RP hope: The economy of communion
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2004-09-20
MANY ask just how exactly do I propose that the upper-class in our society bring up the bottom so that we may finally achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth in this country and minimize the poverty stalking the land.

Some of those who pose the question are well-intentioned and are genuinely interested to achieve that level of equitable distribution of wealth that will allow a lasting peace and harmony in our society. They have seen how our elite have for too long feasted on the toil of those in the bottom part of the socio-economic ladder; leading the country to a constant threat of a social explosion which luckily for us is not in the nature of our people to undertake.

Others however are keen to scuttle the suggestion and are out to perpetuate the status quo - thinking perhaps that the gravy train they have been riding for so long will be there forever and ever. Their asking how the poor may be elevated from their conditions is intended more to place impediments and discourage the thought from ever coming into fashion. They and their ilk have a very shallow sense of history and of course an inured conscience.

The point in bringing up the bottom of our society is not a mere humanitarian consideration but a means for achieving political maturity, a lasting peace in the land, and a stronger, sustainable economy. Our democracy will never work for as long as the "stockholders" of the system are ignorant of their rights and do not know how to make the system work. We will never be rid of the rebellions that have plagued us for decades since we achieved independence in 1946 as long as the inequities exist.

Our people have been electing worse public officials instead of improving the quality and trustworthiness of those who are now holding public office. Showbiz stars have become the favorite of the masses who comprise the largest chunk of the voting population. The people at the bottom, left to their devices, their levels of appreciation and discernment a clear indictment of their neglect, have been electing Eraps and are now looking at FPJs. Luckily, there is a young segment of voters where we find hope that another Erap will not erupt.

Regrettably, the offered solutions we hear still center on elitist, tried and wasted approaches. The only answer to our problem is to go to the roots of the problem and raise the bottom. Community development is the answer - the only answer. Unless each community becomes economically viable, politically mature, socially harmonious - the problem will keep haunting us like that axe wielding character Jason in the B-movie.

The history of the world has proven that socialist and communist economical systems do not work. The fall of the Berlin Wall which signified the fall of the socialist dream and the eventual fragmentation of the USSR are testament to that failure of the socialist/communist system. Many would say that the socialist/communist system did not reckon with human nature. It was a system workable perhaps in Heaven, so it failed on earth.

On the other hand, capitalism has not been much of a success either. Just look at the wide gaps existing among the countries practicing it and we know that it is far from ideal. The Philippines has long been under a capitalist system and it got us nowhere. The lust for money has succeeded only in demeaning man. The advent of 9/11 and the current climate of fear in the world must be seen as a clear indicator of the inequities that the capitalist system must address if it is to experience peace.

There is a need therefore for a system that meets the good points of both the socialist/communist and capitalist systems. A system is needed where the advantages of capitalism are not ignored but in fact used while proposing a sustainable sharing method beyond taxation. Nobody wants a dole out, for that too demeans and does not improve man, nor do we see any improvement with unbridled capitalism.

It is not in the making of the profit that is wrong in the capitalistic society. But in the use of profits where the system fails. The sustainability comes from the use of a substantial part of profits in the formation of a new, improved man which leads to a new humanity while at the same time providing for those who initially cannot provide for themselves.

Capitalism has been wrongly premised in that it assumes that man is by nature a consumer - call him homo consumeris. In other words, capitalism assumes man is a taker. There is however the opposite view that man is in fact and by nature a GIVING being instead of a taking one. This is backed by sociological studies.

We have all experienced the joy of giving and also experienced the insatiability of wanting. It is therefore a warped view of man's true nature to say he is basically greedy when in truth the world is full of heroism from the giving we see from mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, patriots, priests and even strangers which acknowledge the nature of man as a giving being.

A system therefore that is based on what is the true human nature and satisfying this nature has a better chance of creating a satisfied and a peaceful society vs. whatever is in existence in the world today. World peace founded on a balance of power, whether military or economic, will be a castle built on sand. World peace founded on a communion that results from satisfying the true human nature is a castle built on rock.

There are bright rays of hope in certain places where there have been economic systems structured along the way of thinking that man is a giving being which have succeeded. And we need only replicate these in as many other communities; fine tuned most likely to suit the idiosyncrasies.

The Focolare Movement, which was started by Chiara Lubich in Italy during the latter part of World War II and is now in over 182 countries, has one of the most successful and sustainable models for community development. This is the Economy of Communion or more popularly called the EOC.

The magic formula of the Economy of Communion (EOC) of the Focolare Movement in building new families (by new is meant new values, perspectives, directions) living in new communities that are marked by harmony, unity, spiritual and physical well-being is simple - values at the core and sustained economic viability to support.

Proved by the Focolare is that any attempt to raise the values of a community is futile if the members of the community are economically deprived and wanting. Any man who may even come from a holy retreat could well end up stealing if he comes home to children who are famished or worse - sick - and he does not have the means to address the problem.

The concept of the Focolare's Economy of Communion (EOC) is one of:

1. Ensuring the right of the investor to make a decent return on his investment. The investor freely takes from the net income of the company his targeted return on investment - be it 20%, 25% or 30%. That is a reward due him for taking a risk in the venture. He may also allocate for himself a salary from the operation. It is his option whether to just earn a salary, make a return on investment or get both.

2. The residual amount is then divided into three parts intended for the following:

a. One part is for the further reinvestment of the company as in capital equipment to replace aging machinery and for expansion so that more economic opportunities are created and workers benefits and shares of the profits can also increase.

b. The 2nd part is for the lesser privileged in the EOC community; that their standard of living be raised and the gap between the haves and the have nots be further reduced which thus fosters unity and harmony in the community.

Though in the Focolare, if a community has already achieved a desired distribution of wealth, this part is shared with other Focolare communities in the world which then makes the communion global.

c. The 3rd part is for the creation of structures for the new man. While love and compassion are the engines for creating the harmonious unity that marks Focolare EOC communities, it is a realistic need that value formation comes with attendant costs. Seminars, retreats and other outreach and value formation activities need to be funded.

Physical structures such as centers where meetings are held to strengthen members in their formation in the life of unity and in the culture of sharing/giving need to be funded. Cities which serve as concrete witnesses to the possibility of people with diverse backgrounds to live harmoniously together are partially helped by the profits of the EOC enterprises.

There are no set rules for determining the parts as these may be equally apportioned or one may be greater than the other two. No two industries are alike and the EOC recognizes the need for flexibility. The spirit of communion/sharing and not hard and fast rules guides the EOC.

The EOC has been applied in many countries already where the Focolare has spread its mission of unity. While it may appear to have been crafted for the 3rd world countries and economies, there are developed countries who have also adopted it because they saw the EOC as yet the most equitable system that delivers the following benefits:

1. The investors make their desired returns. The EOC must first ensure that the business is viable and should make a profit otherwise there will be no profits/shares to allot for man, for the poor or for reinvestment.
2. The EOC being people-oriented, assures the workers a fair share of the fruits of their labor and therefore the firm achieves industrial peace and harmony.
3. The EOC improves the standard of living of the poorer members of the company or the EOC community not in a dole out way but in a way where the beneficiary has contributed to his benefit.
4. The EOC ensures the further growth of the venture by the profits that are plowed back for reinvestment.
5. Because values are the underlying foundations of the EOC, the laws are followed to the letter.

Ask the members of the Focolare Movement who have been involved in the EOC and they will attest to a HIDDEN PARTNER as the real secret why the EOC has been very successful. Some EOC models in Brazil and in Italy employ as many as 8,000 employees in a climate of sustained profitability, growth and harmony.

Any EOC community will naturally grow, improve and prosper. No businessman worth his salt will not follow a working formula. An EOC community can well mushroom into an economic zone when other businessmen are attracted by the profits and the climate of industrial peace and maximized productivity.

In an economically viable community where people can send their children to better schools, live in harmony, afford better appreciations in life - democracy can be better applied. Democracy will improve with the economy and the values introduced to the community. The people of such communities eventually learn the importance of their vote, their responsibilities as voters and how they can make the system work for them.

The ideal mechanism of government for replicating these community development models should have been the Department of the Interior and Local Government which is the frontline agency of government. Alas, since the assassination of DLG (not yet the DILG then) secretary Jaime N. Ferrer, our local government secretaries have been interested more to play the role of Eliot Ness instead of the greater potential of the department for community development.

For those who may want to know more about the Focolare Movement and the EOC, you may log in to their website: www.focolare.org

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