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Beyond the Magic

geplaatst: 24-05-2010

Beyond the Magic

Economy and religion. At first sight two completely opposed entities. Can economists and theologians learn from each other? The conference 'Does god want Capitalism?' last March at the University of Tilburg proved they certainly do. Furthermore, the global economic crisis clearly showed that the world of capital and the world of religion have something in common. We find faith and particularly superstition not only in the context of religion but also within the field of economics. The financial world with its magical practices exceeding the bounds of reality lost its right to exist. Economists are forced to reflect on the way we design our society. now the focus is 'back to reality'. Sustainable and moral quality seems to be the new adage of the financial world. Where can we find a guideline to achieve this?

The world of the market economy became a magic world, without bounds of reality. And with Harry Potter as its hero. His performance convinced a whole generation to discover the wizard in themselves. Conjuring means seeking the boundaries of the magic, obscuring the relation between cause and effect. In economic terms: that there is no correspondence between merit and reward. You could choose: either forty hours of work for a normal salary or belonging to the very rich by doing a couple of hours magical work in the financial sector. Money became an aim in itself. People believed in the dollar itself, instead of taking note of the words on it, "in God we trust". These words remind us that economy is not free of values. If we consider economy as a practice of exchanging goods and services, money is a means to an end, to ensure the cohesion of society. Economy is a social science, it cannot do without values and standards. Economists have to be aware of the values that build the economic framework. We as society determine these values. Solidarity and subsidiarity are two of these core values. Solidarity on a national level and between countries, like the relation with the developing countries. Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions are taken at a level as low as possible, no statism from the top. It implies a portrayal of man who is longing for community and for building up a society which supports himself and others in the realisation of a good life for all. Therefore, everybody is approachable at his or her responsibility for this common good. But how many solidarity can be expected from people in a capitalistic system that emphasizes the ability to cope for oneself?

Now there is consensus that the economic and financial processes have to run differently. But how? The encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI 'Caritas in Veritate' (Charity in Truth) builds a guiding answer in the discussion about the revision of the economic system. Being averse to the focus on the question 'what's in it for me?', the letter concentrates on the principle 'what's in it for us all?'. It's about a better life for more people, not only about economic growth. Development and growth in itself are positive, according to the Pope, but only against the background that we all are developing countries. True development means development of all people. The Pope calls for the return to civilization: the state, the market and the civil society have to be based on the idea of solidarity again. People have to be conscious of the underlying motives of their actions. Are they based on the ego, on self-enrichment, or on the common good? The economy needs ethics to function well. Ethics that is human orientated and with the common good as its final aim. Civilization has started in banks and companies. But they have to focus more on their public function and pay attention to all their stakeholders.

The crisis itself - the financial, economic, ecological, cultural and moral one - calls us to change our lives. But change is not easy. Virtue and civilization require training, also in self-reflection and self-regulation. Because of the recession, people let themselves lead by fear, we only think of ourselves. Hope can lead people to a perspective bigger than themselves and can stimulate unselfish behaviour. Ab Klink, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, recently pointed out that there is need of 'Hoffnungsträger', leaders who give direction and hope. It is universities that have to change to train them well.

Sylvester Eijffinger
in samenspraak met Annemarie Hinten (Academic Forum)