Bruno Colmant: "My burning concern..." - Economic Policy

Bruno Colmant: “My burning concern…” – Economic Policy

The economist is writing a book this summer inspired by Pius XI’s Encyclical against Nazism in 1937, which reflects great anxiety about our ability to respond to the major issues of the moment. But who also considers solutions.

The economist Bruno Colmant, professor at ULB and UCLouvain, is taking advantage of this summer to write a new book whose title is akin to a warning: “With burning concern”. An essay inspired by the titanic challenges facing our world. A call to action, too, which refers to… a little-known papal encyclical, published shortly before the Second World War. He explains himself for Trends Tendances.

The economist Bruno Colmant, professor at ULB and UCLouvain, is taking advantage of this summer to write a new book whose title is akin to a warning: “With burning concern”. An essay inspired by the titanic challenges facing our world. A call to action, too, which refers to… a little-known papal encyclical, published shortly before the Second World War. He explains himself for Trends Tendances. Tell the genesis of this title: “With burning concern”. This is an episode that has been completely erased by history. Pope Pius XI published on Palm Sunday, in 1937, an Encyclical written in German, not in Latin, intended only for Germany, which he sent clandestinely to the churches. It was read from the pulpit. And what is surprising is that he expresses all his opposition to the devaluation of man. When one rereads this encyclical attentively, one feels a very strong presentiment of the complete drama which is about to strike Europe. Unfortunately, he died in 1939 and he could not continue his fight biologically. He warned against the perils to come, but he was not heard… Indeed, his Encyclical was considered illegal by the Nazis. What fascinated me in this text, which I had never heard of before, is that it is a desperate prophecy: it is worst of all, to be petrified before the inevitability of things. In March 1937, he had seen everything, it was a year before the Anschluss and a year and a half before the Munich agreements. He had seen clearly, I think. It makes a lot of sense to choose this title for your book… Yes. I chose it because the more my reflection advances – and I have already written two books on this subject, From the dream of globalization to the nightmare of populism and Hypercapitalism: the permanent coup – the more I come to the conclusion that the neoliberal market economy sucks in the future, sucks in people and leads to military, predatory logics, which of course sacrifice nature. This is why we must absolutely rehabilitate the States which, for forty years, have been dispossessed of their sovereign attributes because the market economy starts from the idea that as everything is capital, the State has no no more role to play, if not an accessory or auxiliary role. We will have to rehabilitate its dirigiste role, abandon the Maastricht Treaty… I will formulate in this book a whole series of proposals in areas such as taxation, education… We are facing gigantic challenges – socio-economic, climatic, geopolitical… Hence your “burning concern”? Of course. When you think, no parameter is soothing, for the moment. Structurally, demography is aging, which will lead to increasingly significant social expenditure – legitimate, moreover. We live in a world where social inequalities have increased very sharply. The absence of inflation that we have known for a long time has led to reductions in interest rates which have increased the value of assets. Now, with the return of inflation which affects work, inequality is widening more and more violently. We add to that the ecological problem which is beginning to terrify me with all that this induces in terms of droughts, water, food and which seems to be rushing. And as if that were not enough, there is this proxy war, on European soil, between non-European powers. Yes, I have a burning feeling of anxiety, perhaps because it’s summer… Pius XI’s encyclical was linked to the fear of Nazism. Here…But it’s related! What emerges very strongly from the text is the need to respect the human being. This is part of the social doctrine of the Church, the famous Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII in 1891, in this awareness of the devaluation of the human in an industrial world marked by war. There is a common thread. We are at a time when there is a need for social benevolence, sharing, solidarity, inclusion, while all the phenomena we face are likely to destroy the social bond. I have a concern… societal, in truth. Not only economic, therefore? I am not writing a political program, of course, but it is a set of reflections. As Fran├žois Mauriac said, writing is also acting: I think he’s right. Some think that you have become pessimistic… When someone told me that, I carried out a mini-survey on Linkedin to ask them and many of them also found me lucid. I find that the role of an economist is not only to talk about stock market prices, it is also to question the future and the major life issues, to engage in citizen debate, and I have been doing it for long time. I had periods of bewilderment, but not anymore, I think… The current period cannot leave anyone indifferent, whether you are an artist, writer, musician, thinker… I often talk about it with Jacques Attali, a man whom I like very much and who is sometimes called Cassandre – to which he replies that Cassandre had warned not to bring in the Trojan horse…: he says that the common term which encompasses the current thinking is denial. If this is the case, we must challenge thought. Denial or minor responses to all these major issues, right? I imagine that we are living in a period comparable to 1939: we felt the dangers coming, but we clung to any chimera or any hope, however futile, of avoiding great misfortunes. But in collective intelligence, there was a deep correct intuition, but which the political world at the time could not respond to, because it was too systemic. It’s like the climate challenge: it’s so big that we don’t know where to take it. It must be the return of the State, but also of courage? Yes. But the first thing to do before restoring the strategist state is to restore democracy. In most European countries, we have systems where the executive power has largely surpassed the legislative power. There is no proper triangulation of powers anymore. I think that we should involve citizens much more in programs of commitment, of combat, of certainty, rather than having a watered-down executive power that makes decisions in between itself – because that isn’t healthy… That’s what Macron tried to do with his citizens’ debates, but unfortunately he didn’t get much out of it. However, I think that there is a lot of collective intelligence in our populations, which is not used enough.

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