Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Desire and Wealth

Alvin and Heidi Toffler, authors of the ground-breaking books ‘Future Shock” and “The Third Wave’, have published their latest book, “Revolutionary Wealth.”, in which they argue :..

"The starting point of wealth creation is desire. …Some religions stigmatise desire. Ascetic beliefs propagate passivity in the face of poverty and tell us to seek happiness by reducing, rather than fulfilling our desires. For eons, India did just that – in the midst of unbelievable poverty and misery.

By contrast, Protestantism, when it arose in the West ,sent, if anything, the opposite message, Instead of suppressing desire, it preached hard work, thrift and virtue, promising that if you followed these guidelines, God would help your help yourself to fulfill your desires. The West very largely adopted those values and grew wealthy. It also invented that perpetual desire machine-advertising- to keep generating more and still more desire…

More recently, in the 1970s in Asia, a wizened, tough, old Chinese Communist, Deng Xiaoping, was quoted as saying that to ‘get rich is glorious”- thereby unleashing the pent-up desire of a fifth of the world’s population and jolting China out of its age-old poverty.

Whether through asceticism, ideology, religion, advertising or other means, whether consciously or not, the elites in all societies manage desire- the starting point of wealth creation.

Obviously, pumping up the desire level- or, for that matter, extolling greed, which is different from either wealth or desire- won’t necessarily make anyone rich. Cultures that promote desire and pursue wealth do not necessarily attain it .On the other hand, cultures that preach the virtues of poverty usually get precisely what they pray for."

The authors may have a point here. Possibly, one of the main reasons why Indians languished in poverty was because they were taught, from childhood, to accept their lot fatalistically and that pursuit of wealth was sinful. Whether it was Buddha or Gandhi, the message that was conveyed was to cut down on one’s needs and desire and to find contentment at a very low level of comfort.

Note that the authors say that ‘desire’ is a pre-requisite to creating wealth, but do not add that ‘wealth’ would necessarily result in more ‘happiness’. Or that the ‘wealth accumulation’ of the West caused rapid environmental degradation and resource depletion – and therefore may not be sustainable over a long term.

At what point on the scale stretching from frugality on the one end to extravagance on the other ,does one strike the correct balance?

6 comments:

Lalita Mukherjea said...

There is no balance, dude. Planet Earth is going to hell in a handbasket.

It's not just the myopia and postponing problems and dumping them on future generations; it is that most of us can't even stop to think about these things while scrounging for a living while those who 'Have' go on ignoring the fact that the planet needs time to provide and can't be bothered about trivia like a species dying. The planet will recycle, with or without us.

I just wish we didn't inflict such major changes, though. Two centuries of industrialisation is all it took to change the climate. Damn, we are the pests.

Raj said...

Lalita, that cheerful tone again!

Anu said...

Good post! I have often thought long these lines, perhaps after I read an article by Shekhar Gupta about 5 years ago. One has to create wealth for the country, but how do you go about it without letting the desire grow into undesirable greed in the individual?

Casement said...

It requires a superhuman task of character to keep 'desire' as an anchor to create wealth without succumbing to its negative spiral. This is probably why the east preaches aversion to 'desire'.

Raj said...

Anu,Casement " Without desire, you stay poor, with excessive desire - you can get greedy. Tough choice.

Usha said...

do you think it is possible to have a desire spectrum ranging from the bad to good - for example desire for wealth creation (for the community as a whole), desire for better products and quality of life and so on can be classified as good motivators for progress. While greed which is an extreme form of desire, personal hoarding of wealth with no benefit for the community, desire for indescriminate consumption - these are bad motivators. Or is it too simplistic?