DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Ever the jokester, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden ribbed his boss Wednesday at the World Economic Forum before getting serious to chide tax-dodgers and warn about the possible dangers that the digital revolution and growing automation could pose to jobs.
A frequent veteran of the 45-year-old World Economic Forum while a U.S. Senator, Biden wisecracked about President Barack Obama for not letting him go as vice president until now as he delivered the keynote address at the renowned Davos conference in the Swiss Alpine snows.
“I’ve really resented the hell out of the fact Barack wouldn’t let me come until tonight,” he told a nearly packed hall, before quickly adding: “I’m only joking about that. That’s a joke.”
Self-deprecatingly referring to the “Biden gaffe” known to many of his fellow Americans, Biden also quipped about wanting to seek a “personal” loan from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who sat in the front row and laughed. He then turned to the theme of this year’s edition — the Fourth Industrial Revolution — and expressed hopes it would produce “far more winners than losers” in his speech at a conference where roughly two-thirds of the 2,400-plus attendees are business leaders.
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“So my call to action here is simple: Embrace the obligation to your workers as well as your shareholders,” he said.
Biden said the traditional bargain which stipulated that a worker who contributed to the success of his employer would get a share in the benefits has been broken.
He decried a growing wealth gap, economic inequality, tax avoidance and data showing that wage growth is not keeping pace with productivity gains. He suggested that they were among the contributing factors to a rise of public disenchantment and frustration in many parts of the world, fanning radical movements like the Islamic State group and far-right extremists in Europe, and spawning an extreme political discourse in the United States.
“So I say to all of you tonight that the digital revolution has the potential to exacerbate this breakdown, and not just in America but around the world,” he said.
Business leaders, he predicted, are likely to fare better.
“It’s true all of us in this room are probably going to be fine. But while we’ll be fine, we need an environment in the wake of this revolution that gives a chance to be part of the mix. And it’s not so self-evident how to do that,” Biden said.
However, he said he’s more optimistic about the future of the world than ever amid the vast technological changes.
“Never before we have had so much power in our hands to do better,” Biden said. “It’s not going to be easy. But it’s possible.”
Follow Jamey Keaten on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jameykeaten