Presentation of the Triglav Circle to the 50th Session of the Commission on Social Development
1-10 February 2012:
Item 3(a) of the provisional agenda;
The Triglav Circle was created to pursue the vision of social progress embodied in the text adopted by the World Summit for Social Development. Today, I would like to present two comments on the idea, included in this text, that the eradication of poverty is an “ethical imperative.”
Before this, however, allow me to congratulate the Secretariat for the excellent report it presented on this item of the agenda. Among the merits of this report, are the insistence on the inseparability of the commitments made in Copenhagen – for example the reduction of poverty and the creation of employment opportunities -, the recognition that poverty has many dimensions, the emphasis on the relationships between poverty and inequalities, and the mention of the links between the deterioration of our environment – notably global warming – and poverty.
First, the ethical imperative to eradicate poverty should embrace the ethical imperative to examine critically the conception and use of wealth. From the viewpoint of the common good, at the national and international level, it is necessary to question the distribution of wealth – and of income, and to improve dramatically this distribution, but it is also necessary to put wealth in its proper place in the scale of human aspirations and endeavors. Arguably, when a dominant world culture, proposes the pursuit of wealth – and of the power attached to it- as the primary goal of individuals and society, poverty unavoidably follows. The relentless pursuit of wealth and power undermines the civic spirit and the capacity for selfless undertakings. It is the source of spiritual impoverishment.
Wealth, if legitimately acquired, ought to be not only a source of pride and enjoyment, but also a responsibility and an opportunity to contribute to the greater good of humanity. Moreover, wealth ought to be given its higher meaning. In the same way that poverty is not only lack of income, wealth is not only the possession of material and pecuniary assets. A person is wealthy, a person is rich when she or he is able to attain inner peace and harmony with the Other, when she or he is able to contribute, at any level, to the betterment of the human condition. In other words, the eradication of poverty requires the eradication of selfishness and greed.
Secondly, and in a related vein, the ethical imperative to eradicate poverty implies the ethical imperative to moralize the world economy. The sixth, and last recommendation proposed to this Commission by the Secretariat in its present report, concerns the creation by the international community of “a favourable international environment,” notably by “ensuring greater coherence among macro-economic, trade and social policies.” Such coherence is indeed critical and it should include the moral and ethical principles and norms underpinning these policies.
First, there are the attempts to prevent and punish corruption, sustained, in particular, by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Second, are the economic and financial arrangements that are ignored by the law, or that are legal, but which, from the perspective of the common good of humanity, ought to be considered immoral. Tax havens are a famous example. Speculation on the value of currencies is another example. And third, are the values and principles that ought to frame and orient the behavior of economic and financial actors with a transnational and often global reach. As these actors have great direct and indirect power over the well-being of people and over national and international political institutions, their responsibility and their moral obligation to contribute to the improvement of the human condition are also great.
Approaches to these issues are currently framed by views and interests that privilege the private sector over the public sector, that emphasize competition over cooperation, and that prefer partnerships and voluntary codes of conduct to regulations and other forms of national and international law. In the logic of this spirit of the time, the poor would be treated as a “target” group and the anti-poverty policies would primarily belong to the charitable realm. That would certainly not be in the tradition of the Copenhagen Summit, nor of the other great world conferences organized by the United Nations in the last decades of the 20th century. But such evolution is not unavoidable, and again, Mr Chairman the report presented by the Secretariat is a very encouraging sign that the struggle against poverty can remain a true “ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind.”
I wish to conclude with grave misgivings for the future should there be no change in the spirit of our times:
While the world devotes much attention to a financial and economic crisis created by greed, there looms in the not too distant future the potential for a greater poverty for humanity as a whole– rich as well as poor. This potential stems from the reckless drive for wealth and power inspired by a flawed model of progress. No serious political attention is directed to alternative visions for a good quality of life reasonably consistent with the carrying capacity of the earth. This looming poverty is a despoiled earth—a planet shorn of its biodiversity and its fertile soils and divested of vital natural resources— clean air and water, a tolerable climate, and habitable land. The likelihood of this catastrophe will not be avoided without profound changes in the values that shape current policies. Thank you for your attention.