What is the most important resource of today’s world? Is it oil? Is it information? Is it a huge population/workforce? Is it innovation? Is it talent? Is it money well spent, well invested or well saved for difficult times? What makes a country or a population rich and what makes it poor? What makes a person rich (or on the path to abundance) and another person poor (or on a descendent path towards poverty)? I invite you to explore with me some ideas!
As you probably know, there are countries who have large quantities of mineral resources in their underground. There are some countries in Africa sitting on diamonds. Iraq or Iran have large quantities of oil between their borders. Then, there are countries which don’t have many resources, and some of them are even lacking… the land itself. Take Lichtenstein for instance, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. So apparently, having a lot of natural resources has little to do with wealth. Could it be the size of the population perhaps? A lot of people working for the benefit of their community should in theory generate wealth… But then, take India for instance: huge population and little wealth for its citizens. So no, the size of the population is not a resource that can guarantee wealth. And with this, we’re done with basic geography.
Could it be innovation or talent perhaps, resources that know no boundary? Not necessarily. There are many innovators who have sold the product of their minds to people with money because they were born or they were living in countries where they couldn’t flourish. Even if a genius is born in a particular corner of the world, that situation will not guarantee an increase in the wealth of his/her community. Take the medical field for instance, where the most innovative or talented people are attracted to the rich countries where they can increase their skill, be better paid, and meet like-minded individuals. The United States is a good example; a country that has attracted the smartest minds from many scientific areas, medicine and technology being obvious examples. In medicine, most of the guides and protocols are designed in the US, the most prestigious publications are based there. Similarly, how many tech companies that are not based in the US you can name? Well, probably a few examples, but the truth is that if one day the US will shut down completely its tech sector, the internet will likely collapse. Most big companies are American. There are however dense gatherings of smart innovative people in other areas of the world, but they don’t have a huge impact compared to the US teams. So, the “brain” alone is not an essential (or the only) resource so as to acquire wealth. There is need for something else, for other “ingredients”.
What about information? They say that who has the data has the power. Large tech companies gathering a lot of info about every person connected to the internet are truly wealthy. But… do they share their wealth with the citizens of the countries where they are headquartered? No. They aim global domination and the enrichment of a select few. And that’s all. Information is, like innovation, unquestionably an important “ingredient” or resource for wealth, but it has a partial effect. In the US, a country well informed and with a lot of intelligence agencies, there isn’t yet a universal healthcare system. This means that some of its citizens live in ghettos or under bridges, while countries that are many times less “informed” than the US can afford to be more humane/compassionate towards their citizens. For a vagabond at the outskirts of a great US city, the fact that the US is an information hub has no relevance… as well as the fact that a US company is selling for advertising the information found on a device/smartphone he accidentally found in the garbage…
The same could be said about money. There are authoritarian countries, led by modern times dictators, countries that struggle in poverty while their respective presidents or (supreme) religious leaders are rich beyond imagination, sometimes richer than entire other countries combined. Just imagine North Korea: its leader is surely one of the richest persons in the world, as he concentrated the entire wealth of his country in his hands, while most of the population is starving while being delusional so as to justify the situation and their inability to change it. Money doesn’t necessarily attracts wealth, although in many situations it does. There is definitely a “mysterious ingredient” that is present in the neighboring Japan and is lacking in North Korea… Any ideas?
Since a country, or a nation, or a given population, or a small group is made of people, perhaps we could find this elusive resource if we seek it among the members of the group. Sometimes the elements of a group preserve a trait that is also present at the population level. So, what makes a group of people strong and wealthy? What makes a family strong and wealthy? And further, what makes a couple strong and wealthy?
Is it love? Perhaps. But not all couple members love each other. Some stay in a couple for other, often various, reasons. Could it be politeness? Not always. There are also couples that are very sincere, and sincerity quite often is the opposite of politeness. Could it be respect? Hmm… respect is mostly used when dealing with outsiders, with foreigners…
What about trust?
Trust is the foundation of many stable and wealthy couples. It’s true, there are dysfunctional couples in which partners don’t trust each other, in which one partner is terrorizing the other who often is or acts as a masochist. But in healthy couples, trust is the essential foundation on which everything is built.
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”.
I can’t remember where I read this quote but I tend to believe it is true. And I can build an argument around trust as being one important resource at the level of larger groups of people, going further at the national level. Perhaps there are other ingredients for wealth or happiness, but I find trust as being “sine qua non”.
Just imagine a team of people where there is no trust; everyone must watch his/her back. Or imagine a business deal in which partners are so competitive that at some point one can’t define if they are truly team players or enemies. Imagine investing your money with someone you can’t trust. Imagine you do businesses with someone that might, at any moment, refuse to pay your services (and you have nothing to blackmail him/her with). Imagine corrupt countries or social structures or professional structures where it doesn’t matter dignity or competence or common sense. Imagine you are a samurai and you have to fight a deceitful thief or an unscrupulous gangster. What are you going to do?
Most of the countries I know that are wealthy and decently happy have learned that cooperation and collaboration are essential between people. Being a team player, being trustworthy, is the best business card. Think Japan and its honesty and honor-focused society. Think Singapore where the rule of law guaranteed fairness and trust. In Europe, think Switzerland or the Scandinavian countries, where cooperation and balance in most life aspects create a climate of trust. And then think about rich (often African or South American) countries where chaos reigns, about corrupt countries where you are simply crushed. And then think about the US I mentioned above, a place that, despite its shortages in many aspects, still has a firm legislation and freedoms that enable people to trust them and trust the fact that they will not go away in a couple of years, as a result of a sudden political or social “earthquake”. A country is wealthy also because there is a certain continuity, a certain stability, and trusting its laws and its design is paramount.
I live in a country of Europe where there is no trust. I evolved to doubt the good-will of the corrupt authorities and I must be suspicious about the people I interact with. It’s a paranoia that acts as a defensive mechanism, as a preventive reflex in a chaotic society. Unsurprisingly, my country is one of the poorest in Europe despite the fact that it is both big, geographically rich and geopolitically/strategically important. It doesn’t matter. As long as people can’t trust each other, there is a tragedy that is unfolding daily: millions emigrating abroad while a political nomenclature/elite gathered almost the entire wealth in its hands and denies access to those who do not belong to the group of its acolytes. Years spent in this environment made me question many concepts, avoid easy answers, and ponder on possible solutions for a crisis that lasts for centuries. Regaining mutual trust between people could be the answer. But how? Perhaps through education. Unfortunately, in societies like mine, educating the future generation is of the least importance. Who would have the interest!?!