‘Health of Nations’ Conference at Fordham Urges Addressing Social Disparities


At a conference on the “Health of Nations,” Sir Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel Laureate in Economics, said “we have a clear and moral obligation” to better address social and economic disparities stemming from historical, worldwide governing practices that often favor the rich and leave the poor behind. 

Deaton, an economics professor at Princeton University, spoke of the moral, global obligation to reduce poverty, displaying graphs that show unjust, decades-long disparities related to health care, education, employment and financial stability.

The full title of the Sept. 24 conference at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center conference was “Health of Nations: Pope Francis' Call for Inclusion.”

The event’s main message was that global health and overall well-being means recognizing the dignity of all people, implementing social and economic policies accordingly to justly address disparities, caring for the needs of the marginalized, and seeking better and moral ways to help poor people reach social and financial goals.

The conference included remarks from Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., who serves as chairman of Catholic Relief Services, and Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations.

“Health should come before money. Money means little without health,” said Deaton during his talk. “It has often been argued that health is one of the best indicators of the state of a nation...national health, population health. Society is not working well for at least some of its members, which is the case in the United States today.”

Deaton also noted, “Great episodes of human progress are what I called, ‘The Great Escape,’ (title of 2013 book written by Deaton), from destitution, ill-health, premature mortality to long life and material living standards...huge increases in education. Many of these episodes have allowed only some to escape, leaving many others behind.”

Deaton noted, “Infant and child mortality rates drive most differences in life expectancy. Children die in poor countries by the accidental geography of their birth, not of exotic incurable diseases, but of things we have known how to cure or prevent for the best part of a century.”

“We have a clear and moral obligation” to address social, economic and health care disparities, Denton said.

Bishop Caggiano spoke about the importance of societal and global communion and brotherhood among people “of all races and traditions,” Catholic social teaching, “loving neighbor as oneself and Pope’s Francis’ continual call for inclusion.” These are all part, he said, of “divine invitation,” (Jesus Christ) is the link to eternal communion.”

“We are living within a window of opportunity, because given all of the dislocation caused by the pandemic, everyone now is comfortable with the notion that things need to change...to respect the dignity of each human being,” the bishop said. 

“Not simply to reevaluate our economic, social and political orders, but actually also to see change...Faith is dead without good works. The root of Catholic social teachings began with Christian revelation, the teachings of the Lord Himself...Pope Francis on the scene is the right man with the right voice at the right time in this moment of opportunity.” 

The bishop noted that the pope is aware that much of social and global disparities stem from “the idolatry of money...We see it right here in Manhattan; just take a stroll down the street.” 

Archbishop Caccia, in remarks made during the conference luncheon, noted that in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis “sought to lead the world on an exodus from a culture of indifference to a society of genuine fraternity and social friendship...So Pope Francis used the Biblical image of the Good Samaritan which Jesus employed to illustrate what true love of neighbor means. There are only two kinds of people, Pope Francis said, those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by.”

The event was presented by CAPP-USA, the American branch of Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Fondazione, and by Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy and Development.