Friday, May 8, 2009

A new economic order?

“Economies based on greed must be replaced,” read the headline on Catholic News Service.

Interesting concept from the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is president of the Catholic relief organization Caritas International.

OK, your eminence, but replaced by what?

Agencies like Caritas, Catholic Relief Services in this country and many others work to ease the suffering of poor people. They naturally look at the economic system in which those who are well off tend to get richer, while the poor struggle to survive.

To paraphrase Churchill’s description of democracy, capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.

Certainly communism has failed in most cases, though the jury is still out on the long-term economic success of China’s mix of repressive communism and competitive capitalism. Socialism compares poorly with capitalism in terms of prosperity, especially when the latter is functioning in a healthy manner. A barter system, while it has merits on a small scale, is impractical to meet the demands of global and interdependent commerce.

One emerging idea is peer-to-peer commerce, part of what is called cooperative economics. Here’s an interesting read on it plus a broader economic overview.

Don't get anxious, fellow democratic capitalists. Free-market capitalism didn’t surpass feudalism overnight, and the former likely won’t be supplanted any time soon.

Cooperative economics might not be what Cardinal Rodriguez was thinking, but getting people to consider a more charitable, more sustainable economic system might really be what he had in mind.

Using natural resources as though they were infinite cannot continue as it has. Nor can wealthy nations give lip service to development in poor nations.

If there is going to be economic progress after the crash of 2008, a system must emerge in which resources are used efficiently while jobs are created by entrepreneurs. At the same time, governments with the means must seriously address the lack of basic necessities and education in poor countries that lead to radical movements and that ultimately threaten prosperity (perhaps even life) for all.

How to do that? There is no agreement at this point, but one couldn’t disagree with John Lennon’s line: “We’d all love to see the plan.”

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