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Creating Wealth to Build Peace

Echoes of 'Oh little town of Bethlehem' were still resounding this Christmas when Israel began its retaliatory campaign against militants in Gaza. How appropriate, therefore, that Pope Benedict XVI should already have chosen to deliver his New Year message on the priority of peace-building.

The Pope's message is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, it sets commercial enterprise at the heart of poverty alleviation. This may not sound remarkable to those who recognize that the only solution to material poverty is material wealth, and that the only means of generating such wealth is business. But the church's centuries-long antipathy towards business means that church leaders tend to be reluctant to acknowledge this.

The Pope also argues, secondly, that commerce is fundamental to the building of peace. This too is rarely heard from church leaders, even though it can be found in the work of Thomas Aquinas and at the foundation of the Enlightenment, the Dutch Republic and the United States. More recently it has featured in the 'Golden Arches Theory' of conflict prevention proposed by the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, according to which, no two countries with a McDonalds restaurant have ever gone to war with each other. While this may no longer be true, the contribution of commercial enterprise to peace and security is key to the role of enterprise in alleviating poverty because it is almost impossible to attract commercial investment to areas of conflict.

But it's not totally impossible.

As Middle East envoy, Tony Blair has helped initiate an ambitious investment plan to boost the peace process through the creation of jobs for thousands of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the same vision has inspired the equally impressive achievements of the Portland Trust. These efforts go some way in fulfilling the vision of earlier generations in this region, whose hope for peace was often tied to the vision of the coming messianic age, in which trade had a key role (Isaiah 60:5). Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah's purchase of a field in the context of war was regarded as a sign of hope that the peace that will allow the buying and selling of fields would one day be restored (Jeremiah 32).

One of the Pope's predecessors, Paul VI, declared 'the new name for peace is development'. It's a phrase as compelling as the one with which Pope Benedict ended his New Year message: 'to fight poverty is to build peace'.

Peter Heslam

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  the only solution to poverty is wealth, and the only means of generating it is business
the new name for peace is development