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Fight Inequality

Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathers the global business, political and academic elite in Davos, Switzerland to tackle the planet’s toughest issues. This year, Pope Francis was once again invited to address the group and his message was clear: fight inequality.

A cardinal from the Vatican read the Pope’s letter to forum members on Jan. 22. It began by thanking the WEF for their invitation but quickly addressed global poverty and inequality: “The financialization and technologization of national and global economies have produced far-reaching changes in the field of labor. Diminished opportunities for useful and dignified employment, combined with a reduction in social security, are causing a disturbing rise in inequality and poverty in different countries.”

The recently published Oxfam report, “An Economy For the 1%,” corroborates the Pope’s views. Increasingly fewer people control more of the world’s wealth. From 1988 to 2011, for example, 46 percent of the global increase in income went to the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population.

Pope Francis’s address emphasized that caring for the poor means more than empathizing with their plight. “Weeping for other people’s pain does not only mean sharing in their sufferings, but also and above all realizing that our own actions are a cause of injustice and inequality.” He called on business leaders to create an inclusive future and warned about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that is hindering progress to fight inequality.

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” refers to the coming age of robotics and artificial intelligence in everyday life. On its website, the WEF explains that while this revolution will raise global income levels, it may exacerbate inequality. The Pope wishes that this transformation of society “does not lead to the destruction of the human person – to be replaced by a soulless machine – or to the transformation of our planet into an empty garden for the enjoyment of a chosen few.”

Along with this warning, Pope Francis stressed that the age of robotics also presents an opportunity. With vastly increased productivity, humans will have more resources available for “our common home.” He emphasized that business is “a noble vocation” with the ability to improve others’ lives by providing them with a living wage and meaningful work.

His message is that, besides increasing profit and productivity, business leaders must not forget their duty to create jobs. Through the creation of jobs that pay a living wage, the economic elite lift people out of poverty and provide stability for the many living precarious lives. In the drive for modernization, Pope Francis tells leaders, “Do not forget the poor!”

Since becoming Pope, he has uniquely focused on ending inequality. In his 2016 address to Davos, he urged the global elite to work with that goal in mind. The most powerful people on earth, after all, are the most powerful agents for change.

As for what he recommends, Pope Francis’ words speak for themselves. From his 2014 apostolic exhortation: “Growth in justice requires more than economic growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” Careful planning and action are needed to fight inequality.

Dennis Sawyers

Sources: Reuters, Rome Reports, Oxfam International, The Holy See (Vatican), World Economic Forum
Photo: Merco Press

poverty_reductionSanders praised the pope’s remarks on ending poverty and economic inequality long before the pope arrived in the U.S. this September. Prior to the pope’s congressional address, Sanders celebrated the possibility of the pope addressing Congress.

In February this year, Sanders addressed the Senate, stating that the pope “shows great courage in bringing up issues that we rarely hear discussed here in the Congress.”

In the address, Sanders praises Pope Francis on his leadership. On multiple occasions, he read quotes from the pope to the Senate, publicly acknowledging his admiration for the religious leader.

“Pope Francis is clearly one of the important religious and moral leaders not only in the world today but in modern history,” he said. “He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.”

Sanders read a quote from the pope: “‘Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.'”

Sanders continued by commenting on the quote: “My interpretation of what he is saying is that money cannot be an end in itself. The function of an economic system is not just to let the marketplace reign, and end up in a situation where a small number of people have incredible wealth, while so many people have virtually nothing.”

Sanders especially notes the pope’s comments about exclusion and marginalization when it comes to government austerity. He strongly disagrees with right-wing Republicans on the federal budget committee about their continuous cuts on public benefits like Medicare and Social Security.

He says that right-wing Republican austerity measures are “the Robin Hood principle in reverse. This is taking from the poor and working people, and giving it to the millionaires and billionaires.” Sanders instead argues for tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.

Sanders welcomed the pope when he arrived, calling him “a brilliant man.” He voiced optimism at the thought of members of Congress taking to heart the pope’s remarks about inequality and poverty reduction.

Sanders has noted that income inequality has reached a point where the wealthiest in America are becoming richer while the impoverished are becoming poorer. He insists that “the pope is right in saying all of us must address the grotesque income and wealth inequality we are seeing throughout the world.”

Sanders urged lawmakers to think about the pope’s speech when discussing balancing the 2016 federal budget. “Give us a budget which works for the most vulnerable people in this country, which works for tens of millions of working families, and does not simply work for large campaign donors.”

Senator Sanders is currently in the running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

“I know that people think that Bernie Sanders is a radical… read what the pope is writing about because he is not only talking about poverty,” Sanders said, “he is getting to the heart of hyper capitalism, and he is saying, ‘Why as a society are we worshiping money?'”

Michael Hopek

Sources: Senate, C-SPAN, MSNBC
Photo: Flickr