Globalization – the involvement of the peoples and states of the Earth in common economic, cultural, information, political processes – has become the main distinguishing feature of the new era. People clearly, as never before, feel interdependence, which is served by more and more connections generated both by the growing possibilities of technology and by a changed way of thinking.
Due to the secular and materialistic tendencies that dominate modern societies, economic motives have become the most important driving force of globalization. The overcoming of borders and the formation of a single space of human activity is associated primarily with the search for new resources, the expansion of sales markets, and the optimization of the international division of labor. Therefore, understanding the opportunities and the threats that globalization brings to the world is impossible without understanding its economic background.
The Christian conscience cannot remain indifferent to phenomena of such magnitude as globalization, which are radically changing the face of the world. The Church, being a Divine-human organism, belonging both to eternity and to the present, is obliged to develop its attitude towards the ongoing changes that affect the life of every Christian and the fate of all mankind.
In the Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, economic activity is seen as “co-working with God” in “fulfilling his plan for the world and man,” and only in this form does it become justified and blessed. It is also reminded that “the seduction of the blessings of civilization removes people from the Creator”, that “in the history of mankind it has always ended tragically.” This means that the core of the economy should not be the multiplication of temptations, but the transformation of the world and man through labor and creativity.
In the “Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches” dated October 12, 2008, it is emphasized that Orthodox Christians share the responsibility for the emergence of economic crises and troubles if “they recklessly condoned abuses of freedom or reconciled with them, not resisting them worthily with the word of faith.” Therefore, it is our duty to measure every economic activity with the immutable categories of morality and sin, contributing to the salvation and preventing the fall of mankind.
The centuries-old hope of Christians was the unity of all people in the truth, the awareness of themselves as brothers and sisters, together creating a peaceful, pious life on the earth given to us as inheritance. The unity of mankind on the moral basis of God’s commandments is fully consistent with the Christian mission. Such an embodiment of globalization, which provides opportunities for fraternal mutual assistance, free exchange of creative achievements and knowledge, respectful coexistence of different languages and cultures, joint conservation of nature, would be justified and pleasing to God.
If the essence of globalization was only overcoming the division between people, then the content of its economic processes should have been the overcoming of inequality, the prudent use of earthly wealth, and equal international cooperation. But in modern life, globalization not only removes obstacles to communication and knowledge of the truth, but also removes obstacles to the spread of sin and vice. The rapprochement of people in space is accompanied by their spiritual distance from each other and from God, aggravation of property inequality, aggravation of competition, and growing mutual misunderstanding. A process designed to unite leads to more separation.
The most important socio-psychological phenomenon accompanying globalization has become the ubiquitous spread of the cult of consumption. Thanks to modern means of communication, an excessively high standard of living, inherent only to a narrow elite circle of people and inaccessible to the vast majority, is advertised as a social benchmark for the whole society. Hedonism turns into a kind of civil religion that determines the behavior of people, excuses immoral acts, forcing them to devote all their spiritual strength and precious time to the consumer race alone. The volume of consumed material goods becomes the main criterion of social success, the main measure of values. Consumption is seen as the only meaning of life, abolishing concern for the salvation of the soul and even for the fate of future generations, in exact accordance with the cry of the Old Testament apostates: “Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die!” (1 Cor. 15:32; cf. Is. 22:13)
At the same time, the continuous growth of consumer demands is facing the limit of the natural possibilities of the Earth. For the first time in its history, mankind has encountered the finiteness of the reachable earthly limits. The pioneer will no longer discover new lands with virgin natural lands, there are no uninhabited spaces left on the planet for peaceful colonization. The limited size of the globe does not correspond to the unlimited appetites of a hedonistic society. Here is tied the main knot of economic contradictions of globalization.
Attempts to circumvent the limit set by God, usually referring to the sinful, damaged side of human nature, not only harm the spiritual condition of our contemporaries, but create acute economic problems. The Church calls to evaluate these global problems and injustices through the categories of morality and sin, and to look for ways to resolve them in accordance with the Christian conscience.
1. Despite the outwardly visible collapse of the world colonial system, the richest countries in the world, in pursuit of ever-retreating horizons of consumption, continue to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. It is impossible to recognize as fair the international division of labor, in which some countries are suppliers of unconditional values, primarily human labor or irreplaceable raw materials, while others are suppliers of conditional values in the form of financial resources. At the same time, money received as wages or irreplaceable natural wealth is often taken literally “out of thin air”, due to the operation of the printing press – due to the monopoly position of the issuers of world currencies. As a result, the chasm in the socio-economic situation between peoples and entire continents is becoming ever deeper. This is one-sided globalization, which gives unjustified advantages to some of its participants at the expense of others, entails a partial, and in some cases, in fact, a complete loss of sovereignty.
If humanity needs monetary units that freely circulate throughout the planet and serve as a universal measure in economic calculations, the release of such units should be under fair international control, in which all states of the globe will proportionally participate. Possible benefits from such emissions could be directed to the development of distressed regions of the planet.
2. The economic injustices of today are manifested not only in the growing gap between states and peoples, but also in the growing social stratification within individual states. If in the first decades after the Second World War, the difference in living standards between the rich and the poor, at least in developed countries, was decreasing, now the statistics show a reverse trend. The powerful of this world, carried away by the consumer race, increasingly neglect the interests of the weak – both in relation to the social protection of children and the elderly who are unable to work, and in relation to decent remuneration of able-bodied workers. An increase in property stratification contributes to the multiplication of sins, since it provokes the lust of the flesh at one pole, envy and anger at the other.
In the context of globalization, the transnational elite has become significantly stronger, capable of evading the social mission, in particular, by transferring funds abroad to offshore zones, exerting political pressure on governments, and disobeying public demands. We see that national governments are increasingly losing their independence, less and less dependent on the will of their own peoples and more and more on the will of transnational elites. These elites themselves are not constituted in the legal space, and therefore are not accountable to either the peoples or national governments, turning into a shadow regulator of socio-economic processes. The greed of the shadow rulers of the global economy leads to the fact that the thinnest layer of the “chosen ones” is becoming richer and at the same time is increasingly freed from responsibility for the well-being of those whose labor created these riches.
The Russian Orthodox Church reiterates the truth formulated in the Message of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches dated October 12, 2008: “Only such an economy is viable that combines efficiency with justice and social solidarity.” In a moral society, the gap between the rich and the poor should not grow. The strong have no moral right to use their advantages at the expense of the weak, but on the contrary, they are obliged to take care of those who are disadvantaged. People working for hire should receive decent remuneration. Since they, together with employers, participate in the creation of public goods, the standard of living of the employer cannot grow faster than the standard of living of workers. If these simple and morally justified principles cannot be implemented in a single state due to its excessive dependence on the conditions of the world market, governments and peoples need to jointly improve international rules that limit the appetites of transnational elites and do not allow the development of shadow global enrichment mechanisms.
3. Another way to artificially raise living standards is “life on loan”. Not having the desired material values in the real world today, a person strives to get them from tomorrow, consume what has not yet been created, spend what has not yet been earned – in the hope that tomorrow he will be able to earn and repay the debt. We see that in the modern economy, like a snowball, the size of borrowings is growing, not only personal, but also corporate and state. It becomes more and more aggressive, more and more tempting pictures are drawn by advertising calling for living on loan. The amounts borrowed on credit are increasing, the maturity of debts is being postponed – when the possibilities of borrowing from tomorrow have already been exhausted, they begin to borrow from the day after tomorrow. Entire countries and peoples have plunged into a debt hole, yet unborn generations are doomed to pay the bills of their ancestors.
Business on lending expectations, often illusory, becomes more profitable than the production of tangible benefits. In this regard, it is necessary to remember the moral dubiousness of the situation when money “makes” new money without the application of human labor. The announcement of the credit sector as the main engine of the economy, its predominance over the real economic sector comes into conflict with the divinely revealed moral principles that condemn usury.
If earlier the impossibility of repaying the taken debt threatened bankruptcy for one borrower, then in the context of globalization, the exorbitantly swollen “financial bubble” threatens the bankruptcy of all mankind. The interdependence between people and countries has become so great that everyone will have to pay for the greed and carelessness of some. The Orthodox Church recalls that financial activities of this kind involve severe economic and moral risks; calls on governments to develop measures to limit uncontrollably growing borrowings, and all Orthodox Christians to develop economic relations that restore the link between wealth and labor, consumption and creation.
4. A concomitant phenomenon of globalization is a permanent migration crisis, accompanied by an acute cultural conflict between migrants and citizens of the host countries. And in this case, the openness of borders does not lead to rapprochement and unification, but to the division and embitterment of people.
The roots of the migration crisis also have a sinful nature, to a large extent, it is generated by the unfair distribution of earthly goods. Attempts by the indigenous inhabitants of wealthy countries to stop the migration flow remain futile, because they come into conflict with the greed of their own elites, who are interested in low-paid labor. But an even more inexorable factor in migration was the spread of a hedonistic quasi-religion, which captured not only the elites, but also the broadest masses of citizens in countries with a high standard of living. A sign of the times is the refusal to procreate for the sake of the most carefree, self-satisfied and secure personal existence. The popularization of the child-free ideology, the cult of childless and familyless life for its own sake lead to a reduction in the population in the most prosperous societies at first glance.
In a traditional society, selfish refusal to have children threatened poverty and starvation in old age. The modern pension system allows you to count on the savings made during your life, and creates the illusion that a person provides for his old age himself. But who will work if each next generation is numerically smaller than the previous one? So there is a need to constantly attract workers from abroad, in fact, exploiting the parental labor of those peoples who have preserved traditional values and value the birth of children above career and entertainment.
Thus, the economies of entire countries are addicted to the “migration needle”, they cannot develop without an influx of foreign workers.
Such an international “division of labor”, in which some national communities give birth to children, while others use their parental labor for free to escalate their own well-being, cannot be recognized as fair. It is based on the departure of millions of people from traditional religious values. We must not forget that the commandment given to all the descendants of Adam and Eve says: “Fill the earth and subdue it.” The acute migration crisis that has engulfed Europe today and threatens other prosperous regions is a direct consequence of forgetting this commandment. Those who do not want to continue their race will inevitably have to cede the land to those who prefer the birth of children to material well-being.
Thus, globalization, which has offered whole societies the tempting opportunity to do without parental efforts by exporting new people from outside, may turn out to be a fatal trap for these societies.
5. The Church is alarmed by the fact that every year the pressure created by man on the natural environment increases: irreplaceable sources of raw materials are depleted, water and air are polluted, natural landscapes are distorted, and the creations of God that inhabit them disappear. Scientific and technological progress, designed to teach us to live in harmony with God’s world, conserve natural energy and materials, make do with little to create more, cannot yet balance the growing appetites of the consumer society.
Globalization has accelerated the consumer race, disproportionate to the earthly resources provided to mankind. The volumes of consumption of goods in those countries that are recognized as world standards and which are equal to billions of people have long gone beyond the resource capabilities of these “exemplary” countries. There is no doubt that if all of humanity absorbs natural resources with the intensity of countries that are leaders in terms of consumption, an ecological catastrophe will occur on the planet.
In a traditional society where cultivation or grazing served as a source of subsistence, the scale of consumption was strictly limited by the natural limit. A person could not be content with more than the allotted land gave him. He who rapaciously depleted his plot, not caring about the future, suffered a quick punishment from his own greed. Natural consumption limits also existed in the self-sufficient states of the recent past, where excessive consumption, disproportionate to the country’s resources, turned into a deficit of its own natural resources and quickly threatened the existence of such a state. But globalization has opened up the possibility of “exporting your greed” in exchange for imported resources. Thus, relying on the depletion of foreign lands, importing countries create the appearance of inexhaustible opportunities for consumer growth.
We must not forget that water and atmosphere, forests and animals, ores and combustible materials, all other types of natural resources were created by God. The relative cheapness of many resources is deceptive, since it reflects only the cost of their extraction and delivery, because a person uses what has already been given to him by the Creator. Having consumed mineral resources, we can no longer replenish their supply on the planet. In the same way, a person is not able to recreate the species of living beings that have disappeared due to his negligence. And the purification of often polluted water and air costs many times more than those products for the production of which pollution occurred.
Mankind needs to build a world economy, mindful of the pricelessness of many resources that are now sold at symbolic prices. Initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol should be developed, providing for compensation from countries – excessive consumers in favor of countries – sources of resources. When implementing industrial and other technogenic projects, it is necessary to measure the value of the products they create with the value of natural resources spent for their activities, including natural landscapes, water and atmosphere.
6. It is regrettable that globalization has spurred the commercialization of cultural life, its transformation from free art to business. The global scope of competition between cultural works has meant that only the largest projects survive, attracting an audience large enough to pay off with the help of multimillion-dollar advertising investments.
The fact that culture has become part of the global economy threatens to level the world’s cultural diversity, the impoverishment of the language environment, the imminent death of the cultures of small peoples and even peoples with a significant number. Movies, books, songs in languages that are not familiar to millions of audiences turn out to be uncompetitive, unprofitable, and do not have the possibility of replication. In the not too distant future, a global culture driven only by economic motives may become monolingual, built on a meager set of typical clichés that produce the maximum impact on the most primitive instincts. Opportunities for its development and enrichment due to ethno-cultural and linguistic diversity may be irretrievably lost. This is facilitated by international “prestigious” competitions and awards in the field of cinematography, popular music, etc., which create globalized standards of imitation, which at the national level reformat the artistic tastes, first of all, of young people, and then of a significant part of viewers and listeners.
The Church considers it necessary to bring cultural life to the maximum extent possible from the sphere of commercial relations, to consider spiritual values as the main criterion of its quality. The efforts of governments and the public must be made to preserve the world’s ethno-cultural diversity, as the greatest wealth of mankind created by God.
7. The abundance of material goods at the disposal of the wealthiest countries leads to the idealization of their way of life by less wealthy communities, to the creation of a social idol. This often ignores the morality of the methods by which the world’s economic leaders have reached their peaks, and hold them. The role that the colonial exploitation of surrounding peoples, lending at unjustifiably high interest rates, the monopoly emission of world currencies, and so on, played in the enrichment of world economic centers is overlooked. Regardless of the circumstances, their way of life, their economic and social structure are declared exemplary.
Their imitators consider their countries and societies “backward”, “inferior”, choose a “catching up” model of modernization, blindly copying their idols or, even worse, compiled in strict accordance with their “gracious” recommendations. At the same time, neither differences in historical circumstances, nor the difference in natural conditions, nor the peculiarities of the national worldview, traditions, and way of life are taken into account.
In the reckless pursuit of material wealth, you can lose much more important values without acquiring the desired wealth. The “catching up model of modernization”, which has an uncritically perceived external model before one’s eyes, not only destroys the social structure and spiritual life of the “catching up” societies, but often does not allow one to approach the idol in the material sphere either, imposing unacceptable and ruinous economic decisions.
The Church calls on the peoples of countries that are not at the top of the world economic ratings, and above all the intellectual class of these nations, not to let envy into their hearts and not to indulge in idols. Carefully studying and using the successful world experience, we must carefully treat the heritage of our ancestors, honoring the ancestors who had their own unique experience and their own reasons for building just such a way of life. In contrast to the immutability and universalism of moral precepts, in the economy there cannot be a single solution for all peoples and times. The diversity of the peoples created by God on Earth reminds us that each nation has its own task from the Creator, each is valuable in the eyes of the Lord, and each is able to contribute to the creation of our world.