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Louis Joseph Lebret . For a Human-Centred Economy. A Mariner Economist. Brittany 1897-1966 Paris Naval school & Naval Office – traffic manager at port of Beirut Entered the Order aged 26 Studied at Rijckholt, Netherlands Founded ‘Movement of St Malo’ for fishermen

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Louis Joseph Lebret

For a Human-Centred Economy


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A Mariner Economist

  • Brittany 1897-1966 Paris

  • Naval school & Naval Office – traffic manager at port of Beirut

  • Entered the Order aged 26

  • Studied at Rijckholt, Netherlands

  • Founded ‘Movement of St Malo’ for fishermen

  • Founded Économie et Humanisme

  • Worked for the Vatican at the UN


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Movement of St Malo

  • 1929, Lebret fell ill & sent to St Malo convent to convelesce

  • Faced with the poverty of the fishermen, he began to develop his concept of human economy

  • With friend Ernst Lamort, helped them:

    • 1931 Secrétariat Social Maritime

    • unions

    • Journal La Voix du Marin

    • 1930 Jeunesse Maritime Chrétienne


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A Dream Fulfilled

  • 1930s studying social & economic theory

    • including fisheries for early Vichy government

  • 1941 created Économie et Humanisme

    • realising his dream of a study centre on ‘complex socio-economic realities’

    • ‘human economy’ approach of methodology & intervention

    • seeking to expose the economic mechanisms behind poverty

    • experimenting with new social relationships


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Human Economy

  • Two fundemental principles:

    • respect for human person: Mournier’s Personalist Manifesto

    • establishment of the common good: Aquinas on community of the Trinity, relation of creation & Creator, political good

  • Catholic Church slow to see modern economic realities:

    • ‘Social Catholic’ palliative approach not enough

    • Lebret’s reading of Marx countered this by engaging with materialistic capitalism

    • not Marxist: class struggle incompatible with common good

    • worker-priests suspended 1954: ended his dialogue + Marxism

  • Social sciences for global development

    • multidisciplinary: links between sociology & economics, development & psychology

    • involvement of researchers in their subject: solidarity with active agents of transformation

  • Montée humaine: goal of improving life for all people


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Économie et Humanisme

  • Journal established Lyon 1942

    • to inform & provoke debate in society

    • with study & training sessions at the centre

  • Scientific studies for public authorities

    • e.g. on housing, migration, disabled children

    • role in post-war reconstruction of France & Europe

    • competence in regional development, social action & housing

  • Influential on decision-makers of 1950s & 60s

  • Still published today


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Human Development

“Development is a continuous harmonious growth aimed at valuing the human person”

  • Lectures at São Paolo 1947:

    • found misery of shanty towns & people’s capacity to engage

    • raised awareness of Latin America’s needs in Europe

  • Centres of Human Economy set up worldwide

    • influence on OP in Brazil

    • 1955+ travel to Asia & West Africa

    • Journal Développement et Civilisations

  • 1958 IRFED institute for research on development

    • problems of urban economy e.g. shanty towns

    • macro-economic studies e.g. Vietnam, Rwanda

  • Lebret Centre in Paris:

    • continues development work today, links with Latin America


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Vatican II

  • Became friends with future Paul VI

    • their discussions led to Populorum Progressio, which Lebret drafted

  • Called as expert counsel to Vatican II

    • aided Dom Helder Camara, bishop of Recife, Brazil

    • helped draft material for Gaudium et Spes

  • 1964 Vatican spokesperson for UNCTAD

    • UN Conference on Trade & Development

  • Member of Pontifical Secretariat for Social Justice & Development

    • future Council for Justice & Peace


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Socio-Economic Change

  • Context of socio-economic change & reconstruction after WWII

  • Believed people are free & responsible, so able to transform their situations

    • awareness of unjust economic mechanisms needed

    • the aware ‘militants’ are catalysts for change

    • first study causes, then act as a team

    • group solidarity thus brings about the common good

      “The greatest evil in the world is not the poverty of those without, but the lack of awareness of the well-to-do”


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Fundamental Needs

  • A whole person is both body & spirit

  • Hierarchy of needs (1943 article)

    • primary are essential for life e.g. food, housing, peace, trust – society in balance

    • secondary are useful e.g. travel, radio – prosperous society

    • tertiary are rare e.g. works of art – cultivated society

  • A controversial system (economists cannot quantify)

  • Yet socio-politically essential: the economy as a tool for attaining social objectives

    “We want with all our might an economy of the human order, where a mass of goods, spread as widely as possible, is distributed according to how urgent are the needs of all, and not according to a hierarchy of ability to pay.”