Bill Gates and Archbishop Van Thuân on Globalization

Views Differ on What Is the Key to the Future

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ROME, JAN. 31, 2001 ( Bill Gates and Archbishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân agree that the human condition can be improved.

The problem is, they don´t agree on what “improve” means.

At a conference on the future of globalization, sponsored by the Italian businessmen´s group Confindustria, the founder of Microsoft and the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace sat on opposite sides of the table at the Congressional Palace here.

They, along with personalities of Italian political and social life, had been invited to respond to the question: “What will be the outcome of the Internet economy?”

Many of the 2,000 participants seemed more focused on the 45-year-old multibillionaire “software guru” than on the discreet 72-year-old Vietnamese cardinal-designate who spent 13 years as a prisoner under communists.

According to Bill Gates, the key to the future is in computer science: a paradigm capable of changing work, leisure and the overall life of citizens.

“Computer science is the best instrument of history to release man´s creativity,” Gates said. More-powerful computers, at lower prices, will progressively bring countries and citizens together, he insisted.

Computers and technology will also help overcome the barriers of social injustice, he said. “Half a million Indians earn $40,000 developing programs for U.S. businesses,” Gates observed, “a success that is possible thanks to the excellent schooling available in India.”

The other model for success in the future, according to Gates, is “talent.” “The priority for every country must be investment in universities and schools,” he said.

For Archbishop Van Thuân, on the contrary, man´s model is man himself, his person and dignity.

The archbishop spoke from experience, having lived in Communist Vietnam. Since he was sometimes without a salary, he explained that he was a “carpenter, which enabled me to make this cross that I hid for years in a piece of soap; afterward, [I was] a rural worker, artisan and language teacher to my jailers.”

According to the archbishop, who will be made a cardinal at the consistory Feb. 21, the problem does not lie in wondering what work will be like in the future, but rather, “What will the men and women be like on whom we depend to construct future work?”

“It cannot be ´homo faber,´ who produces and consumes more and more,” the archbishop explained. “Work is not an end in itself. Material production cannot be infinite; we cannot continue like this without being concerned about the one who makes the products that we acquire at a low price.”

It is necessary “to change the culture completely: to make the person once again the subject of the economy and work,” the cardinal-designate concluded.

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