Pope Francis Delivered The Hard Talk About The Economy That Davos Didn’t

Mar 29, 2017 | Civilisation, Commerce, English, News & Updates, TheColumnist

At a time of failing governments, unravelling of the global order, rising populism and a technological wave that might replace half of the global workforce in the coming decade, further shrinking an anxious middle-class, the current design of the global economic system is in an existential crisis.

Through a thought-provoking talk about the economy on 4th of February, Pope Francis invited us to rethink about the purpose of money; to reconsider what is the purpose of helping economic victims when we should prevent more victims in the first place and how our relationships with each other should be a gift.

Rethinking the role of money, the role of technology and human dignity lie at the heart of why capitalism, as of now is failing humanity. These issues should have been seriously debated in Davos. If nothing changes in the coming years, we might be seeding a global economic apocalypse that might just send us back to the dark ages.

I was fortunate to be among the 1100 entrepreneurs, professionals and academia from the Economy of Communion Network who listened as he landed his intellectual punches to get us to rethink these three issues. Here are my reflections and some suggestions on how we can respond as a business community.

1) About The Purpose Of Money

Money is important, especially when there is none, and food, school, and the children’s future depend on it. But it becomes an idol when it becomes the aim – Pope Francis

If you think about it, the last two global financial crisis happened because of the insatiable greed for more money. Money is essential for sure, but because it has now become the aim, it is normal to game the system, create sophisticated instruments that can suck in huge pools of money while bankrupting many. If you think deeper, it is not sustainable in the long run. Because as the methods of gaming the system become more sophisticated and governments no longer have the means or the skills to keep up, sooner or later there will come a time when we can no longer fix the problem. What happens if one day a new scheme becomes so toxic that it ends up bringing down the entire financial system. What good will it do?

So we need to start changing mindsets about the role of money. There is a climate change campaign to save the earth. We need to start another global campaign towards ensuring a sustainable financial climate for long-term growth by changing the mindsets and the management of money. We need to move away from growth at all costs to growth with purpose and inclusiveness. This will require innovation, purpose-driven leadership, and participation at all levels. Money should serve and not rule.

2) About Preventing More Economic Victims

Capitalism continues to produce discarded people whom it would then like to care for. The principal ethical dilemma of this capitalism is the creation of discarded people, then trying to hide them or make sure they are no longer seen. A serious form of poverty in a civilization is when it is no longer able to see its poor, who are first discarded and then hidden.

The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full. – Pope Francis

On this point, the Pope is not alone and will find a rising consensus in the business world about how it is no longer just about caring for victims but how to prevent more of them. The Economy of Communion Network (EoC) was founded by Chiara Lubich in 1991 to get businesses to put aside a portion of their profits for the poor. Our network has made some contribution to alleviating poverty in different parts of the world, but we have realized that this is not enough. It is increasingly important to shape mindsets and create business models or eco-systems that can help to lift people out of the cycle of poverty.

Bill and Melinda Gates who have both pledged to give away all of their fortune are a great example that helping alone is not enough; they are at the forefront of creating solutions to solve problems using entrepreneurial skills and innovation. More and more businesses are creating business models to empower entire communities to overcome extreme poverty. Progress is indeed being made but I agree with Mr Gates that few people are aware of this progress and we need to make it known.

But we do need to ask ourselves why even though progress has been made, how come people still do not feel it. It probably has to do with the conversation about the future. With all the vogue about artificial intelligence, smart cities, there seems to be zero conversation about the role and purpose of humans and relationships. As the current trends go, there seems to be this intent in designing the human contribution out of the way. The innovations that are appearing swiftly are removing managers, cashiers, drivers, waiters yet we want customers too. The problem is, if our customers of the future have no money then who is going to pay for amazing technology.

So while some of us are trying to help the poor, are our businesses in the process of creating a new class of poverty by destroying the jobs of the middle class. Of course, we can console ourselves by saying that in every industrial revolution, new jobs have been created. But then again what if we have ten times the number of people available for work but technology becomes so advanced, we will only need a tiny fraction of the workforce. No wonder Elon Musk proposed the wild idea that one day governments will pay us.

“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” says Musk to CNBC.

In my opinion, this is a horrifying idea because once you remove human motivation or purpose to work and whose only purpose is to be served by automation then you get a consuming society that will consume itself to death. One reason why humanity always progress is because of its ability to create and reimagine new ways of value and purpose. However, with the current thoughts and trends, we are entering into uncharted waters of a humanity without a role.

So I believe that all of us in the business community need to start thinking seriously about what kind of future we want and how are our business models shaping that future. With so many people out of work, we will need to start figuring out what will work become in twenty years time? This has huge implications regarding supply and demand in the economy. Can we afford a global economy with a growing population that will have little work to do? How will democracies function? How will this shape our thinking in education, is it even relevant?

But above all, we need to put back heart into the purpose of our economic activity and not be driven by numbers alone. Our current economic system looks great in terms of numbers but people feel terrible. This has created a fertile ground for discontent because people are disoriented about their purpose in the future.

3) About being the gift to each other

To have life in abundance one must learn to give: not only the profits of businesses, but of yourselves. The first gift of the entrepreneur is of his or her own person: your money, although important, is too little. Money does not save if it is not accompanied by the gift of the person. Today’s economy, the poor, the young, need first of all your spirit, your respectful and humble fraternity, your will to live and, only then, your money. – Pope Francis

Many a times, we give such a premium to the idea of resources that we forget about ourselves. This is something each one of us need to do in our companies, we cannot just be focused on producing but we need to remember to be the gift for the other in every moment.

When we are in a meeting with a colleague, it is important to focus not just on the task but on the relationship too. Because we all know that meaningful relationships enable creativity and high performance.

When we are in a meeting with a client, it is important not to just focus on the deal or what we can get but again on the person. However, this requires practice and a change of mindset. But I am sure many of us have experienced how when the relationship with the client is built on care and trust then both sides will want to strike a win-win. During this trip to the EoC conference in Rome, we brought along some business partners and clients. We could do so because we do not see them as just clients but as brothers on the same journey towards shaping a better world. It is a beautiful relationship that has been enlightening.

And when we are with the poor, do we treat them as a subsidiary, or as someone who is beneath us? No that would not be right. To truly be a gift, we need to appreciate them as a gift too and that they can offer something, that we can also learn something from them.

Pope Francis is challenging us to remember that the economy must be at the service of humanity and not become the dictator of our values and actions. Our values must shape the economy that we believe in. So that requires us to see the gift in everyone and to see the possibility that every human person has the right and the possibility of making a contribution.

In this way, a more sustainable form of economy will emerge. A fraternal and caring form of economic system that enriches the mind and enables a wider class of people to be self-sufficient with the dignity of pursuing their dreams and having the means to do so.

This is an economic system worth fighting for. I am in, how about you?

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