Bernardo M. Villegas
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Pope Francis Is No Communist (Part 4)

          Pope Francis is very clear about preserving what is good in our local culture and not swallowing hook, line and sinker everything that comes from abroad.  There is such a thing as “ideological colonization.”  The worst part of the culture prevailing in some developed countries is the anti-life mentality that glamorizes abortion, contraception, same-sex unions and divorce on demand that can explain to a great extent the demographic crisis most of them are facing.  As Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti (145), “There can be a false openness to the universal, born of the shallowness of those lacking insight into the genius of their native land or harbouring unresolved resentment towards their own people. Whatever the case, we constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.  But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting.  We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God.  We can work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, but with a larger perspective…The global need not stifle, nor the particular prove barren; our model must be that of a polyhydron in which the value of each individual is respected, where the whole is greater than the part, but is also greater than the sum of its parts.”  The most important part of our culture that we literally have to protect with our lives against corruption from foreign lands is the highest value we give to the family as the basic unit of society  with the consequent inviolability of the institution of marriage and the sacredness of life from conception to natural death. 

         In fact, if we exert all efforts necessary to preserve our pro-life and pro-family culture, we can help other countries, especially the developed ones, to rediscover the value of the family as the basic foundation of every society.  We can do this through precisely the more than 10 million of our citizens who are abroad either as overseas workers or as permanent residents.  This was alluded to by Pope Francis last March 14, 2021 when he celebrated in Rome the 500th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.  He lightheartedly referred to Filipino immigrants in Italy as “smugglers of faith.”  Indeed, Filipino Catholics all over the world have been instrumental in revitalizing religious practices in the Catholic parishes of their host countries.  They also have given witnesses to their foreign neighbors about the value of intact marriages and family solidarity.  Together with their smiling faces and friendly behavior, Filipino Overseas Workers can really be “smugglers of faith and joy” in the close to 200 countries where they work for a living. 

      The greatest leeway for re-envisaging the social function of private party is enjoyed by the businessman. Clearly not opposed to private property, Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti that “Business activity is essentially ‘a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world.’  God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential.   In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth.  Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to this development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities.  The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.” 

         Actually, in the world of Adam Smith in the 18th Century, anyone who started an activity that would produce a good or a service—no matter how simple or elementary like bread—was automatically using his property (his oven) for a social purpose, i.e. providing a basic necessity for the population.  Even if he did not intend it, a baker was already doing something good for others.  If he is not a one-person operation, he is also serving society by employing people.  What the free market philosophers missed was the importance, at least to Christian ethic, of the intention.  Since every human being is bound by the principle of solidarity to always willingly contribute to the common good, the baker fulfils himself as a person by adding the intention of doing good to the people whose breakfast he makes more satisfying by providing them bread.  To the spiritually minded individual, a higher intention can be added, which is to give greater glory to God (as students of the Ateneo have learned from their mentors under the inspiration of St. Ignatius of Loyola).  Adam Smith did a disservice to bakers by categorically saying that it is not through the benevolence of the baker that bread is made available for our morning breakfast.

     Making a reasonable profit is always compatible with a more noble intention of doing good to others.  In fact, the first step for us to reform business is to remind all business people that, except for immoral activities like selling drugs, pornographic materials and other harmful goods or services, every business already has one or more social functions.  Just think of the standard listing of “stakeholders” of every business,  as contrasted with “stockholders”:  the consumers, the rank-and-file workers, the managers, the suppliers of goods and services (including creditors), the immediate community in which a business is physically located and the nation at large.  Every legitimate business already has an opportunity to promote the welfare of one or more of these stakeholders, in addition to giving a reasonable return to the stockholders.  This view of business should explain why the social doctrine of the Church has always considered that private property has a great potential for promoting the common good through allowing market forces to operate freely as possible.  Fratteli Tutti has in no way departed from this traditional doctrine.  It was unfair for Mr. Horvart to accuse Pope Francis for veering towards communism.

         But why is there a need to re-envisage the social function of private property?  The answer is that the world has substantially changed  through globalization, digitalization,  the ushering in of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (Artificial Intelligence, Robotization, the Internet of Things, etc.) and climate change so that the social impact of businesses has gone much beyond the usual stakeholder analysis.  Let me cite a concrete example.  Everyone knows the very useful products of one of the largest multinationals in the world, Unilever, that has been operating in the Philippines for more than a century.  Unilever is a British-Dutch global enterprise that  was started by a couple of Dutch entrepreneurs selling butter and later margarine during the last decades of the 19th century and by a British entrepreneur  producing and selling a very elementary form of soap.  From day one this joint venture was serving a very distinct social purpose of giving the masses access to an essential product like butter and to the poorer segments of society a cheaper substitute for butter, margarine.  Their British counterpart was also doing so much good helping the masses to live hygienic lives by providing them the first elementary forms of soap products.  Today, Unilever has more than 400 brands in close to 200 countries.  In a paper written by Dr. Jordi Canals, former President of the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, Unilever was cited as an example of a business with a social purpose which is to make “sustainable living commonplace.”

         Whereas Unilever could have happily just focused on feeding people with nutritious food items and helping the masses live hygienic lives, it now wants to contribute more actively to one of the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to protect the physical environment from deterioration (which was the subject of another encyclical of Pope Francis called “Laudato Si”).  Among other commitments Unilever has to implement its Sustainable Living Plan are:  to make sure that their products do not pollute the environment; to ensure their suppliers, such as logistics providers do not use vehicles that increase the carbon footprint in the communities where they operate, employing  as much as possible electric vehicles; and that their raw material suppliers, such as those producing palm oil, do not cut down forests to plant palm oil, as has happened in Indonesia.  The world has changed very much since Unilever was formed as a Dutch-British partnership in the 1930s.  Thanks to its socially responsible leaders, this global corporation has re-envisaged how it would use its business assets for the common good, taking into account some of the most pressing needs of our planet today. (To be continued}.