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Kamala Sarup: We Expect To Gain Wealth

We Expect To Gain Wealth


By Kamala Sarup

To answer this questions, it is necessary to state the specific requirements for higher incomes and then look historically at the geographies, cultures, economies and polities that affected these requirements for the countries to see if some generalizations can be drawn that will be useful to country leaders and their contenders. In doing so, we must recognize that we indulge outselves in a value-judgment: acquiring material wealth is "good", and not doing so is "bad". This statement acknowledges the leaders in countries who eschew these values, who prefer to spend the studies and labor of their people in the pursuit of spiritual wealth, who consider material wealth a necessary evil that must be tolerated only to the extent of sustaining life and no more. Note, too, that we are talking about relative wealth, i.e., the wealth of the rich countries versus the wealth of the poor countries. There will always be an increase in absolute wealth, in varying amounts, by all countries because some wealth will inevitably spill over from the rich countries to the poor ones via trade, industrial globalization (the transfer of businesses from rich to poor countries) and repatriated income from nationals working in foreign lands. However, a perennial state of poverty in a nation leads inevitably to revolution, or emigration, or both, or to absorption by other countries.

The direct causes of per capita income and living standard increases are technologies, new and old. These are the tools, machines, materials, power sources, medicines, and manufacturing and commercial practices) that are transformed into consumable goods and services comprising basic living standards that are summarized in per capita income statistics. Technologies affect living standards in three ways: (1) They create goods and service that people want, but don't have. Automobiles, telephones, most medicines and medical care did not exist at one time, but were created by innovators. (2) They improve the quality of goods and services that people already have. Medicines, foods, clothing, medical care are improved compared to those available in former times. (3) They increase the availability of goods and services to more people by reducing the effort, waste, and cost to produce them.

Food, clothing, housing, medicines and medical care became cheaper and, simultaneously, their quality improved since earlier times. Technologies and associated incomes devoted to preventing people from killing and stealing from each other, i.e., judiciaries, prisons, police and military personal and institutions, restrict their being used to raise incomes and basic living standards, so however necessary they are in a world of aggression and acquisitiveness, they are counterproductive to raising incomes.

There are other ways to increase per capita incomes, of course, but they are limited. Leaders can put more people to work and compel them to work harder. But how far can you push people? Maybe an additional 10%, and then what? They can extract more raw materials (ores, lumber, etc.), assuming they are available to exploit, but there are limits to how much can be obtained and used. They can put more land under cultivation, but that too is limited by people's appetites. As an alternative, a poor country that wants to be richer cannot expect to develop its own technology.

That would futile because it would take a very long time, and in the meanwhile, the rich countries would have obsoleted it with newer technology, or else conquered the country with its more advanced military technology to use its land and resources for the people of the conquering country. Therefore, a poor country must import technology that produces more and better goods and services for its own people and for producing goods and services for trade with foreigners.

This acquisition of technology requires large amounts of money ("capital"), which cannot be accumulated at home because that requires technology. It's a vicious cycle: technology depends on capital, which depends on technology, etc. Karl Marx acknowledged this cycle in his discussion of "M-C-M" (money-capital (= technology)-money). Thus, an initial loan or grant of "seed money" is required by poor countries from rich countries. Such loans, as we have seen from World Bank, IMF, and WTO efforts, do not necessarily make poor countries like Nepal rich. There is an complex interplay of technology, geography, culture, economy and polity, that produce unknown, uneven effects, thus preventing guaranteed success of capital and technology inputs.

Geography is important in determining whether a country has any prospects of becoming richer. Countries that have poor transportation facilities must devote much of the acquired technology to improving it. This was done in the formative years in the U.S. Otherwise, supplies cannot reach producers and products cannot reach customers cheaply enough to be bought by those with modest incomes. Mountanous countries and those without access to navigable rivers and oceans are especially disadvantaged in their quest for wealth, since the capital and technologies to "move mountains" and "tame water" are prohibitively expensive.

These countries will remain relatively poor. Even within countries with relatively few mountains and many waterways, such as in the U.S., the government of which has spent enormous sums of money, effort and technology to reduce the inequalities of location, the poorest people today are located in mountanous, waterless regions. In the U.S., the state counties located in the appalachian, rocky, and ozark mountains are the poorest. In contrast, those counties located in watered plains are the richest. Scanning the U.N. list from top to bottom, the only rich country that has too many mountains and too few navigable waterways is Switzerland.

However, its geographical disadvantage is offset by its geographical location at former trade routes between rich countries that allowed it to accumulate sufficient capital and technology to "move mountains" (or, at least penetrate them with tunnels and cross the valleys with bridges) and prosper. The Balkan countries in southeastern europe enjoyed no such advantage and suffered economic stagnation.

Switzerland also has the advantages of culture, economy, and polity. We will find nations with too many mountains and too few navigable waterways: Tajikistan, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan. If Afghanistan and Tibet were included, they would, no doubt, also fall into this group for the same reasons. Therefore, the geography of a country is an important determinant of its ability to achieve greater wealth.

In particular, countries with too many mountains and too few waterways are unlikely to become richer relative to other countries, although they certainly will become absolutely richer because of the inevitable trade of cheaper goods and services provided by their richer neighbors. However, absolute wealth breeds envy by its citizens who see the richer countries enjoying goods and services which they cannot afford, and this envy may lead to revolution or emigration, or both.

The use of technologies depends not only on geography, but also on culture. Nations that have no basic schools will forever be dependent on the largese of the wealthy nations. How can you teach a farmer or factory worker to perform simple tasks efficiently if he/she cannot read or write? Those nations that have a developed educational system, but whose leaders prefer to teach children how to read and interpret their holy books rather than mathematics, science, engineering, and programming may achieve spiritual wealth, but surely will not achieve material wealth, because technologies depend on technical education.

We are talking here, not only of innovative scientists and engineers, the unattainable for the poorest countries, but technical operators, i.e., "technicians", the people who must know enough math and science to make small decisions involving the operation of increasingly complex machinery. Again, scan the list of countries below and you will clearly see that the richest have highly developed primary, secondary, and university scientific, engineering, and technician educations available to most of its population, both men and women.

Therefore, even if these countries had adequate technologies, which they don't, they would not even be able to adequately maintain imported technologies because of their poorly educated technicians. With regard to religious practices, again from a materialistic viewpoint, the rich countries have long ago made the pursuit of religious values subsevient to those of wealth acquisition. Their schools provide the education consistent with that end. On the other hand, those countries that prefer to spend time and education on religion matters cannot expect to enjoy high per capita incomes unless they are among the fortunate few that sit above precious petroleum, gold or diamonds required by the rich countries.

The use of technologies depends not only on geography, but also on the economy and polity of nations. Subsistence economies, like those of the nations' aboriginies, resulted in their subjugation and doom by people with more advanced economies that featured the division of labor, technologies, and trade, economies.

Redistribution benefits the poor at the expense of the rich, but it does not promote increased incomes generally.

In summary, the kind of economy and polity determine the ability of poor countries to become rich and the successes of economic reform system have prevailed over other forms the world over. From the above discussion, it is clear that a country with an unfavorable geography, or economy or polity is severely handicapped to make sufficient technological advances that increase the wealth and living standards of its people. It is likely to remain poor, despite the enthusiastic and sanguine projections of its leaders, planners and would-be leaders, the revolutionaries.

*************

Nepali Journalist and Story Writer Kamala Sarup is an editor of mediaforfredom.com. She is specialising in in-depth reporting and writing on Peace, Anti War, Women, Terrorism, Democracy, and Development. Some of her publications are: Women's Empowerment (Booklet). Prevention of trafficking in women through media,(Book) Efforts to Prevent Trafficking in for Media Activism (Media research). Two Stories collections. Her interests include international conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication, philosophy, feminism, political, socio-economic and literature. Her current plans are to move on to humanitarian work in conflict areas in the near future. She also is experienced in organizational and community development. http://www.mediaforfreedom.com/

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