The Paradox Of Prosperity — Part 1


The Paradox of Prosperity: a CREATIVE approach to modern entrepreneurship


Allow me to first and far most give credits to Umair Haque, an influential thinker, contributor to Harvard Business Reviews — a London based consultant and author who’s writing introduced me to the concept of the paradox of prosperity. I found this concept enchanting and owning great value, especially when you are in the industry of solving problems.

To generalize, the concept would work better to generate solutions through business in today’s current economic climate due to a high level of unemployment, high rising factors of social ills and the rise of extremists — which is a concept which suggests that only the wealthy are reaping off the wealth and remaining prosperous with no intention of sharing in a way, that would make a society prosper.

The paradox of prosperity as a common sense-invented theory, is perhaps one of the most fundamental theories that lives through theories in social science studies and is derived from anti-capitalism thinking outlook that fosters economic growth through constantly developing new industries and markets in order for society to flourish without posing danger on other issues of society i.e. exploitation, poverty etc.

The classical representation of the paradox of prosperity is the classical bible scripture where a sower is planting multiple seeds on different types of soils or paradoxes in this case. One seed is planted in gravel road, the other on the roadway where people pass by, the other on a well cultivated soil. Upon time these seeds will develops into something unique and bear fruits while the otters do not succeed at all due to the unfavorable conditions.

In this case we are not looking onto the once which failed, we look at the successful seeds that prosper and give life, i.e. fruits, if it’s a fruit tree. In a business world, that would be a new venture or here in referred to as a start-up/product/service that ultimately creates employment, where people benefit from the seed (start-up) planted. In order to clarify further on the concept, I included some writings from Umair, which exemplifies the concept even further. At first, Umair set the background of what would be a remedy to cure the kind of thinking that is current killing today’s societies.

He writes “Economies stagnate in real human terms; a tiny few get very rich; life stands still for most; economists call it “growth” and declare it success. Stagnation sparks anger: extremists stoke it; and so the world is ablaze in a new age of extremism. All as predictable as the sunrise. Extremists are hucksters: alchemists of prosperity. They promise us something for nothing; plenitude without peace; taking without giving; that all is a zero-sum game; that we must bully and bluster our way into human possibility. And so we are worse than fools if we are seduced by them; we are cowards.”

As you can notice, a rise in the extremist refers to the rise of millionaires — in simple non-academic modern terms, here Umair refers to the philanthropists — or so they claim: the social advocates who seem to pose no danger to society. In all miracles, they still manage to steal from the less privileged few. They acquire estates, wine farms; they are on the constant rise to the extreme collecting every single penny they can, glorified by their charming smiles. They, the extremists, are never content in their pursuits so they are constantly seeking to build earth wealth, which in turn harms prosperity — or at least what prosperity stands for in society.

Umair explains — The Paradox of Prosperity:

“The paradox of prosperity is this. Imagine a lush field that goes fallow. The tribes begin fighting over the last few dried, cracked stalks of wheat. They fight one another tooth and nail. Until, at last, one is victorious. The field is theirs; but there is no longer any wheat; just handfuls of dust. The others starve. They will do anything for the dust. Until one day, a man says: “Why, the dust! It is rightly ours! Let us take it from them!” And so they do. And the spiral of violence and impoverishment never ends. “

The extract alone may sparks many incidents that have happened in the recent past and can be used in explaining the concept contextually. Think Zimbabwe land reform, Zimbabwe’s land that ‘once’ grew fallow and gave life. People fought for it as their rightful belonging, favored by an inherited sense of inheritance — being black I assume. They took land as led and dictated by their leader, who — thoughtfully was fulfilling the people’s mandates. The result, as you can imagine, the remaining in victory where only handfuls of dust and many starved, the economy collapsed — a story old as time.

The same could be said about South Africa’s Marikana strike, perhaps one of many strikes that the country encounters, more often than usual, in the mining industry. The tale goes, due to unhappiness of employees, they figured why fight for dust, unhappiness ruled them so they took it to the streets — as empowered by unions: a body which is established to stand for the rights of workers, but only to be met by a force of injustice, a spiral of bullets. The police as protectors of the law assumed power to stop their quest to demand their rights, an incident of violence that left many lying in their own pool of blood. There was no victory at all, miners died, their children starved, the struggle continues, except for the extremists who were caved in their fancy offices with extra security and millions in bonuses. Impoverishment never ends — This is the rise of the extremist!

Umair Continues: “One day, generations later, the starving tribes wonder: Why didn’t our grandfathers plant another field?”

“The paradox of prosperity is this. It is at times of little that we must plant the seeds of plenty; not fight another for handfuls of dust. And it is at times of plenty when we must harvest our fields; and give generously to all those who enjoy the singular privilege of the miracle we call life. (Nope, extremists; that’s not communism — not government redistribution of dust) It is, as Keynes foresaw, just common sense.”

To break down what Umair points out, the concept suggests that it is in the time of lacking, in times of despair and uncertainty that we need to plant the seeds of plenty. It is in the time where darkness surrounds us that we need to plant, build more fields and plant even more in hopes that the light will shine through.

Then, when it’s time of reap what we have planted, we harvest and do it with generosity in that we share and give equally amongst those who worked for or contributed. The very thinking that challenges capitalism mentality in the workplace, that we share generously amongst each other — in essence growth and prosperity is shared amongst us and that’s how society will prosper.

***End Of Part 1

Download the free e-book here