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Rome-based Australian Cardinal George Pell has given the keynote address at the Global Foundation’s roundtable.

Societies such as Australia were unwilling to admit they were living beyond their means and that immense national debts had to be contained, Cardinal George Pell told an international finance conference in Rome yesterday.

Cardinal Pell, the Vatican prefect for the economy, gave the keynote address at the Global Foundation’s roundtable, attended by corporate leaders, financial institution heads, government and religious leaders.

The event was attended by the heads of the Consumer Goods Forum, representing 400 of the world’s largest supermarket and retail companies, who announced they would eradicate from their supply chain the use of forced ­labour — a condition suffered by 21 million workers worldwide.

The secretary-general of the Australian-based Global Foundation, Steve Howard, said Pope Francis had led a global push to stamp out slavery.

The announcement by the leaders of some of the world’s largest companies “highlights the benefits of engagement between leaders of faith and business’’, he said, and the Vatican was slavery-proofing its supply chains.

Cardinal Pell said many developed societies regarded increasing prosperity as inevitable.

“Naturally enough, political constituencies do not like sacrif­ices and this imposes severe ­restrictions on democratic governments, especially when they have to address the irresponsibilities of their predecessors,’’ he said.

“The willingness to make sacrifices for future generations is even lower, although rarely articulated, and helps to explain the largely unfunded liabilities of many or most government pension funds.’’

The future belonged to those with children, he said. “And a final teaser: is there a link between economic stagnation and a declin­ing population, where there are too few taxpayers to finance welfare and pensions?’’

Cardinal Pell said migrants and refugees recognised that democratic societies with free economies offered better pros­pects for them and their children. However, the immense differences in incomes around the world were daunting.

“It is sobering to realise that someone around the US poverty level of $11,000 a year is in the top 15 per cent of world income distrib­ution and that the bottom 20 per cent of the world’s popul­ation earns less than $550 a year, despite the fact that the World Bank recently stated that the percentage of people across the globe now living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time,’’ he said.

“We no longer make a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, but it might be useful to introduce a category distinction between the deserving and undeserving rich.

“Big bonuses for executives who have presided over big losses seem incongruous — just as incongruo­us as having the same marginal tax rate for a doctor on £160,000 ($332,000) a year and a CEO on £5 million a year.

“Most spectacularly, of course, is the privatising of profits and the socialising of losses by too-big-to- fail businesses.’’

Cardinal Pell said while the American dream — that most middle-class children would be richer than their parents — was probably over, remarkable progress had been made elsewhere.

This included China, which despite current turmoil had been the late 20th-century’s economic success story.

India, South Korea, other Asian market economies, parts of Latin America and parts of Africa were on a similar path, he said.