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Martin Maier SJ

Civilization of Shared Frugality


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2009, P. 1 f.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


In the 30s of last century Walter Benjamin assessed the historical development, "That it goes on 'in this way" is the catastrophe". At the beginning of the 21st century that pessimistic view is applicable to the situation of the world as a whole. When a series of global developments, ranging from over-exploitation of natural resources over global warming up to the growing gap between rich and poor, goes on in this way the future of planet Earth and human civilization is at stake.

That the global system is ill has recently become clear through the temporal concurrence of the following events: While in response to the crisis in international financial markets the governments of the rich countries tied up rescue packages worth billions for the banks, the German World Hunger Help presented the new World Hunger Index. It shows that in 2007 the number of starving people has risen from 848 to 923 million. Ingeborg Schäuble, the chairwoman of the World Hunger Help, rightly denounced it as scandal, "Almost one billion starving people are a disgrace to humanity. Unlike banks, they are not themselves to blame for their plight." She called for a "Rescue Package Against the World Hunger" of 14 billion dollars to support agriculture in developing countries.

In September 2008 at a conference of the UN General Assembly in New York Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras quite similarly said about the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, "We must be able to imagine a world in which the unnecessary deaths of ten million children each year is an abomination which is no longer tolerated." With the present development the halving of the world population's proportion of people living in extreme poverty planned for 2015 will earliest be reached in 30 years.

The current global economic and financial order is profoundly unfair. 20 percent of the world population consume 80 percent of the resources and are responsible for 80 percent of climate-damaging emissions. Two billion people must survive on less than two dollars a day. The public development aid from the industrialized countries decreased from 104,4 billion dollars in 2006 to 103,7 billion dollars in 2007. With it the donor countries break the commitments taken on in the EU and at G8 summits.

There is also the fact that the global financial crisis as well as the consequences of global warming most severely hit the poor in developing countries. But they are the least responsible for both of them.



Future generations will rightly ask today's decision makers how they could allow that each year 40 million people die of starvation and preventable diseases. There are proposals and plans in which way that could be prevented. What is lacking is the political will to implement them.

Triggered by the world financial crisis and the effects of global warming becoming increasingly obvious, the awareness is growing that a global change is necessary. Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, demands, "In the next few years the course must be set for the future development of the world's climate, but also for our economy, our standard of living and our energy supply." The prevailing model of economy and civilization is to be replaced by a new world civilization. The Salvadorian philosopher and theologian Ignacio Ellacuria SJ, who was assassinated in 1989, has shortly before his death drafted such a model under the headword "Civilization of Poverty": "The civilization of poverty ... makes the universal satisfaction of basic needs the principle of development and the growth of common solidarity the basis of humanization." Jon Sobrino SJ has developed that vision into a "Civilization of Shared Frugality". That means on the one hand that resources and wealth must be divided more equitably and on the other hand that this will inevitably require restrictions in the lifestyle of the people in rich countries.

Decisive criteria for this new model of civilization are to be: universal applicability, justice and sustainability. The way in which the rich countries of the North do economy can even for ecological reasons not universally be applied. But what cannot be applied universally is according to Kant's Categorical Imperative also not ethically defensible. Justice on a global scale means that every human being has the same right to natural resources and energy consumption, and that also the ecological resulting costs are to be distributed at least approximately equal. Sustainability means to run economy in a way that does not destroy the foundations of acting and that takes into account the rights and interests of future generations.

The implementation of such a civilization of shared frugality is a gigantic challenge. For it a new social contract between business, science and politics is needed. The interlocking of the problems requires interdisciplinary efforts. Here also the religious communities with their motivation and action potential are in great demand. Justice and preservation of creation are also questions of faith.

What are the chances of implementation? The behavioural scientist Konrad Lorenz took the view that mankind only learned from medium disasters. Karl Jaspers a bit more optimistically formulated, "The fact that the things that seem utopian are possible is told us by a confidence that is not founded in this world, but that is also only given to those who do what they can."


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'