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In Theory: Should there be morality in the markets?

July 13, 2011

Q. At a time of near-record food prices, Pope Benedict XVI has denounced speculation in commodities markets as “immoral” and called food and water “a basic human right.” According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, overall global food prices have risen by an average of more than 80% in the past 10 years, with sugar rising fastest. High food costs have sparked riots in Cameroon, Haiti, Mozambique and Egypt. The most recent FAO figures put the number of people in the world classed as “hungry” at 915 million.

Speaking to FAO delegates, the Pope said that high food prices require an international response from politicians, faith leaders and corporations. “How can we remain silent when even food has become the object of speculation or is linked to a market that, without any regulation and deprived of moral principles, appears linked solely to an objective of profit?” he asked delegates. The Pope's statements echo his writings in the 2009 “Charity in Truth” encyclical, where he called for worldwide regulation of economies and food production.

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Is it possible to see the global economy in moral terms? And should morality be imposed upon it?

I was gratified to see that the Pope has addressed the incredible need for people of faith throughout the world to act on the moral imperative for people to have the food and water that are vital to life. It is understandable for people to be concerned about rising food and water prices; but for an increasing number of people, food and water availability is not just a concern, it is a life-threatening reality. In his statement, the Pope has raised this issue to the height of a supreme directive, not just an individual choice.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am encouraged by our principles to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” along with “justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” To me, that means that I am compelled to support the rights of all people to the basic necessities of life. And it is that same affirmation that has inspired the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California and the UU Service Committee to affirm the right to water for Californians and people throughout the world.

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