“There is no delight in owning anything unshared.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The winning strategy for the mega-rich is to create a world where wealth can retain meaning.
7.1 Acknowledge The Winners
If economics is a board game where players set out to own more than others then the mega-rich are the world’s winners. The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half of all global wealth (United Nations University, 2008b) and the winnings of the wealthiest continue to rise because wealth enables more wealth. The success of the winners should be acknowledged and then a new ‘game’ compatible with global security should be started, with benefits to all including today’s winners. Central to this new game is how to bring surplus wealth (wealth beyond the needs of its owners) back into play. Politics, being dependent on contributions from those with the means to pay them, has in general failed to implement effective progressive policies for either incomes or assets, so a deeper systemic change is required.
7.2 It’s Crunch time Even for the Mega-Rich
The planet crunch cannot be eluded by any fortress mentality, such as skepticism, materialist escapism or security fencing. Pandemics, civil unrest, political instability, armed struggle, ecosystem collapses and financial turmoil can harm anyone anywhere and those with the most have the most to lose. The steady worldwide diversion of wealth towards the wealthiest was previously financed by borrowing from the future. A bubble of credit and ecological debt made it possible for the majority of the world’s population to meet their basic needs, for governments to obtain economic growth and for wealth to concentrate. Further financial or ecological borrowing from the future is a strategy for collapse so any future society that is stable enough to run at all can run only from currently generated wealth. The world must quickly change to pay-as-you-go and past accumulations of assets are the only store of wealth sufficient to support this change.
7.3 Switching to a New Winning Strategy
The winning strategy for the mega-rich is a policy switch from accumulation to a new game of creating a world where wealth can retain meaning; a world where the planet crunch is replaced by global security. By peer-pressure and peer-dialogue, the mega-rich can coordinate their collective abilities and assets in expanding the world’s ambitions from ‘less bad’ to positive development. Without this leadership, with its mindset of opportunity and abundance, it will be too easy for the public and institutions to remain absorbed in small plans that don’t matter and big plans that don’t work. Today’s markets await an underlying vision of a successful future with real lasting wealth to replace volatile speculative bubbles and accounting tricks. Today’s money awaits the backing of activities that work to generate believable value. The massive stockpile of problems awaits being matched with the massive stockpile of wealth.
7.4 Transformational Philanthropy
“The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship.” Andrew Carnegie’s (1889) call for philanthropy may be heard today as a last call. Carnegie foresaw the accumulation and hoarding of “intense individualism” being systematically corrected by the most wealthy self-organising to administer their surplus wealth “to produce the most beneficial results for the community”. Modern philanthropists such as Doug Tompkins echo the call, “What if the 10,000 richest people in the world would do what I did? Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Sultan of Brunei, the Saudi princes – they could change the entire world.” (Zeller, 2005). Philanthropy on a scale sufficient to ensure global security requires no self-sacrifice, just enlightened self-interest.
7.5 Preserving wealth by sharing it
Money and all other stores of value rely upon functioning stable economic, ecological and social systems. If the planet crunch proceeds then at an unpredictable moment these systems will not function and the meaning of money and assets will vanish. The status of the wealthy would vanish. Native cultural traditions such as potlatch, that accorded most status to those who were able to share the most, provide a model to support modern ‘recycling’ of surplus wealth (Trosper, 1998). Paradoxically, accumulated wealth can now be preserved only by being shared. Governments can act to support and invoke a peer-led global philanthropic transformation in many ways. For example, the international trend toward opening up ‘tax havens’ provides a strong incentive, if financial authorities agree to provide favorable treatment to such funds used philanthropically.
- Carnegie A. 1889. Wealth. The North American Review, 148 June, 1889. http://www.visionsofgiving.org/document.php?loc=3&cat=4&sub=12
- Trosper, R L. 1998. Incentive Systems that Support Sustainability: A First Nations Example. Conservation Ecology, Vol 2 Issue 2, pp 31-44.
- Zeller, F. 2005. Buy Now and Save! World Watch Vol 18, No 5, July 2005, pp 24-29. http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/EP184C.pdf
- United Nations University 2008b. Davies B, Sandström S, Shorrocks A, Wolff E. The World Distribution of Household Wealth. World Institute for Development Economics Research. Feb 2008, pp 7. http://www.wider.unu.edu/publications/working-papers/discussion-papers/2008/en_GB/dp2008-03/
This text is part 7 of 8 of my Advanced Research Workshop paper, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security, for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. Please see the abstract, full list of parts and downloads here. Comments welcome below. Some previous comments are at wiser.org.