ON THE OCCASION OF THE FIRST CONGRESS of the International Association of Economists you have desired, gentlemen, to pay your respects to Us and to have Us participate in your work. We appreciate this very much and We are pleased to receive such qualified representatives of the science of economics. By your teaching in universities, through your publications and the authoritative opinions you draw up, you exercise without question a function of the highest importance for contemporary society in which economic factors strongly influence other aspects of social life.
Purpose of the association
Your present meeting is brilliantly carrying on the series of annual gatherings—dedicated to the examination of particular economic problems— which reflect the principal activity of your association. Your association, founded in 1949 at the suggestion of UNESCO, purposes to assist in the development of economic science by means of international collaboration and, at present, comprises twenty-four national organizations from four continents. This shows the interest which your deliberations will excite in the world among all those who are intent upon the public good.
Problems of the economist
“Stability and progress in world economy” is the theme you have chosen, and this simple phrase is enough to point out the arduous and sometimes formidable difficulties which the economist must often face. In the vast social organism whose different functions reciprocally influence and condition one another, it is impossible to touch one without affecting all the others, and so having to take compensatory measures. Thus it is dangerous, for example, to increase industrial production without assuring the sale of the goods produced, to modify the volume of monetary circulation without taking into account the corresponding volume of commercial transactions, or to seek for full employment while neglecting to prevent the risk of inflation.
Changes and crises
Moreover the law of all human activity, that of progress, imposes changes and improvements which do not come without upsets. The great concern of the specialists will be to reduce to a minimum the harmful consequences of recommended measures, to profit by favorable circumstances while avoiding the harsh penalties of periods of crisis.
Wealthy nations and impoverished ones
On the international level there is presently being disclosed a grave discord between poor countries which more and more are reaching an awareness of their great needs, and the nations which are generously supplied with necessities and superfluities. In these underdeveloped regions progress is desired and sought—sometimes with violence—and not without threats to international peace.
Thus the task of the economist grows more extensive, more arduous and more charged with responsibility than ever before. On a planet where distance means less and less and ideas pour out with lightning speed, the destiny of humanity moves ever closer. The decisions of each statesman and every technician who assists him have repercussions in the lives of millions and millions of people and bring about a great many fortunate improvements and a great many dramatic disturbances.
Theory and reality
Truly there is no more time for adventurous theories, or for artificial structures which perhaps satisfy the reasoning mind in the abstract but are profoundly out of tune with reality through an error in basic principles. That is why you cannot ponder enough over the conclusions and judgments you draw up, verifying in them their scientific characteristics, that is, making them conform fully to the laws of bought and human nature and to the objective conditions of economic reality without entering into a discussion of technical points. We should like, gentlemen, to share with you a few brief reflections which the present occasion suggests to Us.
Economic theorizing and human misery
The science of economics started to build up, like other sciences in modem times, by observation of facts. But if the physiocrats and the representatives of classic economics believed they had built a solid framework by treating economic facts as if they were physical or chemical phenomena amenable to the determination of natural laws, the falsity of such a conception was revealed in the crying contradiction between the theoretic harmony of their conclusions and the terrible social misery which they allowed to exist in reality.
The rigor of their deductions could not remedy the weaknesses in their point of departure: in economic matters they considered only the quantitative, material elements, and they ignored the essential human element, the relations which unite the individual to society and impose upon him not only natural but also moral criteria for using material goods. Diverted from their communal purposes, these elements become means of exploitation of the weak by the strong, under the law of sheer merciless competition.
The Marxist error
To remedy that defect Marxism strives to restore to value the social aspect of economics and to prevent individuals from monopolizing the means of production for their own exclusive profit. But by a no less fatal error, it pretends to see men only as an economic medium, and makes the whole structure of human society depend on production yield.
Though he is no longer delivered up to the arbitrary play of the power of money, man thus finds himself crushed and overwhelmed within the social framework of a society hardened by the elimination of spiritual values, and as merciless in its reactions and its demands as is the caprice of individual whims. Both sides have forgotten to consider economic factors in all their amplitude—human and material, quantitative and moral, individual and social—all at the same time.
Man: the subject of economy
Beyond the physical needs of man and the interests which they govern, beyond his inclusion in social production reports, it is necessary to envisage the activity—a really free, personal and communal activity—of man the subject of economy. This man, when he produces, buys, sells, or consumes goods, is moved by a determined purpose which could be simply to satisfy a natural appetite but also could be the expression of a totally subjective attitude, controlled by feelings or passion. Thus motives of self-love, prestige or vindictiveness can completely reverse the direction of an economic decision.
These factors always introduce troubles and disturbances into the economy and escape the grasp of a true science. You must therefore advance even further and appreciate the importance of the true, free and personal decision, that is, one fully reasoned and well-founded, one capable, consequently, of entering as a positive element into the building of a science of economies.
Men of Initiative
Eminent representatives of your special field of study have forcefully underlined the true meaning of the role of the enterprising man and his constructive action in determining economic progress. Above subordinate agents who simply carry out prescribed work are these leaders, the men of initiative, who imprint upon passing events the stamp of their individuality, discover new ways of doing things, communicate a decisive driving-force, transform methods and multiply to an astonishing degree the efficiency of men and machines.
One would be wrong to believe that such activities always coincide with their private interests or that they correspond only to selfish motives. One would rather compare such activity to a scientific invention or to an artistic work sprung from a selfless inspiration directed to the whole human community, which it enriches with new knowledge and with more powerful means of action.
Thus, in order to appreciate economic facts exactly, theory must simultaneously take into consideration aspects which are both material and human, personal and social and free, but which are completely logical and constructive because governed by a true understanding of human existence.
Understanding and mutual love
Many men, without a doubt, are obedient in their daily conduct to the natural tendencies and instincts of their nature; but We would believe that few are actually incapable, at least at critical times, of making altruistic, selfless feelings predominate over preoccupations of a material kind. Recent events have again demonstrated to what lengths—even among the humble and lowly—self-sacrifice and fellowship are expressed in acts of moving, heroic generosity. It is also one of the happy traits of the present epoch that it accentuates the feeling of interdependence among the members of the social body, and leads them on to recognize that the human person reaches his true dimensions only on condition that he recognizes his social and personal responsibilities and that human problems—or simply economic ones—will find their solution only through the medium of understanding and sincere mutual love.
Man, matter, and the Kingdom of God
May We be permitted to extend this view a little further by recalling a saying in the Gospel which expresses the Christian understanding of the problem of production and the use of material goods: “Seek first the Kingdom or God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides.” (Matt 6:33)
Even as the subject of economy, man can never introduce a complete separation between the temporal ends he pursues and the final purpose of his existence. The words of Christ have brought about a real reversal of common conceptions concerning the relations between the human being and the material world. Do they not actually suggest putting aside economic subservience—as much as possible—in favor of putting one’s whole mind and whole strength at the service of a divine order? They teach the mastering of the instinct which urges one to enjoy riches without restraint, they invite us to prefer poverty as a help to personal freedom and social service.
Even in a modern epoch which is greedy for conveniences and pleasures there are not lacking souls noble enough to choose a life of detachment and to prefer spiritual values to anything that passes away with time.
If the work of economic technicians does not directly approach this realistic level, it can nevertheless find its bearings in a conception of unity between their science and the principles it supposes. They will find therein, We are certain, some very fortunate inspirations.
Confidence and courage
We hope, gentlemen, that your Congress will end on a confident note, despite the numberless pitfalls along the road to progressive stability. If all have the courage to face difficulty with honesty and without concealing or falsifying any aspect of reality, We have no doubt but that you will soon be able to congratulate yourselves on the result of your efforts, and you will be able to pursue them with an ever increasing ardor, while tightening among you the bonds of a close, productive collaboration.
As a pledge of the divine favors which We implore for you, your families and all those dear to you. We willingly impart to you Our Apostolic Benediction.
September 9, 1956
Address of Pope Pius XII to the First Congress of the International Association of Economists
Taken from THE POPE SPEAKS – Autumn 1956
Excerpt from the book Pius XII:On Work and Commerce