The long months of the pandemic have triggered a rethinking of social models. Pope Francis was among the first leaders to establish a working group, the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, to produce a new "vision", both distict from and far from the current one which has shown itself to be weak, above all in protecting the most vulnerable social components. Among the leading experts in this group is economist Stefano Zamagni, President of the Pontical Academy of Social Scienzes since 2019. Zamagni states that the pandemic "had been predicted for years". Pandemics in general, he notes are "closely connected" to the economic model produced by globalization and the digital revolution. Now, he sustains, is the time to "review the rules", a task in which all those responsible for institutions and civic life should take part.
You are part of the Vatican COVID 19 Commission, Pope Francis’ response mechanism to an unprecedented virus. What do you personally hope to learn from this experience? In what way do you think society as a whole can be inspired by the work of the Commission?
R. – The “Covid-19 Commission” is the first case, in the recent history of the Catholic Church, of an initiative that combines both the affirmation of universal principles and a concrete commitment in this area on the part of ecclesiastic institutions. In fact, the specific role of the Commission is that of invigorating public organizations and civic authorities to act quickly. We are doing so by suggesting structured action items – which, therefore, are not mere proposals. Since they originate with a third party, that is outside of any parties, there should be no hostility or mistrust. I believe this to be the case.
Pope Francis asked the COVID 19 Commission to prepare the future instead of prepare for it. What should be the role of the Catholic Church as an institution in this endeavor?
R. – “To prepare the future” rather than “to prepare ourselves for the future” is a typical expression demonstrating Pope Francis’s “frame of mind”, whose philosophical background is historical realism. “To prepare the future” means eliminating the tyranny of determinism, or “history repeating itself”, from society. Those whose attitude is that of adapting to what exists do not love freedom. The two thousand history of the Church is the most convincing a witness of what “to prepare the future” means. Let’s think, and this is just one example, of the significance of the new direction brought about by Benedict of Nursia, with his celebrated ora et labora (prayer and work) and his model for organizing the monasteries which then would become an essential reference point for the emerging market economy.
What personal lessons (if any) have you derived from the experience of the pandemic? What concrete changes do you hope to see after this crisis both personally and globally?
R. – Three principal lessons that I have learned from the pandemic: Ta pathemata mathemata (Herodotus: suffering teaches). First: the lack of prudence on the part of governments and other institutions – what Aquinas called the auriga virtutum (the “charioteer” of the virtues). The pandemic had been predicted for years. The last report of the WHO from September 2019, The World at Risk, concluded with specific recommendations for interventions to governments. Nobody took it seriously! Second: the absence of humility on the part of the so-called experts. We have thus learned that science is not capable of guaranteeing that freedom from evil that many hoped they would provide since they did not think they could seek it from the religious traditions. Third: that the various pandemics are tightly connected to an economic model that has been imposed on a global level as far back as the 1970s, that is, from the moment in which globalization and the digital revolution radically changed the economic and social scene.
How does the pandemic differ from previous crises in terms of its significance for the future of humanity? How can economics and ecology work together to ensure a better future and to what ends should they work? This crisis is an unprecedented opportunity to build a regenerative economy and bring about a real "ecological conversion". However, there is a perceived urgency in business and public sectors for a rapid return to business as usual. How can political will to reset the system be stimulated? How can political and business leaders resist the temptation of a quick, unsustainable, economic recovery?
R. – It is true that on more than one occasion, the pandemic has offered the opportunity to review the rules governing the economic and financial game. But you have to want that. And who does not want that? Business leaders, first of all; secondly, political powers; lastly the vast majority of ordinary people. The motivations vary, but the result is the same. The business world is obstinately taking shortcuts. It knows there are definite costs and uncertain benefits (cf. green economy). Political powers, connected as they are to short-term gains, are reluctant to implement long-term policies that would benefit other parties. Lastly, society itself is living in an endemic intergenerational conflictual situation. The younger cohorts are begging for radical change because they know that what is at stake is their own destiny. That is not the case for the other generations which are in the majority (cf. the demographic transition). With this type of stalemate, an organization such as the Church, who possesses an authority recognized by everyone, can play a decisive role.
The largest burden of the pandemic will fall on developing countries and the poor. What proposals would you present to address the situations of those in need, to prevent them from exposing themselves or being exposed to exploitative and unhealthy living conditions?
R. – It is well documented that the economic, social and humanitarian costs of the pandemic are falling primarily on the weakest segments of the population in the most advanced countries. It thus follows that inequalities, which are already scandalously large, will increase even more in the near future. It is, therefore, necessary to have the courage to say apertis verbis (explicitly) that in these types of situations, a reform strategy is useless. Rather, as Pope Francis never tires of repeating, a transformational strategy must be set in motion. Concretely, it is necessary to insist at the UN that a new Bretton Woods conference be organized. The one held in 1944 was conceived of and undertaken to raise up and invigorate the Western World. A new Bretton Woods conference needs to encompass the entire world. Today, this objective is technically possible.
How do you think large enterprises (some brought to the brink of bankruptcy due to the pandemic) can be involved in this process of regeneration?
R. – The large corporations are decisive for achieving the transformational strategy. Pressure must be put on them to follow suit regarding the declaration signed on 19 August 2019 by 181 CEOs of the largest and most influential American corporations. It says that their intent is to rewrite the rules of the economic game in general, and the “Code of Capital” in particular. We know that this could come about, so why not do it? This could be a continuation of the “Economy of Francis” event this November in Assisi.
What should be the role of politics in this process of change? What is the role of citizens, families, communities, and civil society?
R. – Family, community, organized civic society are fundamental institutions in initiating and sustaining such a regenerative process. It is necessary, however, to decide once and for all on the theory of the nature of the subjects to which one intends to adhere. On the one hand, there is additivity, by which is intended that the activities carried out by these institutions are in addition to those carried out by the State and by the Market, that is, institutions that are useful but not indispensable for society to progress. On the other hand, there is the emergentist theory that says that the mission proper to these institutions is, in the first place, that of demonstrating and introducing the principles of fraternity into economic affairs. Thus, these subjects are valued above and beyond what they do, for who they are and what they testify to. There are still way to many people who are content with additivity theory.
The Pope asked the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, to “Prepare the Future”. In economic and ecological terms, what future do you envision?
R. – The future that we hope can be constructed is one that would definitively establish the triad (State, Market, Community) model of social order, taking the place of the actual dyad (State, Market) model. Secondly, I await the prospect that inclusive prosperity become the historic ideal in our society. Thirdly, I will remain committed until the concept of integral human development, as defined in Laudato Si’, substitute what has become an obsolete concept of growth. There have too many injustices and evils committed against nature in the name of growth.