Out of the Economic Crisis – the options for Europe

It was an eye-opening experience to visit Valencia, Spain at the end of November to attend a conference organised by the Catholic University of Valencia, San Vicente Martir, in collaboration with the Spanish Chapter of the Foundation Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice. The experience was of satisfaction not only for the high quality of the Conference in its  content and delivery by the speakers, but also because Valencia is a beautiful city which is so well organised and meticulously clean and which has succeeded in integrating the grand modern architectural works of Santiago Calatrava with the beauty of the historic centre. I have great words for city mayors that are brave enough to commission modernist architects on projects in cities – a reflection of the present creative idiom rather than regurgitating the architecture of the past. The City Gate and open theatre by Renzo Piano in Valletta reflects the grandeur of Malta’ s thinking in the turn of the millennium – a concept that shows that the country was absorbing the art and cultural mainstream thinking of Europe.

The theme of the conference was that of identifying ways how  Catholic social thinking can contribute to economic recovery after the crisis. Speakers included Alfredo Pastor Bodmer from IESE Business School, Barcelona, Eduardo Olier, from the University CEU San Pablo of Madrid, Jose Luis Fernandez Fernandez, of the University of Comillas, Madrid, and various speakers from the Catholic University of Valencia. To sum up, the main points made centred around the idea that coming out of an economic crisis does not merely mean that you should engage in crisis-management. Economic and social awakening is a result of having a clearly defined “project” which goes beyond trouble-shooting and short-termism. This is a valid question to ask even in Malta – what is our Project? What do we want to be? The debate and ensuing tension which led us to Europe was a “project” that brought about a new modern Malta which is outward looking and fresh in ideas and opportunities. We are however at a point to think of the next milestone, the next Project. Where d we want to go and how?

The speakers exposed the perils of isolationism and of an inward-looking, provincial outlook. A crisis could naturally lead to economic protectionism, while the opposite, export-led growth in both the products and services sectors is what contributes to real growth. The remedies lie in education (at all levels, starting from primary schooling), a culture of self- help (rather than of a culture of state-dependence), and investment in research and development, creativity and innovation. An interesting discussion on the second day stressed the importance of “consumption with prudence” i.e. consuming intelligently and with moderation and not beyond our means. The speakers emphasised a “better sharing of wealth,” reflecting of course the fact that economic efficiency and market economics does not automatically resolve the problem of uneven distribution of income. A better sharing of wealth creates the multiplier effect that boosts economic growth.

An underlying leitmotif to all the presentations and discussions was the quality of decision-making by politicians, business and consumers. The ethical underpinning of these decisions is critical to the sustainable development of society. Decisions which are morally sound and which look at their implications beyond the immediate future. This last point implies that we cannot only look at the change in the economic and business/consumption system or the blindfolded choice of a “Project”, but we have to look at the change in the persons that make up the system – their ability to discern and decide on strong moral grounds. The Valencia conference was indeed an eye-opener.

Joseph F.X. Zahra

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