Kishore Jayabalan — Sociopolitical Foundations
Political Philosopher, Rome, Italy
Where social institutions and social structures impede living out of human dignity... we should, as a matter of social justice, be looking to remove those impediments and obstacles.
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Kishore Jayabalan is director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute's Rome office. Formerly, he worked for the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as an analyst for environmental and disarmament issues and desk officer for English-speaking countries. Kishore Jayabalan earned a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In college, he was executive editor of The Michigan Review and an economic policy intern for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He worked as an international economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. and then graduated with an M.A. in political science from the University of Toronto.
During his graduate studies, Kishore was baptized and received into the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1996. He later worked as a student campus minister at the university's Newman Centre, which led to his appointment to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York in 1997. Two years later, he returned to Rome to work for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Kishore became director of Istituto Acton in 2005 and organizes the institute's educational and outreach efforts in Rome and throughout Europe.
Neo-Colonialism vs. Subsidiarity
The history of colonialism in developing countries is very much present, especially among the older generations. Among the younger generations, it might be less obvious, but there’s still very much this feeling that the west knows best.
One of the things that some people, especially older people in developing countries have been worried about is neocolonialism propagated by some international institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, the United Nations; not so much because they want to run the countries, per se, but it’s always this advice being given from rich, western countries to poorer, developing countries. International institutions are run by westerners, they bring advice from western countries to the developing worlds. And it’s always going to seem a little bit off to people in developing countries because they remember what it’s like to be the servants to the masters from the developed world.
One thing I would recommend and I would like to see from international institutions is to practice much more the principle of subsidiarity, and let entrepreneurs in developing countries and young people in developing countries use their energies to find their own solutions to poverty and not so much look to the west as the only model that exists, and allow developing countries to bring their own cultural and historical advantages to the market.
The principle of subsidiarity would allow developing countries to use their own talents and energies and cultures to find ways, free enterprise solutions to the problems that poverty poses. And, I would much rather see a diverse array of solutions to poverty, rather than a one-size-fits-all model that you often see propagated by the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF. And, it’s even worse when those solutions don’t work.
But even if they work, developing countries don’t feel like they own their fates in the same way. And why not trust entrepreneurs in the developing world, young people in the developing world, to find their own paths to the future, find their own paths to development, and let them even fail, if they have to. But, again, let them fail so that they can learn from their mistakes and succeed. And, again, that brings much more human dignity, much more responsibility, as well as subsidiarity.
the Christian Influence on Poverty, Development Institutions, and the Dignity of the Poor
For Christians, the issues wealth and poverty are, at one level, similar to anyone else ... they have to live in the world, they want to succeed, they face the pressures brought on by an overburdened economy ... But on a second level, Christians have an added responsibility because they have a certain image of the human person that is a co-creator with God, that we’re here as stewards, we’re here to improve, in a way, on God’s creation for the benefit of all people.
And Christians have that special responsibility to look out for their neighbor to look out for the good of creation, and to give glory to God through their use of creation. Christians have that social responsibility that goes beyond simply doing well for themselves and doing well at business.
Christianity brings a lot to the debate about proper institutions. If you look at not only the institution of the church itself, but in terms of education, healthcare, equality, regardless of class or race, Christianity was very much the first institution to give that dignity to all people, um, especially when it comes to women, when it comes to poor people, when it comes to neglected, the neglected of society. Christianity gives them a certain value that other religions or societies might not always do.
Christianity gives us that impetus to respect the dignity and protect the rights of the poor and the vulnerable, as well as the historically disadvantaged. Christianity, for centuries, has developed a corpus of social thought having to do with certain social institutions, such as the right to private property – which is not absolute but still exists and is very much protected in the Christian tradition – which allows people to take care and feel some responsibility for what is theirs, but also to use it for the common good.
Things like the rule of law, a tradition of equality for the law, which should cut down on corruption, which give people the confidence and security in the future to take some risks and to develop the goods that they have either personally or socially, and use them for the good of all.
You have also have institutions like education, which provides some basic level of literacy and competence, so that people have the tools they need to fulfill the dignity that God has given them and to live up to the dignity that God has given them.
You also have institutions like healthcare. You know, everyone in the world knows about the healthcare problems in developed worlds. But you also have many in the developing worlds, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, other communicable diseases that require some basic level of healthcare. The church has often provided that basic level of healthcare, before the state ever got involved in healthcare systems.
So I would look to the church, again, and their models, in terms of how they were able to inculturate not only the Christian religion, but also Christian social teaching, and how it was able to take advantage of and promote local cultures and not impose a single model on developing countries and on poor peoples who had been historically oppressed.
Many people have thought of Christianity and of Christian missionaries as imposing a faith on a certain people, taking away from the indigenous cultures and heritage that exists in so many developing countries. But if you look back, what Christianity’s actually done, rather than imposing a model that’s say like secular international institutions do today, is they’ve have been able to inculturate by living among the people, by providing education and healthcare and social services, and caring for the most neglected members of those societies. Not only have they given a voice and dignity to the people who had historically been neglected, but they also were able to work with the cultures themselves and bring out what’s best in those cultures, while perhaps correcting some of the abuses that would have taken place, let’s say, in many countries that didn’t know about human dignity or didn’t realize it in the full sense that Christianity has developed over the centuries.
Environmentalists and Poverty Activists Butting Heads
Many social activists tend to be split between environmental concerns and anti-poverty concerns these days. What you see happening is that sometimes these 2 groups butt heads.
Anti-poverty people care, first and foremost, about the economic and social well-being of basic subsistence level for the poor, while many environmental activists look at developing countries as the cause of environmental damage. They look at the industrial age in the west and say, “Developed countries know better, somehow, than developing countries.” And we’re trying to impose a certain model of western environmentalism on developing countries.
Now, what this does is pits human beings against the rest of creation, which is not the way Christianity looks at the issue. Christianity puts a certain responsibility, a special responsibility on human beings to care for creation for the good of all.
There’s a mistake in divide between anti-poverty and environmentalism within the Christian thinking that can be avoided. We look at human beings as a part of creation and not an enemy of creation. Christianity tries to integrate many of the social issues that activists, when they look at things in a very compartmentalized way, might see oppositions. For example, with anti-poverty campaigns and environmental campaigns.
Christianity looks at caring for human beings as the best way to promote a healthy, sustainable environment, because human beings have a special responsibility to care for environment, as well as to care for their fellow brother and sister.
A completely secular mindset would see an opposition between caring for the Earth and caring for human beings that require a certain amount of economic and social development, which might put things like clean air, clean water, biodiversity at risk. Where Christians should look at creating an environment where human beings can flourish as well as exercise their responsibility to care for creation.
what Social Justice Is and Isn't
Social justice is a serious matter for all Christians, because not only do we want legal justice in the sense of the law to be applied fairly, but we also think there’s a certain amount of justice that, that should take place and should be respected among individuals, among groups and society.
And for social justice to be carried out, we have to allow a certain amount of freedom. We can’t look at social justice as somehow a utopian scheme that needs to be perfected here and now on Earth, and we have perfect justice for all and control equality. Unfortunately, some people interpret social justice to mean that everybody has to have the same equal living conditions worldwide, otherwise there’s no social justice.
I would prefer to look at social justice as providing opportunities, providing opportunities for people to advance, to use their talents. And there are many cases in the world today where social institutions and social structures somehow impede living out of human dignity. What we should, as a matter of social justice, be looking to remove those impediments and obstacles, so that people can live freely and responsibly, and hopefully, live up to their vocations, that God has given them.
the Family as the Building Block Society
Many institutions also look at human life as a threat to social progress, let’s say through population control schemes, forced sterilizations. Those are impediments to social justice, because they don’t allow individuals to live freely. They don’t allow the most primary institute, institution of society, the family, to grow and prosper.
The family is the basic unit, the most fundamental unit in society. Without a strong family, the rest of society is going to have a lot of trouble understanding what a true moral foundation is. Because we all learn our first morality at home. Parents have the first duty and right, of course, to educate children. And if a family isn’t able to stay together and impart basic moral and ethical principles and teachings to their children, the state is going to have a hard time being able to recover from that missing element of society. You’re going to have all kinds of perverse effects as a result of the family not being able to live out it’s fundamental God-given duty to educate their children.
There are many impediments to the family and its growth in today’s world. There’s been certainly a relaxation and a liberalization of things like divorce laws that make it easier for people, when they feel tempted, to split up from each other. Another impediment to the family is our laws and taxes and regulations that penalize marriage; that, in a way, give incentives for people to either stay single or to cohabitate without providing that solid foundation of marriage.
You also have some policies – I won’t say this is widespread – some economic policies also make it hard for people to have enough free time to spend with their families, where work is not only the one thing, it becomes everything. We need to find ways where employees and employers work together to provide some kind of a healthy balance between social life and economic life, we also need the state to be able to realize that families need freedom. Families need freedom to be able to plan their own lives together, and they don’t need to be told by the state or by, let’s say, public education system that there’s only one way to educate your children.
Free Trade: Helping or Hurting the Poor?
Free trade presents many challenges and opportunities to the poor. I would say that free trade, at a very short-term level, causes all kinds of disruptions. So, it looks like free trade can actually hurt the poor. But if you allow free trade and think about the economics behind free trade, what you’re doing is you’re allowing poor people the opportunity to engage in production and exchange with their richer neighbors. And not only are you creating an economic bond between the rich and the poor, through trade, you’re creating a moral bond between the rich and the poor. We all know the experience of going to a market and getting to know a shop owner. Now, imagine if you could somehow expand that to, let’s say, the city, or expand that within a country. Not only are you creating more economically-efficient systems, but you’re creating a whole system of social interaction, where people feel much more involved in the lives of society and of each other.
Trade is vital to the global economy. You cannot expect developing countries to be able to become developed and grow out of poverty and create wealth, unless you have trade both within countries, among developing countries, and between developed and developing countries.
One of the problems I see, looking at the global trading system today, is that we’re divided into many blocks. Rather than truly global free market, free trade system, which would certainly benefit many more countries that the current system that we have, we’re creating a fortress. We’re allowing walls to be built up between certain regions, between certain peoples. Not only does this give much more power to lawyers and politicians, but, in a way, we should look to the example of some countries like Great Britain in the 19th Century, who exercised a certain amount of unilateral free trade and said, “We think that free trade is good, not only for the home country but for the rest of the world.”
Show some political courage on the part of developed countries, and lower our trade barriers. Let’s allow more goods to come in from the developing countries. Let’s allow our goods and services, our comparative advantages to be used to help developing countries escape poverty and join the network of productivity and exchange that John Paul II talks about.
The European Union has a very severe, I would say, agricultural policy towards developing nations. Most European farmers receive a very high amount of government protection, I would say, for competition. The common agricultural policy is the main policy to all the European Union, to ensure that its farmers maintain a certain standard of living and don’t face too much outside competition. Now, at one level, that has a certain amount of benefit for European farmers. We all know that Europe is the home of many culinary, exquisitely raised products and services.
But at the same time, why shouldn’t a farmer in sub-Saharan in Africa be able to take advantage of his competitive advantage, his productivity of expertise, his expertise in raising certain crops and certain food stuffs, and let them, let the market decide who is the best at producing, let’s say cattle, or who is the best at producing prosciutto, or who is the best at producing certain types of wine or grains.
If we look at the impediments to people becoming wealthy in most of the world, but especially in developing countries, there’s a whole mass of entrepreneurial talent not being taken advantage of.
The key to unleashing the potential wealth creation in a developing world is unleashing that entrepreneurial activity and talent that is already there in developing countries. Imagine if we could somehow unleash the entrepreneurial talents that’s there already in developing countries in developing countries, and turn that into a tool for development. Rather than simply looking at, “let’s give money from the rich to the poor,” let’s allow the poor to engage in this network that allows people to not only develop their own talents, but allows them to, to produce more goods and services for society, so that we all benefit.