Comments: Monsignor Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga

Ke-young Chu, Sanjeev Gupta, and Vito Tanzi
Published Date:
May 1999
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I am excited by Professor Atkinson’s interesting paper on equity in a globalizing world, and by the comments I have heard. My reaction comes from the fact that I have a responsibility for equity issues on the so-called continent of hope—Latin America. But how can we be hopeful with so many inequalities on this continent? And, being from the region with the most inequality, I ask myself, as the last commentator asked: What will happen to the losers? I see this as an opportunity to comment on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, because, as Professor Atkinson said, inequality does not relate only to income and earnings. Equity is not just a matter of rich and poor: it has many dimensions; and I am convinced that one dimension is solidarity.

Traditionally, an ideological distinction has been drawn between equality and equity. Equality implies the same treatment for everyone. Equity is the treatment of everyone according to his needs. Christian ethics assume equality as an anthropological postulate—the equal dignity of everyone—but proposes equity as an ethical criterion. In other words, where there is a lack of economic and racial equality, priorities must be set to meet the different needs, in order to express the equal dignity of every person.

In Christian ethics, we call this principle of equity “solidarity.” However strange, in our times, the solidarity option as a cultural axis of an ethical project is widely supported in political speech but clearly absent in the everyday reality of the people. This does not necessarily reflect bad will, but does reveal an understanding of the issue that differs among the social actors. Otherwise, how can we explain the verbal presence of the term solidarity and its factual absence?

Therefore, we need to reflect on what solidarity is and on its ethical consequences. What are the implications of both an ethical basis and a political culture of solidarity? Human responsibility is conceived in the context of a communitarian vision of the person. Solidarity is an anthropological condition, because it is possible to develop a human person only in relation to others: only when we configure the “us,” can we fulfill the “I.”

Solidarity, then, is not considered merely an act of ethical generosity but as an anthropological obligation. The partial responsibility to the whole stops being an exception and becomes the rule. The religious consequence of this understanding of solidarity is evident. Modern man does not hold God responsible for the existence of extremely poor people on earth, because he knows that God has given us the task of providing for the neighbor in need. He has given us not only an explicit, concrete commandment, but He has created us as persons in need of reciprocal integration.

Solidarity is a direct consequence of human and supernatural fraternity. Today’s serious socioeconomic problems can be resolved only if new manifestations of solidarity are created: solidarity among the poor themselves, solidarity of the nonpoor with the poor, and solidarity among working people. Therefore, solidarity is not only a superficial feeling. On the contrary, it is a strong and perseverant commitment to the common good. It is for the good of all, so that all of us can truly accept responsibility for each other. This is a recurrent theme in the documents of the bishops in Latin America—Medellin, Puebla, and Santo Domingo. In Christian ethics, solidarity is a theological concept.

However, the ethical dimension of solidarity can be misunderstood. On the one hand, there is the liberal tendency to reject solidarity in the name of the supremacy of individual liberty and trust in the economic laws. The Marxists viewed the trust in economic laws with suspicion, saying that it hid conflicts and avoided the structural challenges of unjust situations. On the other hand, although solidarity is often considered a revindication of a person’s fundamental rights, it can be confused with paternalism—focused on alms and private assistance.

Moreover, it is dangerous to reduce solidarity to mere emotions, because that can lead to an abstract proclamation of principles without a serious commitment to facing the complex social problems. Paradoxically, the interest in solidarity is in inverse proportion to its practice. The crisis of the classic ideologies has led to a closing of the individual on himself or herself, in search of his or her own identity and fulfillment in the context of an exacerbated subjectivism.

I believe that it is necessary to develop a real culture of solidarity. In practice, this means to develop the concern of all the members of society for those who do not enjoy welfare or participate in decisions.

To conclude, I would like to say that it is necessary to recover the political meaning of equity. Politics, ethics, and poverty are three words that speak of the same reality. Politicians are persons with a public service vocation, thus the goal of politics should be the common good. The common good is not the simple song of particular interests; it requires valuation of these interests and harmonization of them within a balanced hierarchy—in other words, with an exact understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person. The authentic interest for the common good requires, I believe, that the real needs of all members of society be determined, and that the dignity of all is preserved. Hence, the eradication of misery and the reduction of poverty should be the priorities of every political program that aims to build a society where everyone has a place.

We hear that politics is the art of the possible. Ethically speaking, I think this definition is incomplete because “possible” is ambiguous and vague. It is better to say that politics is the art of making possible what is desired, and to set as a goal the development of a real culture of solidarity. We would therefore have an ideal—a concept to guide our political decisions. In the context of what we have heard this morning, societies can no longer tolerate destructive inequality.

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