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Interview

April 30, 2001

The Real Threat Behind Globalization?
Economist Stefano Zamagni on Papal Appeal

VATICAN CITY (ZENIT.org) - John Paul II was ahead of his time when he warned about globalization in his 1991 encyclical "Centesimus Annus," a leading economist says.

Italian economist Stefano Zamagni talked about the Pope's views on globalization in the wake of the Holy Father's call for a humanization of globalization. The Pontiff gave an address on the phenomenon last week to participants in a conference of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

"The Pope is not opposed to globalization as such, just as the Church, in its social doctrine, has never exalted the poor," said Zamagni, an internationally known economist with special interest in migration issues. "Yet the Holy Father gives a warning: Globalization, carried to its ultimate consequences, might lead us to live in a world that is, perhaps, richer, but undoubtedly more unhappy."

From 1990 to 1999, Zamagni was a consultant to the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace. Since 1996, he has been the Italian bishops' representative to the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE).

In Centesimus Annus, the professor said, "Wojtyla expressly mentioned globalization. Secular scholars, instead, only began to focus on the problem in the second half of the '90s."

--Q: Could we say, therefore, that the Pontiff anticipated the times on this issue?

--Zamagni: Yes, the Pope was ahead of his times. Today he refers to the topic again because, some characteristics of globalization, to which one cannot turn a blind eye, are increasingly obvious.

--Q: Which in particular?

--Zamagni: I am thinking of the phenomenon of businesses that divest themselves of their responsibility vis--vis the land itself. I am thinking of the inversion of the causal relation between the economy and politics.

It is no longer politics that establishes the rules of the game. If someone establishes them, it is economic figures. Lastly, we cannot underestimate the sad fact that globalization presents another worrying aspect.

--Q: What are you referring to?

--Zamagni: Globalization reduces absolute poverty but increases relative [poverty], that is, the inequalities among the different social groups. Not only between the North and South of the world, but also in the developed countries themselves.

Or, said in another way, the increase in relative inequalities is damaging, to the degree that it appears as a threat to peace and an attack on democracy.

--Q: John Paul II warned about the danger of globalization becoming a new version of colonialism. Why has he made this last alarming cry?

--Zamagni: A great risk is implicit in globalization: that of cultural homogenization. This is a subliminal process, insofar as it does not happen through imperialist actions as in the past.

--Q: Are you referring to the era of classic colonialism?

--Zamagni: Yes. At that time, the hegemonic powers imposed their own will and, as a consequence, the very lifestyle of colonial peoples, with power, laws and the force of armies. Today, power is exercised in subtle, indirect ways, through economic dependence, and trade in goods and products. However, the result is always the same, the overturning of specific cultural identities.

--Q: What are the consequences at the global level, if this process is consolidated and faces no obstacles?

--Zamagni: The principal negative aspect of homogenization lies in the destruction of cultural diversity, in preaching that only one optimum way exists for development, the so-called best way.

However, in this way the dialectic between cultures is destroyed, which, instead, has always been the real spring for progress. If globalization takes this current tendency to its ultimate end, people would really be much less happy. Man's happiness is linked to a great extent to his own cultural identity.

--Q: Identity might seem a generic, abstract term. What does identity include?

--Zamagni: The norms of behavior, lifestyles, but also religious beliefs. This is why one can understand why the Pope has called the world's attention precisely to this aspect.

--Q: What is the position of the Catholic Church, as expressed in the Pontiff's address, in face of globalization?

--Zamagni: I would say [it is one] of discernment, of distinguishing between the positive -- which exists -- and the risky. Also, in face of the negative aspects, the posture is that of someone who wants the process to develop by being directed to the service of man and all men. It is not that of someone who wants to halt it.
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