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Integral Economics

What do we mean by "Integral Economics"?

As a Catholic university, Mount St. Mary draws from our Catholic intellectual tradition on the meaning of "Integral Economics."

Pope Benedict XVI drew on Pope Paul VI's claim that in order to have integral development, we need to transform our current economy:

The [authentic] development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well-rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist on this question has rightly said: "We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole."

Here at the Richard J. Bolte, Sr. School of Business, we established the Center for Integral Ecology, Economy and iMpact (CIEEM), working with our partner Transform Communiversity Associates (TCA) in the UK, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas (South, Central and North America), we use the integral economy lens as the truly unique, holistic and universal approach to transform and to change the way we teach economics, and how we make decisions in business, finance and economics.

Values and Beliefs

At CIEEM we believe our neoclassical economic model and the capitalist system only based on the maximization of profits is also part of the problem:

Saint John Paul II, from his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, in 1979, reminded us that the economic activity that includes production and consumption is guilty of our environmental degradation among all the human activities. He said human beings frequently seem "to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption" (RH 287).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC UN panel has issued many reports on the business' consequences of climate change and its impacts worldwide.1

An Integral Economic Conversion and Transformation

At CIEEM we believe that to create global ecological conversion, we need a true integral economic conversion and transformation:

Saint John Paul II also called for a global ecological conversion2 and to make an effort to "safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology" (CA 38).

For John Paul II, the destruction of the human environment is severe, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift that must be defended from various forms of degradation. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in "lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies" (CA 58).

A New Vision of the Human Person

At CIEEM we believe that to create a true integral economic conversion, we need a new vision of the human person that is holistic and integrated.

The two popes, Benedict XVI (CV 18) and Pablo VI (PP 14), speak of "integral development." Authentic means true, genuine, that which has been thoroughly examined and found to be consistent with what is claimed. Wondering what is integral aligns with the Socratic proposition that a life not unexamined is not worth living. The integral emerges from a careful examination of reality, discovering its complexities.

Development is often identified with purely economic development. But a development that only includes the technical-economic aspect is not authentic or integral. It remains in the material and aspect of it, without considering the ultimate meaning of development—that which gives it human meaning with its emotional, social, community, spiritual and religious dimensions.

At CIEEM, in partnership with TCA, we have developed a new integral economic model with the proper anthropology:

That is why integral human development has a moral character because it presumes full respect for the human person. Still, it must also be concerned for the world around us and "take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system." (SRSA 34).3

Improving Economic Growth Models

Pope Benedict XVI also denounced structural economic causes and current economic growth models that are hurting the environment. He proposed "eliminating the structural causes of the world economy's dysfunctions and correcting models of growth that have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment."4

At CIEEM, in partnership with TCA, we believe that the world could not be analyzed by isolating only the maximization of profits since the book of nature, the whole ecosystem is one and indivisible. It includes the environment life, human interconnections, the family, social relations and so forth. It follows that "the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence" (CV 51).

At CIEEM, in partnership with TCA, we develop an economic model that has spirituality at its core:

Pope Benedict highlights the cause of sin, which is getting rid of God and putting ourselves in His place. Both natural and social degradation are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that "man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature."5 With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed "where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property, and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves."6

The Economic Continuum Creating New Possibilities

At CIEEM we believe that there are real alternatives to neoclassical economics.

We know there is an economic continuum: from neoliberalism to Keynesianism; or from capitalism's 'ugly face' to 'creative capitalism.' It is not true that there is no alternative to this one 'western' economic system and to the neoliberal free-market enterprise. How absurd can this be? Can you imagine a music critic, by way of one analogy, saying, if you don't like European classical music, the only alternative is American rock'n roll, ignoring the fact that Indian or Chinese classical music, jazz, the blues, heavy metal, country and western, Zimbabwean marimba music, and innumerable other such culturally laden forms are genuine musical alternatives? So why on earth is economics perceived to come in only one or at best two different a-cultural if not a-moral guises?

For us, nothing could be further from the truth. There are real, and many, alternatives to the economic mainstream. The trouble is, of course, that they are hidden from us by the prevailing academic institutions, in economics departments and business schools alike.

For that very reason, at CIEEM, we provided, in theory and practice, under the guise of our integral economics, a wide range of economic and business alternatives to the conventional wisdom. With our partners at TCA, we have made a point of drawing on such options from the four corners of the globe: North and South, East and West.

At CIEEM, in partnership with TCA, we aim to move beyond one overarching capitalist thesis, with its other virtually defunct communist antithesis, as well as from the somewhat limited comparisons like 'North versus South' or 'Neoliberalism versus Keynesianism.' Instead, we offer a more clearly differentiated and integrated, altogether integral economic perspective.

We call it integral economics, and it has a particular and purposeful focus based on cultural and spiritual foundations capable of transforming our economy and enterprise.

At CIEEM, in partnership with TCA, we are discovering different variations on an associative economics theme. In that way, we enable the full diversity of economic approaches to dynamically and constructively interact to create a humanistic and holistic, rational and pragmatic, altogether centered economic approach. In the process, we lay the foundations for a new integral economic paradigm. Such a paradigm is inclusive rather than exclusive:

  • By differentiating and integrating diverse economic perspectives from all worlds, thereby building on the best of the South, East, North, West and Center.
  • By building on the diverse elements of a living social system, which in our integral ecology framework are, in archetypal terms:
    • Nature and Community (South)
    • Culture and Spirituality (East)
    • Science and Technology (North)
    • Finance and Enterprise (West)
    • Religion and Humanity (Center)


1. IPCC is an organization of governments that are members of the United Nations or WMO. The IPCC currently has 195 members. Thousands of people from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC. For the assessment reports, IPCC scientists volunteer. The IPCC provides regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

2. Cf. Catechesis (17 January 2001), 4: Insegnamenti 41/1 (2001), 179

3. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 559.

4. Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See (8 January 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 73.

5. Address to the Bundestag, Berlin (22 September 2011): AAS 103 (2011), 664.

6. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone (6 August 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 634.