This is not the first time the Pontifical Academy has studied the question of employment and unemployment. John Paul II cited this fact as an indicator of the importance of the theme for Society, the Economy and the development of individuals and societies. People must always be the focus of questions about work and this is where today there is so often an imbalance, as human concerns give way to economic, financial and political considerations. The double-edged sword of development means that the economy, rather than serving people, can also enslave them.
Unemployment can become a social disaster (cf Enciclical Laborem Exercens n.18), marginalising people and their families, making them lose their sense of self-worth and place in society. It can cause people to enter into a cycle of debt from which it is near-impossible to escape, or to become involved with drugs, crime and prostitiution. It is particularly sad that many young people know that on entering the job market they will be unemployed or underemployed for a long time. "Young people," says Pope John Paul II, "should be considered as one of the most precious goods of a nation: a job for them is a recognition of their capacities and efforts and offers them a personal, social and family future."
In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Pope argued that the chief cause of unemployment is an unjust distribution of opportunities due to certain sectors' tendencies to hold on to acquired benefits for themselves. The solution must be an increase in solidarity and a more equal distribution of a finite amount of work, coupled with a respect for people and their right to work and responsibility towards the weak and needy, not just on the personal but also the national level.
This will require not only radical concrete solutions but a complete change in mentality as technical and social changes such as globalisation change the way our economies work. Professor Margaret Archer was involved in preparing the programme for this plenary session, taking into account the Pope's recommendations following the session of two years ago and ensuring it covered the areas remaining from the two earlier plenary sessions on the theme of employment.
On 3rd March over thirty experts from all over the world gathered in the Vatican for this, the fifth plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Prof. Edmond Malinvaud, the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences initiated proceedings with an address.
This was followed by an introduction by Professor Margaret Archer, on "Unemployment: social needs and economic tendencies. Scenarios for their ethical reconciliation." The three-part programme unfolded over the course of the next three days as follows:
PART ONE: Economic adaptations conducive to reducing unemployment
Cost of capital and the uncertain pre-eminence of labour
Professor Pavel Dembinski (University of Geneva)
The significance of labour in a post-industrial society: unemployment and the role of civil economy
Professor Stefano Zamagni (University of Bologna)
Dilemmas about wages and unemployment
Professor Edmond Malinvaud (President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences - Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique)
The Universal Basic Income: its contribution to reducing unemployment and relationship to Social Teaching on the "family wage"
Professor Richard Hauser (Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität)
A recommendation of the international Labour organization concerning general conditions to stimulate job creation in small and medium-sized enterprises
Fr. Dominique Peccoud, S.J. (Bureau International du Travail)
Ways and means of integrating the young and unskilled into work
Professor Emilio Reyneri (University of Parma)
PART TWO: Globalization and unemployment
The economics of globalization: problems and policy perspectives
Professor Thomas Palley (AFL-CIO Washington DC)
Only Connect: Unemployment and poverty: Formal and informal economic activity in a divided world
Professor Else Oyen (University of Bergen & UNESCO CROP programme on poverty
Professor Francis Wilson (Cape Town University)
La necessité d’une nouvelle archetecture legal et global de regulation du capital et du travail
Professor Jaques Delcourt (Louvain-la-Neuve)
The changing meaning and value of work in a globalized information society
Professor David Lyon (Queen’s University, Ontario)
PART THREE: The spiritual role of work: continuity in changing contexts
The changing meaning of work (secularized versus Humanistic) and its implications for the "new" society
Professor Pierpaolo Donati (Pontifical Academician, University of Bologna)
The spirituality of work in the Asian context
H.E. Mgr. Joseph Pittau, S.J. (Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education)
La vision biblique du travail et le contexte contemporain
Professor Roland Minnerath (Pontifical Academician, University of Strasbourg)
The aim of the PASS Plenary Session was not to discuss matters in detail but to concentrate on broader issues. "The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is dedicated to the study of institutional norms and economic and social politics" said their President in an interview in Avvenire, the Italian Catholic daily. This of its nature, like the social doctrine of the Church, has a general character. Different applications will be appropriate in different cultures. The Academy intends to study how institutions and political economies can improve employment, and to aid understanding of how there will be obstacles preventing certain courses of action and how other courses will be successful.
Professor Malinvaud believes that some of the present difficulties come from an incomplete analysis of the range of options available to society, but stressed that the Academy cannot provide solutions to the difficult dilemmas with which the public powers are confronted today. Although giving simple solutions to the problems of work in today’s complex societies is not the function of the Academy, Professor Malinvaud believes that "principals have no value unless applied. We must reflect on their possible translation into concrete realities." He proved his determination to do this in saying "there is a tension between idealism and realism but this shouldn't act as a brake: we must dare to look for new, intelligent ways forward."