as persons and individuals must feel the responsibility over and above the United Nations, the government, and the multinationals. It is very true that all this runs counter to human egoism.
R&L: In other words, it is more comfortable to pay taxes and thereby mentally whitewash our consciences than to look within and concretely undertake something for others.
Gheddo: In the same way, it is easier to protest, to march, or to take on the multinationals; the fault is always someone else’s. Look at the ideology of the anti-globalization movement, which I radically condemn. The anti-globalists owe their success to a series of lies, the first of which is that the poor nations are poor because the rich nations are rich. That is a colossal lie. The poor countries are poor due to their historical delay. They “awakened” much later than we did, for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they have not had the fortune of the Mediterranean countries, which have for a long time exchanged information and ideas by means of the trade routes. Of course, inequalities exist, and it is our responsibility as persons and as individuals to help those who are in need. And here we come to the real problem: How?
R&L: All right. How?
Gheddo: My experience has taught me that money—that is, help in the form of foreign aid—is not necessarily the best way. Foreign aid, in the end, drains money from rich countries to the political élites of poor countries. This, for example, in Africa, is very dangerous. African governments do not work for the people but, rather, seize power for their own interests. And since these situations, in which the political elite are parasites on the population, are so common throughout the Third World, in my estimation the prophetic question must be asked: Why?
Gheddo: All of my analysis of underdevelopment is drawn from my missionary friends and colleagues, and our experience says this: The people in those countries are not educated. Before they are economically poor, they are culturally poor. And the two things go hand in hand. When I speak of the necessity to educate people, I am not speaking only of the importance of literacy. Surely, without that, such men and women are desperately in need. But I am saying that, above all, it is important to teach them production. The countries of the Third World are poor because they do not know how to create wealth. Wealth is a pie that you produce, not a pie that you distribute. This needs to be said forcefully and clearly.
R&L: So you do not believe that the solution to the problems of the Third World can be solved by foreign aid.
Gheddo: No. What I am saying is that help does not have to be given from state to state. I was recently in Potenza (a small city in the south of Italy) where a parish established itself as a sister city to one in Albania. It is impressive to see how they are able to do it. They do not merely send money, but, more importantly, they personally go to help. They have sent their young people. They have built and have taught how to build. They have opened a school and a hospital. Here is what I mean when I speak of help from people to people: to serve in order to educate and build bridges of understanding. Meanwhile, help from state to state produces little or nothing—or worse, useless cathedrals in the desert. An example comes to mind: In the capital of Guinea, the Italian government has built a very modern, enormous rice mill. It was built twenty years ago. It has never functioned; it has not produced one gram of rice. Why? Because the farmers themselves have never thought of using it. Instead, they bring the rice home and make work for their wives, who grind it. Of what use is a mill without a culture to use it? In Vercelli, where I come from, we produce seventy-five quintals of rice per hectare of land. In Africa, they barely produce four. The gap between four and seventy-five is the gap between poverty and wealth. Our history has taught this to us. If we are rich, it is because we know how to produce; we know how to create wealth. The key to helping the poor countries consists of time and education. But education needs, above all, people to go and to educate. The appeal to the First World should not be to send more money to the Third World but to teach, to feel responsible for the future of our poorer bothers and sisters, to become educators, keeping in mind that the experiments in those places will be a mutual education, not a unilateral one. The Third World will also have something to teach us. The problem is that, in order to realize this project, it will be necessary to examine our own way of life.
R&L: It seems that in addition to the problem of the cultivation of conscience, there is the connected problem of the structure of incentives. In Italy, and, more generally, in Europe, young people enter the labor market when they are thirty years old, and until then they have had an easy life in the womb of the family. It is a complete system (the axis of the welfare state) that discourages young people from assuming responsibility.
Gheddo: From this point of view, I think that it is helpful to look at America; it is a country that I know and have traveled to and respect. There, families, including the wealthy, pay for their children’s room and board at college, but the rest have to earn on their own. They go and work at McDonald’s, they mow their neighbors’ lawns, and they baby-sit. This is a good attitude that preserves the spirit of the frontier and has made America rich; wealth creates the conditions because it creates more wealth. In contrast, certain Italian and European attitudes represent a pessimistic model.
R&L: What are the major obstacles that missionaries encounter in their educational work?
Gheddo: I would say that there are two. In the first place, some governments are terrified at the possibility that missionaries will unmask their crimes, and so they invent controls upon controls, regulations with a totalitarian stamp, to obstruct our work. States can be mortal enemies of missions. And then, certainly, the traditional culture does not help. Above all, in certain parts of Africa, there is a culture of economic subsistence that impedes innovation and blocks the way to development. Often in the villages there emerges a kind of hatred toward those whose behavior dares to make more, toward those who seek to be inventive entrepreneurs. Since they are all cousins or relatives, there is a sense that whatever one produces must necessarily be redistributed to the others. It is a very bad idea; this is not the way that development is generated. Development requires accumulation, the creation of wealth and work—that is, it needs entrepreneurs. I would say, therefore, that the communal mentality can indeed be a formidable obstacle to the work of missionaries. In another way, missionaries are important and precious also because of the closed nature of those societies. A missionary is not a tourist; he goes to his post, learns the language, and then lives there twenty or thirty years or, perhaps, for the remainder of his life. In doing so, he succeeds in gaining the trust of the people; that is a condition that will bring about change.
R&L: The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, in his book, The Mystery of Capital, underlines how, in his estimation, poor countries completely lack everything except a “capitalistic spirit.” He even says that they often have a willing “vocation to the market.” According to de Soto, the problem is that they have not been able to form capital. Additionally, the structures of regulation typical of Western countries are imported, but the need to look at how they developed there and how they applied to the right to property is not understood. Do you share de Soto’s analysis?
Gheddo: Without a doubt, this is an interesting x-ray of underdevelopment. It seems to me that one could sum up the problem by concentrating on the historical delay of many people. They are “delayed” for one obvious reason: Development and progress were born in the West. To admit this does not mean being racist, nor does it mean preaching the “superiority” of our culture, but it does admit a historical fact. And why was development born in the West? Because the West, thanks to centuries of the Gospel, of Christianity, of preaching the importance of the concept of the person—all this has given birth to liberty, and with liberty comes industrialization and scientific discovery. Without liberty, it would not have been possible. It is not sufficient to import the Western model through laws alone; a mentality needs to be created that is fertile for development.
R&L: In many cases we have succeeded in exporting culture—but the wrong one. Pol Pot studied at the Sorbonne.
Gheddo: That is true. The problem is that we also, in our Western sense, so often forget that all of our development, all of our progress comes from biblical and evangelistic impulses.
R&L: There is a striking affirmation toward the end of your book. You write, “I was in Chile in 1972 while the movement ‘Christians for Socialism’ was being born. I asked myself: Why must we Christians have to resort to socialism and to Marxism, condemned many times by the popes? We already have the Gospel and the social doctrine of the church.” Why do you think Marxism has had such success?
Gheddo: Because Marxism represents a glimpse of justice. Of course, it has produced neither justice nor development. There were thirty-one Marxist regimes in the world, and they were all revealed as failures. They produced only death and corruption. But Marxism was a powerful temptation: Abolish private property, it said, and all of our problems will be resolved. It is a seductive mirage.
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