“Do not forget the poor!” Pope Francis issued this pressing appeal to leading representatives of the world’s political, financial and cultural sectors meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, (Jan. 20-23) to discuss the theme: “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
“This is the primary challenge before you as leaders in the business world,” he told government ministers from over 100 countries and some 1,500 CEOs and senior figures of the most important companies in 25 sectors participating at this annual gathering in the Swiss Alps.
He made his appeal in a letter to Professor Klaus Schwab, the Executive President of the World Economic Forum, which was read on the opening day of the gathering by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
“We must never allow the culture of prosperity to deaden us, to make us incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and sensing the need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own,” he told them.
“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 stated. Indeed, he said, “Once we realize this, we become more fully human, since responsibility for our brothers and sisters is an essential part of our common humanity.”
He called on this gathering, which included the mighty and powerful of planet earth: “Do not be afraid to open your minds and hearts to the poor. In this way, you will give free rein to your economic and technical talents, and discover the happiness of a full life, which consumerism of itself cannot provide.”
The Davos Forum is discussing how to manage and direct the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Professor Schwab, in an article first published in the journal “Foreign Affairs” and now placed on the Forum’s website, explained what this revolution is and how to respond to it. He wrote:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
The professor recalled that “the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
Pope Francis, in his letter to the Forum, drew attention to the fact that “the dawn of the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ has been accompanied by a growing sense of the inevitability of a drastic reduction in the number of jobs.” He noted that the International Labor Organization speaks of “hundreds of millions of people” unemployed in today’s world, and said “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 “disturbing rise in inequality and poverty” which the pope referred to in his letter found strong corroboration in an Oxfam report published on the eve of the Davos gathering which shows that today 62 individuals own the same as half the world’s population and 1 percent own more than the rest of us.
Speaking frankly, Francis told this powerful and highly influential audience:
Clearly there is a need to create new models of doing business which, while promoting the development of advanced technologies, are also capable of using them to create dignified work for all, to uphold and consolidate social rights, and to protect the environment. Man must guide technological development, without letting himself be dominated by it!
Pope Francis had already written to the Forum in 2014 and in this, his second letter, he told participants that “in the face of profound and epochal changes, world leaders are challenged to ensure that the coming “fourth industrial revolution,” the result of robotics and scientific and technological innovations, 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.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “the present moment offers a precious opportunity to guide and govern the processes now under way, and to build inclusive societies based on respect for human dignity, tolerance, compassion and mercy. I urge you, then, to take up anew your conversation on how to build the future of the planet, ‘our common home’, and I ask you to make a united effort to pursue a sustainable and integral development.”
He affirmed yet again, as he had in his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” that business is “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world” especially “if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” As such, he said, “it has a responsibility to help overcome the complex crisis of society and the environment, and to fight poverty. This will make it possible to improve the precarious living conditions of millions of people and bridge the social gap which gives rise to numerous injustices and erodes fundamental values of society, including equality, justice and solidarity.”
Francis concluded by urging the World Economic Forum to become “a platform for the defense and protection of creation and for the achievement of a progress which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral, with due regard also for environmental goals and the need to maximize efforts to eradicate poverty as set forth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”