Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 13, 1999
Denying the existence of evil
For some Canadian observers, the recent demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle were incomprehensible. Soviet communism is dead; Third World socialism has been an economic disaster; the TSE 300 and Dow-Jones Industrial Average are at near-record levels; Canada's unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. Everything is wonderful; why should anyone complain?
"We are in danger of reaching a state of affairs where there is nothing left to protest," columnist David Frum gloats in the Dec. 4 National Post. This is his explanation for the "bizarre decision" of tens of thousands of people to protest in Seattle. For Frum, the protesters are seeking something, anything, to get angry about. They are also standing in the way of the progress which will inevitably come to all if today's corporate giants are allowed to freely expand their tentacles to every corner of the globe.
Freedom! It's a wonderful thing. We all want it. We all enjoy it.
Yet it's a short-sighted view which assumes that absolute liberty will bring us a world of peace and justice. It's a smug and myopic view which assumes that current North American prosperity is solely the result of our cleverness and hard work without a trace of exploitation of those countries which are, inexplicably, becoming poorer as they become more enmeshed in the global capitalist economy.
There is a curious blindness among the Globalization is Good set. They see very well that a culture of innovation and hard work can create prosperity. And they see that high taxes, corruption and civil strife can set up barriers preventing the innovator from enjoying the full economic fruits of his or her innovation.
But they are blind to the fact that the area between a legitimate return on investment and blatant exploitation is a large and murky expanse. And they are blind to the fact that economic efficiency, while creating prosperity for some, also creates severe dislocation and life-long poverty for others. And further they fail to perceive that while the powerful rejoice in absolute freedom, those with less power need protection as much as freedom.
Freedom in economics - as in any sphere of human endeavour - is not an absolute good. Freedom calls for responsibility, responsibility which is sometimes ignored when increased pleasure or profits beckon. Original sin means that the exercise of freedom must often be regulated for the sake of the common good.
Such regulation should not itself be oppressive. But it should call to mind the principle that God created the bounty of this world to be shared among all people - both in this generation and in ages to come.
Promoters of radical capitalism make a dogmatic assertion - A rising tide raises all boats - which cannot stand up to scrutiny. Even within Canada, the unprecedented prosperity of the 1990s has touched only some and left many on the outside. Investors have benefited while ordinary wage earners are in the same place or worse off than they were 10 years ago.
In most of the rest of the world, the last decades of the century have been an era when people were forced off their land and into the slums of massive cities so that corporate farms could grow crops for export. It has also been a time of rapid environmental devastation, again largely caused by the quest for the quick buck.
In his reflection on the upcoming third millennium, Pope John Paul wrote, "The world needs purification; it needs to be converted." This is true in moral and religious terms. But the pope made that statement in the context of the great social evils of our century. Conversion is a form of protest about the way things are. In that light, the time of protest is never over. We always need to be striving to overcome the evils of the day, no matter how much some will deny that the evils even exist.
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