Upon the publication of Caritas in veritate there was the usual rush to scan the document for excerpts that justify preconceived political positions. Some have noted the strong support for the principle of the market economy, civil society and the removal of trade barriers. Others have noted the support for the welfare state, labour market regulation and for income redistribution. It is certainly not a document coming from the left it lacks the condemnations of markets that some were hoping for. However, big government, in the form of the welfare state, is not attacked either.
In most cases, in fact, guidance on particular policy issues is heavily qualified. It is well known that Pope Benedict does not like being drawn into specifics on such issues. For example, fair traders and ethical investors might pat themselves on the back as the Pope praises ethical business and, in paragraph 66, applauds something that sounds like fair trade. But he then adds: The word ethical, then, should not be used to make ideological distinctions, as if to suggest that initiatives not formally so designated would not be ethical. Similarly, the Pope calls for development aid whilst making strong statements about its failure.
But all this is largely beside the point. The main purpose of this document is to hammer home the message that, whatever technical economic policies are followed, economic and social behaviour must be directed by moral truths and animated by charity. If we are to have development worthy of its name, then there must be moral renewal both in rich and poor countries.
What is the answer to problems within the financial system? The Pope is clear: we need better people. As he puts it, [Economic and financial] instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.
Is economic development mainly a matter of technical policy design? No. The Pope says: It should be stressed that progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient*. Development needs above all to be true and integral.
The Pope returns again and again to a theme that is summed up in paragraph 34: The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that i