More Than WTO, Vatican Needs Third World Head

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/12/2013 07:49:00 AM
Aside from China's arranged leadership succession, there are two more noteworthy ones this year at global institutions. The one we had long expected is that of WTO director-general. Since the WTO's formation in 1995, there has only been one from a developing country, Supachai Panichpakdi of Thailand. Adding insult to injury, he only served half a term because of internal politics at the WTO which meant he headed the institution for three years from 2002 to 2005. Meanwhile, the Frenchman Pascal Lamy served one full four-year term from 2005-2009 and is currently serving another from 2009 to September 1, 2013.

For his second term, I thought that he was not an ideal candidate since (1) he failed to move forward the Doha Round of trade negotiations--then in danger of becoming the most protracted in WTO/GATT history--and (2) he failed to gain the support of developing countries to move things forward despite them gaining an ever-larger share of world trade. The past four years appear to have validated my concerns: Not only has the Doha Round become the most protracted in history by quite some margin with no end in sight, but developing countries have also been lukewarm about its completion. Here's a chart that tells the tale:

To make a long story short, let's just say that someone from an LDC has headed the WTO for far less than around forty percent of the time that the organization has been in existence. Bottom line: we are overdue for a WTO director-general from the developing world.

The more surprising succession event, meanwhile, is at the Vatican. With the rather unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the door is opened to what I have long advocated aside from someone from the developing world heading international organizations alike the World Bank (it's never happened there), IMF (ditto) and WTO (only once). That is, someone from outside Europe or the developing world should head the Catholic Church. Actually, three successors to Saint Peter (San Pedro) have already done so--albeit a very long ago: Pope Victor, Pope Miltiades and Pope Gelesius were from North Africa.

A definitional problem here though is of constructing an argument for the underrepresentation of LDC voices at the Vatican. It's more challenging to obtain descriptive statistics alike that for merchandise trade on the growth of the Catholic Church in the developing world vis-a-vis the developed world. INdeed, you can look at any number of pertinent things here:

1. The number of ordained priests and bishops;
2. The number of regular church attendees;
3. The number of baptized

I am more inclined to use 1 and 2 as metrics given the rapid secularization of Western Europe in particular, but there are methodological issues for determining the number of practicing Catholics
that even Vatican bean counters recognize:
The percentage of Catholics practicing their faith is declining almost everywhere around the globe. Almost all bishops report it, but it's difficult to prove statistically. Each year, the Vatican's own statisticians compile mountains of data about the number of Catholics, baptisms, priests and religious, weddings and annulments in each diocese and country.

The numbers illustrate trends over time, but many factors lead to the variations, said Enrico Nenna, the chief statistician in the Vatican's Central Office for Church Statistics. "It's very difficult to quantify Catholic practice, although many have tried with many different formulas," he said. "The only way to get an accurate picture of religious practice would be to carefully choose a cross section of the population, do a census, and then conduct interviews repeated over time." 
Absent longitudinal surveys, it is harder to make sense of the faith's fate. However, what you can be sure of is that traditional strongholds in Western Europe are in clear decline whereas there are more signs of hope in the developing world going by metrics alike those identified above. That is, Western Europe is a markedly shrinking market. Add in the fact that it's been scores of centuries since a non-European pope was elected and the case is made even stronger for one. Interestingly enough, British bookies are already offering odds on various putative successors should you be a betting man.
Care to take a punt on the next pope, as the Brits would say? As long as he's from the developed world, I am quite indifferent actually.