Social Trends and Signs of the Times

By: Drew Christiansen

February 17, 2015

Technology, Values, and Development

Last Monday evening, Dr. Kaushik Basu, the World Bank’s chief economist, introduced socio-economic trends as a theme for discussion in Georgetown’s Global Futures initiative. The trends Dr. Basu pointed to consisted of comparative growth rates of economies at different stages of development. Like the Bank, the Catholic Church looks at socioeconomic trends.

Many of the Church’s concerns are similar to those studied by the bank: growth, development and underdevelopment; “an option for the poor” as the Bank president Jim Kim proposed last month; growth for re-distribution, and global governance.    

Over time there has been a convergence of the Church’s perspective on development and that of the Bank. “The option for the poor” is only the latest instance of a shared vision of poverty reduction. In the late 1990s, the Bank, under President James Wolfensohn, and the IMF, under Managing Director Michel Camdessus, worked with the Church on debt forgiveness for the most indebted countries, a goal of the late Pope John Paul II for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.  

The Church, however, examines social trends as “signs of the times,” as indications of needed action rooted in a gospel vision. Unlike the Bank’s econometric measures, the signs of the times are measures of human suffering and human aspiration read by light of the Gospel.  

Think of today’s economic migrants, for example. They are fleeing economic deprivation, corruption and violence, and they are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.  Nations negotiate free trade agreements and open capital flows, and yet the poor and unemployed are denied free movement.  

Economic migration, whether from Africa across the Mediterranean or across Mexico from Central America, is a sign of our times, a massive failure of neglect which needs correction for the sake of our brothers and sisters who should be, as Saint John Paul wrote, “sharers, on a par with ourselves” in the Banquet of Life the Creator intends for all.  

Those migrants escape the calculations of economic growth and trade expansion. They move in the shadows of underdevelopment. Bringing them into the light, and into our lives and on to the public agenda, is what it means to see them as “signs of the times.”
Opens in a new window