The Inequalities of Capitalism

cartoon credited to
cartoon credited to

“The growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it.  It demands first of all a transcendent vision of the person.”

One of those great quotes that you wish you’d said. But who uttered these words? Martin Luther King Jr, remembered this week on the federal holiday that marks his memory each year? Jeffrey Sachs, revered globally for his economics and humanitarian work?

No, it was the Pope. Yesterday, in Davos, where he addressed many of the world’s corporate elite at their annual meeting, with a narrative designed to make the room redden with a collective blush. The tenor of his point being that “modern business activity,” for all its virtues, often has led to “a widespread social exclusion.”

Given NGOs also gathered at the Davos meeting were keen to use the event to publicise latest statistics about global wealth (that “the world’s 85 richest have as much as poorest 3.5 billion“) Pope Francis was not alone in raising such issues.

Now, I don’t have the gumption to attempt to balance off the sort of interesting debate that might ensue if you were to pitch the broad movement of the Catholic Church – let alone the Vatican – alongside that of the private sector, and score up what constitutes their respective virtues, principles and net impact on society.

Good god, no.

I am taken, more discretely and with some sense of a smirk, by the comforting dynamic of the Pope dutifully and gracefully splicing his audience with a well articulated and loaded arrow, in a way that ensured those sat having to listen were left with very little option for comeback.

The Pope doesn’t do follow up Q&A. His is not a mind-bendingly boring power-point presentation full of unreadable and irrelevant data, during which members of the audience can casually swipe their iPads and text their spouses. In the absence of asking a question in public, nor is the option left available to siddle up to the Pope during the tea and coffee break afterwards, produce a business card and, by way of an ice-breaker (and to curb your frustration at being collectively lynched and your industry branded a cause of social exclusion) open with: (half bowing) “Your Holiness….really enjoyed your talk just now, love the outfit…I did, however, have a few questions related to some of your arguments…”

No, whatever you might say about the Pope, and whether or not his speech has any meaningful and positive ripple effects on those he addressed, I would applaud and encourage more of such comings together – where clergy, business, academia, rights groups, local communities, the media, and so on, can each be a part of the same discourse on issues the world faces.

In the same way that Russell Brand – the British comedian who has been more outspoken in the past year about inequality and political systems – has engaged people in some of these types issues (using a very different technique to the Pope) so too should we welcome others ways of raising awareness and keeping momentum behind ideas, innovations, and that human spirit of compassion and resolve that is so important when it comes to bringing about change.

Russell Brand and the Pope: unlikely co-conspirators on the surface of things, but what a satisfying comparison in many ways in terms of us getting away from image and stature, and responding more to the content of what it is people actually say.

Here’s what the Pope said yesterday: “…the majority of the men and women of our time still continue to experience daily insecurity….the business community often fails to take into account the dignity of every human person and the common good. I am referring to a concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought.”

And here is Brand in typical entertaining action:

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