In his message to leaders of the Group of Eight meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, and in his new encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI urged wealthy nations to remember the poor in their own countries and their responsibility to poor nations and to care for the most vulnerable members of society.
So it was interesting to discover that the late Robert McNamara expressed similar sentiments when he was president of the World Bank in an interview carried by CNS — then called National Catholic News Service — in the 1970s.
Hidden in our archives was a Q&A of McNamara conducted by San Francisco’s archdiocesan newspaper, then called The Monitor, in which he talked about his views about America’s role in helping those less fortunate. He called the United States one of the “poorest performers” in assisting others’ development and claimed domestic animals living in America had “a better standard of nutrition that hundreds of millions of children in the developing nations.”
McNamara, who died July 6 and was perhaps best known for his role in the Vietnam War as U.S. defense secretary, was about halfway through his 13 years as president of the World Bank in 1976 when the Catholic news article was published.
In it McNamara commented on growth in both developing and developed countries, saying per capita income for developing countries remained at a near stagnant level while per capita income for those living in developed nations almost doubled.
And beyond such numbers, McNamara said he thought there was a great problem in the distribution of wealth among even the richest of nations.
“There are serious inequalities in their income-distribution patterns. Not only do the 170 million absolute poor in their societies suffer the same deprivations as those in the poorest countries, but hundreds of millions more subsist on income levels less than a third of the national average,” McNamara said.
Similar to what Pope Benedict has been emphasizing, McNamara stressed that giving help to those less fortunate should always be a priority for able nations and their citizens.
“The affluent nation, understandably preoccupied with controlling inflation, and searching for structural solutions to their liquidity imbalances, may be tempted to conclude that until these problems are solved, aid considerations must simply be put aside,” McNamara said. “But aid is not a luxury – something desirable when times are easy, and superfluous when times become temporarily troublesome. It is precisely the opposite. Aid is a continuing social and moral responsibility, and its need now is greater than ever.”