Francisco Economy

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Eduardo Maretti*

Meeting by videoconference between academics from several countries with the Nobel Prize Joseph Stiglitz debated, on December 12, ideas for introducing changes in the Economics curriculum at universities around the world.

In Brazil, the meeting was held at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). Stiglitz and other economists must prepare, at the request of Pope Francis, a draft proposal for these changes, one of the main agendas of the Francis Economics Congress, an initiative of the Pope, to be held in the city of Assisi (Italy), from 26 to March 28, 2020.

By mail, the Pope invited economists and entrepreneurs from all over the world to participate in the event in Assisi (the city chosen for being the birthplace of Francis of Assisi), to “meet those who today are graduating and starting to study and practice a different economy, which gives life and does not kill, includes and does not exclude, humanizes and does not dehumanize, takes care of creation and does not destroy it”.

In a video, the pope defended the idea: “The economy cannot aim only at increasing profitability, reducing the labor market and creating new excluded”. Recently, the pontiff criticized the “political or social or ecological limitations” in force in Brazil, in a message to the Brazilian people on the day of Our Lady of Aparecida (October 12), patroness of the country.

In addition to Stiglitz, the March meeting will include, among others, personalities such as Amartya Sen (1998 Nobel Prize in Economics), Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize), activist Vandana Shiva, economists Jeffrey Sachs and Ladislau Dowbor.

Meetings like the one held on the 12th – which had participants from 14 countries, five continents, and 30 universities – are part of the program Pontifical Scholas Occurrentes, an organization of Pontifical Right created in Buenos Aires in 2001, on the initiative of the then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. The institution brings together students from all over the world. A Brazilian Articulation for the Economy of Francisco (ABEF) participates in the program.

According to Ladislau Dowbor, Professor of Economics at PUC-SP, the idea is that “the economy should serve society, not the other way around”. “We are taking advantage of the pope's initiative to have repercussions in Brazil. We are facing an aberration in terms of economic policy and the concept of politics in general”, he said, at the opening of the videoconference. He proposed the formation of nuclei in Brazilian universities, in trade unions, in movements such as the MST, “to discuss how to rethink economic organization in general”.

Stiglitz argues that the economics curriculum at universities has to be reformed in all respects. In the videoconference, he approached the theme based on three central ideas. The first is that “man has to live in harmony with nature”. According to the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, it is necessary to understand why we are not living in harmony with the environment. “And how can we reform the economy to ensure that we do that? We are treating scarce resources like water as if they weren't scarce. The economy has to treat these as if they were scarce goods,” he said.

The second point is what he calls the “circular economy”. “Natural resources have to be reused. The economy has to focus on recycling and renewing. An economy in which people are in harmony with nature. We have to innovate, invest, have public and private investments and regulations”, For Stiglitz, ideas like this need to be part of the standard curriculum in economics courses.

“We cannot separate environmental justice from social justice,” he said. He illustrated his concern with the fact that there are now “climate migrants” – driven by environmental imbalances caused by human action – coming from poor regions such as Africa and parts of India. Therefore, it is necessary to disseminate knowledge thinking about future generations.

The third point is that, “to achieve these goals, there has to be actions, we have to focus on how we work collectively to promote improvements”. Big companies and corporations have to change, understanding the enormous social and environmental damage caused by models whose only interest is “maximizing the interests of the shareholder”. Companies generally need to change paradigms, as some already do.

Stiglitz gave two examples: companies that don't care or cared about producing food for children that cause childhood diabetes and laboratories that manufacture drugs that cause people to die. “They only thought about profits and did horrible actions without thinking about the moral consequences. Finally, they said, 'we're going the wrong way'. Companies have to think about the consequences. Now we realize that this selfish conduct is not working for society. These economic concerns have to be brought to the Economy”, he highlighted.

Stiglitz commented on Argentina's Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, 37, appointed by the country's new president, Alberto Fernández. Guzmán was a student and collaborator of Stiglitz. “I am excited about Martín and Argentina”. According to the American economist, the new minister was one of the best students he ever had.

Ethics and cooperation

For all this, in the curriculum, it is necessary to combine Economics with ethics, argues Stiglitz. “We need to emphasize these ethical issues. How do you shift the curriculum to a broader perspective than the interest of shareholders? This for me is essential. It is essential education for the business leaders of the future. Business is destroying the environment. Thus, the world will not survive”.

It is also necessary to teach students the ethical need for cooperation. They need to understand the seriousness of producing products that are harmful to health, if they work in the food sector in the future, so that they don't knowingly help to cause childhood diabetes, for example. “They need to feel guilty. We have to be individually accountable for our actions.”

From the point of view of the planet's regions, regional differences need to be considered, with regard to combating climate change, believes the economist. “To me, it seems that the answer to climate change cannot hinder developing countries from developing. There has to be help from North to South. The North has a moral obligation towards the South, it has responsibility, and it should reduce its emissions”.

“Growth has to be different from the past, based on fossil energy. Now we are in a position to produce renewable energy. If this objective is reached in 2050, we will have the possibility to grow in a sustainable way. For that, there have to be changes of many things. We have to have less energy-intensive consumption patterns, in terms of carbon”. According to Stiglitz, changes in the organization of cities and in the production process will also be necessary.

*Eduardo Maretti is a reporter for Current Brazil Network.

Originally published on Current Brazil Network.

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