Make Everybody Rich
Any inventory of the world’s current problem areas would probably include several of the following: war, the environment, education, health, crime, women’s rights, unemployment, the oppression of the poor, racism, xenophobia, restrictions on political liberty, the decline of religious spirituality, various crises in the arts, lack of support for scientific research and the space program, and overpopulation.
There is, in fact, a simple and effective solution to all these problems: make everybody in the world rich. Poverty is not just one member of the above list, one more head on the hydra, but the hydra itself that grows all the heads. Put a stake in the hydra and the heads disappear.
The overwhelming evidence is that rich people don’t like to send their children off to war, and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. They will do this individually, like the parents of our politicians who pulled strings to keep their kids out of Vietnam, or collectively, as did the western nations that hovered nervously around Bosnia, like a country club luncheon that has discovered a wasp on the cucumber sandwiches. In Kosovo the rich nations would not let their children get any closer to the sharp end than 15,000 feet. A world full of rich people would obviously be too wussy to go to war, so war would die out. The resultant savings in military budgets would make the world richer still.
Rich people like to have a nice, clean, biodiverse environment, and will go to extreme lengths to get it. They connive so successfully to avoid ecological distress that there is a whole department of government devoted to ensuring that pollution sources are not unduly located in poor neighborhoods. But if there are no poor neighborhoods, rich people will make very sure that there are no pollution sources. Poor countries today are almost invariably more polluted and environmentally damaged than are rich countries, and the worst polluted countries are in the old Soviet bloc, where poverty was ideologically privileged. Rich people have historically supported arboretums, national parks, game reserves, gardens, restored wetlands and zoos: a rich world would out of pure self-interest invest in a biologically diverse planetary ecosystem.
In the teeth of principle, adverse public relations, political conviction, and enormous financial cost, rich people will obtain the best education they can for themselves and their children, even if that means abandoning the public school system and paying twice. A world full of rich people is a world in which first rate education will be in such hot demand by folk who can afford to finance it themselves, that it will be plentiful and governments will not need to supply it.
Rich people are notorious for their interest in their health and the money they will pay to get and keep it. A world of wealthy valetudinarians would support cutting edge medical research, first-rate hospitals, and a horde of well-trained and well-paid doctors; and of course everybody, as our premise stipulates, would be able to afford it.
Rich people rarely commit crimes, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that their natural human proclivities for criminality are usually thwarted by lack of opportunity and incentive. The reason gated communities are gated is to ensure that one’s neighbors are rich and thus unlikely to steal from or assault one, having too much to lose themselves. A world of rich people would be a world of police idleness.
Rich people support women’s rights for a variety of reasons, the simplest being that since money accumulates and women live seven years longer than men, rich women tend to be richer than rich men and thus more able to assert their rights. Other reasons include the neutralization of male physical strength by the prostheses of wealth and technology, the greater freedom of the rich from reproductive labor (see “overpopulation”), the greater access rich women have to education, and the demand of rich men for women who are interesting and present a real challenge. There is a pretty exact match worldwide between the relative wealth of a given nation and the relative extent of women’s rights. A rich world is a gender-equal world.
Unemployment would disappear in a universally rich world, not because there would be no people without jobs but because unemployed rich people are not called “unemployed” at all, but “independently wealthy,” “idle rich,” “parasites,” “comfortable,” “philanthropists,” or “retired”. The word “unemployed” would become archaic and comic. In a rich world workers in less creative and interesting occupations would have to be paid exorbitantly and given grandiose job titles–perhaps derived from the old aristocratic rank vocabulary, such as “count,” “marquis,” or from the artistic and professional vocabulary of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries–”maestro,” “star,” “doctor,” “professor,” “counsel,” “president,” etc–to keep them at work at all. Creative and interesting jobs would probably be fewer in number than the multitudes of people who would want them, and thus people might very well pay handsomely to hold such a job. Readers who already see these trends at work in such areas as publishing, politics, philanthropy, and the arts are probably well ahead of this writer.
Rich people have always been accused of oppressing and exploiting the poor, and the accusation has often been justified. Human nature is as it is, and poor people, after all, often oppress the poorer still, as slum crime statistics demonstrate. But the answer to this problem is clearly not to take revenge on the rich, or to make everybody poor for spite, but to make sure there are no poor people for rich people to oppress, that is, to make everybody rich.
Rich people are more interested in consuming the cuisine, anthropology, spiritual secrets and picturesque touristic offerings of the racial or ethnic Other than in stringing him up. Genocide, so appealing to poor people, would be counter-productive in a rich world, as it would amount to one less cultural tourism venue.
Rich people unfailingly arrange for forms of government that protect them against the government, against each other, and against the poor, and thus provide freedom and security for themselves and other rich people. The Magna Carta was written by a group of rich nobles eager to prevent the king and the commoners from infringing upon their freedom to keep and make wealth. The larger the proportion of relatively rich people in a society, the wider the net of free and democratic institutions is cast, to ensure that the rich continue to be protected, even if the poor are too. Poor people are bought off by larger grants of freedom and by recruitment into the ranks of the rich. The American Revolution was a revolution of comparatively rich people against the financial demands of the poor as represented by George III’s taxation policies. The richest countries today are the most politically enlightened. Thus a world of rich people would be a world of exemplary political freedom and incorruptible, open, and just public administration. Nobody would want public office for the money, and in fact would pay well for the privilege of public service–we already see this phenomenon in recent elections. In a rich world we would have the best government money could buy.
Once the existential demands of poor people and the pleasure and status demands of middle class people are met and satiated, there is no place for human desire to go but up the Maslovian pyramid of human needs, up toward fulfilment of personal and public ideals, and finally toward the realms of divine enlightenment. Boredom drives rich people toward the complexities and perverse discipline of true virtue and spiritual insight; everything else palls eventually. Dynasty after dynasty in the world’s history has spiritualized itself out of the banal realities of political power, and ended up, like Japanese emperors, Spanish Hapsburgs, Mayan priest-kings, Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Prospero Duke of Milan, or prince Gautama the Buddha himself, communing with the spiritual world and making their souls. Wealthy Europe in the middle ages bought its way into monasteries; at the beginning of the last century it sought out Madame Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, Catholic aestheticism and the Golden Dawn; and today it follows Deep Ecology and the Sufi mystics. Any visitor today to such pilgimage sites as Santa Fe or Sedona can find the California and Texas elite in the process of purging their souls. A rich planet would be an increasingly spiritual and religious one.
What rich people famously spend their money on, especially when that money is old and matured by generations, is art. When everybody is rich, there is no need for government arts funding. Within the enclaves of the already rich, the Warhols and Johnses and Kiefers–not to mention the Ozawas, Spielbergs and McCartneys–have already joined the aristocracy.
Rich people have traditionally funded science research, and a world filled with pleasant landscaped environments would be too tame for the wealthy adventurer. Science is an irreducibly uncomfortable occupation, which is why the wealthy seek it out. Trust fund kids grub about in dusty archeological digs, like peasants in a field. Aristocrats love to abandon their pleasant homes to climb icy and dangerous mountains, or buy expensive and ingeniously obsolete sailboats and, on the fine edge of boredom and terror, sail around the world. Outer space will be the final frontier for the rich, the ultimate tourist destination. And they will pay for the privilege.
Finally, and most decisively of all, being rich is unquestionably the cure for overpopulation. With the exception of a few countries like China, in which brutal state power is exercised to prevent births, the birth rate is in inverse proportion to the per capita income. And the fact that incomes begin to increase before birthrates start to decrease shows clearly that the driving factor in the connection is predominantly the increase in income–though there is also a secondary feedback effect, in which low birthrates begin to accelerate the growth of wealth. Demographers are unanimous in noting the connection, and argue only about the reason for it. Some believe in a direct relationship–that once children are no longer an old age poverty insurance policy, they are less urgently required, or that when contraceptives are affordable, they tend to be used. Other scholars invoke factors that we have already seen are secondary consequences of wealth, for instance the education of women, or the availability of health care leading to lower infant mortality rates, less need to compensate for the uncertainty of infant survival, and a consequent drop in fertility. The chief demographic problem in a rich world would be one already faced by wealthy nations like Germany, Italy, and Japan–how to keep the birthrate high enough to replace the population. The leveling off of population would compound the other beneficial effects of wealth–relaxation of the pressure on health and education services; an older, less crime-prone population; fewer draft-age young men; a higher proportion of people preparing their souls for death; resources freed up for the arts and sciences; a lightening of women’s reproductive burdens; greater political maturity; and a softening of the human impact upon the environment.
A panacea for almost all of our recognizable present world problems lies right before us, one so simple that though it stares us in the face we do not notice it. Could we really be so blind? No nation in the world that I know of places that solution–make everybody rich–at the top of its public policy priority list. Some nations, such as Switzerland and Singapore, implicitly adopt that policy, and they are among the richest in the world. The United States itself, during the period of its most vigorous economic expansion, may be said to have been following Calvin Coolidge’s maxim that the business of America was business. Maybe the idea is too base and uninspiring to be thought of as the principle behind the high and noble calling of politics; we don’t want it to be true, and so ignore it. Or maybe there are other, less wholesome reasons why we do not want to adopt that solution. It would be churlish to state the least attractive reason directly, but an old Russian joke conveys it rather well.
The Tsar is separated from his hunting party in the midst of the chase, and a violent storm comes on. He seeks shelter in the cottage of a peasant, who is suspicious and unwilling to let him in. The Little Father of all the Russias pledges before the saints that if he receives shelter, the peasant may come to Moscow at the end of a year, and be granted whatever he wishes in recompense.
The year passes, and the Tsar becomes increasingly anxious. At last he tells his fears to his wisest counsellor: “What if the fellow demands my daughter in marriage? or my empire itself? I have given my sacred promise.” The counsellor ponders for three days and returns to his master. His advice puzzles the Tsar, but he trusts his advisor, and when the peasant duly appears at the end of the year, all smiles, the Tsar welcomes him to the Kremlin. “Ah, my friend,” he says, “I have thought often and gratefully of your hospitality; and I am in so generous a frame of mind that I have decided in the spirit of Christian love to add to my gift. Whatever you demand of me, I shall not only grant, but give twice over to your next door neighbor.”
The peasant’s face turns ashen. There is a silence. Finally, in a voice of anguish, he speaks. “Sire, I have decided on my gift.” “What is it?” asks the Tsar. The peasant replies: “Let my left eye be put out.”
But perhaps our unwillingness to see our neighbors prosper is not the main reason why we have not made universal wealth our goal. Perhaps our assumption is that the goal is impossible to achieve.
How would it be possible for everybody to get rich?
First of all, the world is getting richer anyway. If the average world per capita income at the beginning of the twentieth century was, conservatively, a tenth of what it is now in constant dollars, and the rate of increase continues as it did throughout the twentieth century–despite two world wars and a depression–the average income for every man, woman and child on the planet by the end of the twenty-first century should be around $40-100 thousand dollars. The CIA World Factbook for 1999 estimates the current world purchasing power per capita at around $6,600, with an annual World Domestic Product growth rate of around 4% except during occasional recession years, when it drops to around 2%. The present population growth rate is about 1.3%, but it is dropping rapidly. Given an average population growth rate for this coming century of 1% (high, by most estimates) and an average WDP growth of 3.5%, per capita purchasing power by 2100 should have risen to about $80,000 in constant dollars, in good agreement with our previous estimate. That means that the income of an average four-member family in 2100 would be about $320,000, and given the net worth/income ratio normal for families at that income level, the average family would be millionaires. Obviously, income disparities would mean that there would be some pauper families that would have only $100,000 or so to spend, and others whose wealth would be simply unimaginable to us now.
But this rosy future will not just happen by itself. There were in history long periods of economic decline. How would we keep the present progress going? Here it might be wise to study the times and places where there were huge leaps in prosperity–for instance, ancient Mesopotamia, classical Greece, Renaissance Italy and Holland, Bismarck’s Germany, China under the Han emperors, Meiji Japan, Victorian England, late 19th century USA, postwar Japan, present day Hong Kong and Singapore, and the USA. What one finds is some combination of the following: lowered tariffs, racial and ethnic mixing (or at least vigorous intercultural communication), social and economic encouragement of technological innovation, a relaxation of the human prejudice against commerce and the merchant caste, a huge improvement in communications technology, a relatively free flow of labor, information, capital, technology, ideas and culture, a rule of law that is consistent and predictable and protects property and contracts, a broad cultural consensus in favor of education and invention, low taxes, an intelligent coinciding of the units of government with the most efficient units of production, and a union of moral discipline with a good appetite for the pleasures of life. Above all, one finds reliable ways in which the older generation can pass on their wealth to the younger, and thus facilitate capital formation and long-term high-risk entrepreneurial investment.
How might public policy change if we adopted these objectives for ourselves? Looked at from this perspective, it is remarkable how many of our laws seem designed to prevent people from getting rich; America’s present prosperity owes much to the cleverness of its lawyers in evading the intent of those laws. The first thing to do, obviously, would be to repeal many of those laws; get rid of tariffs, stop discouraging miscegenation and cultural mixing, deregulate technology (while increasing the legal power of the public to punish dishonest or dangerous products), stop discriminating against business in cultural, political, and legal arenas, lower barriers against immigration and technology transfer, remove barriers against access to and legal loopholes in property laws, and cut taxes across the board, especially inheritance taxes. Any law designed to stop people from getting richer should be repealed, and any law that would tend to make poor people rich should be enforced.
More subtly: in the postindustrial era, the economies of scale associated with mass production no longer apply. Once manufactures and information have become vanishingly cheap to produce, and thus not very profitable or labor-intensive, the major form of profitable production in the twenty-first century will be cultural production–the irreducibly labor- and capital-intensive human activities that I call the Charm Industries: tourism, education, entertainment, adventure, religion, sport, fashion, cuisine, personal service, gardening, art, history, movies, ritual, psychotherapy, politics, the eternal soap opera of relationships. Those industries are subject to diseconomies of scale, that is, they are less effectively pursued by large units of production, such as big nation states, and more efficient when they take place in small units such as cities, regions, and traditional ethnic areas. Thus we should remove the political obstacles to the present trend toward greater regional autonomy in culture, at the same time as we also open all the technological and economic gates of world communication.
Public policy might also concern itself with the moral discipline, or virtue, of the citizens, of course in ways that do not violate democratic liberty and the imperative need to allow all human value systems to interact profitably with one another. Cultures possessing strong codes of moral behavior and self restraint, as did republican Rome, Confucian East Asia, Victorian England and puritan America, can rely on their members to save before they spend, work hard and enjoy it, and look after each other in misfortune, thus increasing the wealth of the society.
Many countries across the world, beginning with Chile, have been privatizing their social security systems. This simple step has two effects: to provide a reliable flow of investment into profitable business, and to permit all parents to leave some wealth to their children (because we cannot predict the hour and date of our death, natural caution persuades us to overestimate our life expectancy, and so die before we have spent our savings). In a generation or two, every citizen in such systems will become independently wealthy.
Above all, perhaps, a government wishing to make everybody rich should elevate that principle to the top of its priority list. Simply looking at political choices from that perspective would change every decision made. Instead of trying at huge expense to fix the myriad problems that come from people’s not being rich, government can focus on the real issue. As a thought experiment, if we took all the money in the national budget except for what is necessary to maintain a justice system, government, and a national defense, and invested it in sound growth funds for every child in the United States, we would be able to make everybody in the country independently wealthy in one generation. Or suppose Franklin D. Roosevelt had instituted a private, not a public social security system. The money flowing into that system would have lowered interest rates and restored the capitalization of the corporations damaged by the ’29 crash. Recovery might not have required World War II, and America might have led the world economy into peaceful prosperity in the nineteen-forties. Meanwhile everybody born of American parents would have inherited the remains of their parents’ pensions–which, if invested until today, would have made them millionaires.
If government wished to be activist about its prime directive, rather than simply standing out of its way, it could research means to destroy poor people’s jobs and replace them with rich people’s jobs, thus making the poor rich. For instance, it could support research designed to automate all repetitive and burdensome jobs. And it could create accrediting infrastructures for all the interesting but poorly-paid service jobs, dubbing them arts or professions, and establishing A.M.A.- or A.B.A.-like organizations to protect their interests. Interior decorators, cooks, landscape architects, gardeners, and fashion designers are already on their way to being canonized in this way, joining dancers, potters, moviemakers, mimes, performance artists, photographers, and clowns; and soon masseurs, perfumiers, adventure tour guides, martial arts experts, furniture makers, animal breeders and trainers, coiffeurs, auto customizers, cosmeticians, web page designers, and the like will enter their ranks.
In time the information industries will go the way of manufacturing and farming, and become so efficient, productive, user-friendly and competitive that there will be little money to be made in them. Robots, nanotechnology, electronics and biotech will very soon be able to do all the unpleasant work; all that would be left would be pleasant work, that would command top dollar wages, because nobody would be forced by circumstances to work at all. And the world economy will become an art of living, everyone seeking occupations that help them to build their souls and refine their taste. Millions will be made baking the perfect cherry pie, remodeling the perfect loft, sewing the perfect border, composing the perfect cantata of worship, and training the perfect sheepdog.