I have a friend who is reasonably well off. A very affable and friendly guy who once shared his only grief with me. He has three children and while his two daughters are doing well in academics, son shows no interest in studies. All his attempts to persuade him were in vain and though he goes to a nearby college, he hardly opens a book. He spends his time with his phone and friends. My friend worries that the easy money with no proper education or purpose in life may spoil his son. How can he make his son motivated to do something in life? This is an interesting question. How do you motivate a rich person to do something meaningful in life other than enjoying all his wealth? How do we make the best use of wealth which is concentrated in some people? These questions lead us to the role wealth plays in our society and how the rich can make a difference in our world. In an age of enormous wealth, poverty and inequality all existing together these questions are very significant.
Living in an unequal world
Of all animal species, human beings remain the most unequal in its capabilities and living conditions. Though all are born equal and helpless, some get a privileged upbringing and thereby a good life. Some regions of the planet remain far more blessed than the rest. In short, we are all citizens of an unequal world with roughly 85% of the global wealth concentrated in less than 10% of the global population. The tragedy is that instead of any respite, global inequality is on the rise. If it is gluttony in one part of the world, it is extreme hunger at another end. When children enjoy the best of education in many parts, millions of kids are either begging or out of school elsewhere. Added to this, differences in caste, class, gender, colour etc act as further barriers to millions of people. For any sensible person, an inequality of this dimension is a painful scenario. Considering human nature which is fundamentally competitive and greedy and the different environments in which everyone is born, a world equal in every aspect is a utopian idea. However, the desire for an equitable world where everyone gets equal opportunities and a life of dignity is a noble goal. The historical experiments in socialism in many parts of the world were attempts towards that end. However, socialism could not overcome mankind’s appetite for free enterprise, competition, private property and freedom and hence failed at almost all places it sprouted. The laissez-faire system which relied on the natural impulses of man was accepted as the best available model and except a few countries, rest of the world embraced it as the one which can create and distribute wealth well. However, we must admit that even the free market economy is widening the gap between the rich and poor and the trickledown effect is extremely slow. Accordingly, many governments are moving towards a welfare state model where they can tap the best of free-market capitalism and help the needy with effective state intervention especially in health, education and other basic necessities. That’s a kind of compromise between capitalism and socialism. As Will Durant put it,
“fear of socialism compel capitalism to increase equality and fear of capitalism compel socialism to increase freedom.”
But governments have limitations in creating an equitable world. Here comes the role of altruism which has in fact helped mankind to survive its selfish tendencies and advance as a species. Altruism is the principle and moral practice of concern for the happiness of other human beings and/or animals, resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual. Human being is an animal capable of displaying exemplary altruism towards his fellow human beings and animals. I believe that altruistic tendencies are there in every human being in various measures. We remain indebted to many for our existence and happiness. It is only natural that we give it back too. It was a French sociologist cum philosopher Auguste Comte(1798-1857) who coined the word ‘altruism’. In his book, Catechisme Positiviste he set out the dogmas of a new creed. One interesting feature of the new creed was the special types of clothes which had buttons placed on the back so that they could not be worn without the help of others –thereby promoting altruism. Here the point is that civilisation advances when people shed selfishness and help each other. The prosperity of a population is invariably linked to the prosperity of all. A compassionate society which takes care of each and everyone is an ideal worth striving for. In this scenario, there is always a need to promote a global culture of giving. When people become more compassionate and out of their goodwill opens their heart towards the needy we create a more equitable society. We have a number of rich people across the world who have pledged large amounts of their personal wealth towards philanthropic causes. One of India’s richest business person and major philanthropist, Azim Premji who was born rich and built a huge company tells,
” being rich did not thrill me. I believe that those of us who are privileged to have wealth , should contribute significantly to try and create a better world for the millions who are far less privileged” .
Coming from a person who pledged crores for the underprivileged and whose foundation is radically changing the way we do education, particularly school education, these words are profound.
The incredible joy of giving
The first African –American writer to win the Nobel prize in literature, Toni Morrison (she died on 5th August 2019) wrote,
“the function of freedom is to free someone else”.
This is applicable to wealth also. The function of wealth is to reach out to someone in need. The function of power is to protect the powerless. The power of education is to educate an illiterate. We are inhabiting a world where thousands of wants compete for resources. A world in need of better technologies to feed its millions and sustain a fragile planet. All that it takes now is an effective use of the wealth available with us. Money is a hero with a thousand faces. We could be its master or slave. Coming back to the dilemma of my friend which I mentioned at the beginning, the motivation for a rich man to handle his wealth responsibly is the existence of poor in this world. The lesson we have to give to rich kids is the cultivation of a compassionate heart and the meaninglessness of feasting on inherited wealth without doing anything. We need to show them the incredible joy of giving and better utilisation of their immense resources. This world will be the finest place to live when its most valuable inhabitants are the ones with the largest hearts.