Mob attacks plutocrat’s house
Former McKinsey Senior Partner Eric Beinhocker and multi-billionaire Nick Hanauer appeared at the Aspen Institute to participate in a discussion of redefining capitalism. The definition of wealth is fundamental to their system. It is apt that two folks with their particular sets of credentials be the public face for this relatively new approach. Certainly, neither can be accused of being big-government socialists. And they are wealthy enough that they don’t have to be envious of anyone.
Automatic “Wealth” Generation
As Hanauer notes, he’s reasonably bright and works reasonably hard. He’s probably no brighter or harder working than you are, but he’s a billionaire and you aren’t. Why? Automatic, self-reinforcing feedback loops. Without them, Hanauer would have been a moderately successful heir and entrepreneur. But selecting the right parents and the right genes put him in the spot to be the first non-family investor in Amazon.
Hanauer didn’t do nothing, he made some astute decisions and worked reasonably hard, but he didn’t make decisions or do work that would be worth billions in a rational world.
You see, once the money was in Amazon, for the investors, it was just a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Each time you did nothing but let the money ride, it grew. And grew. And grew. The same for two of his other investments. Each was, for him, a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
Wealth is Accumulated Solutions
Wealth/Prosperity, Hanauer & Beinhocker say, is the accumulation of solutions for human problems. Whatever form of stuff you choose, none of it is wealth unless it solves your problems.
If you are in the middle of a desert with no water and a kilo of gold, gold won’t quench your thirst. Someone may show up with a canteen of water and be quite unwilling to part with it. Water will quench your thirst, but your gold won’t. Solutions are wealth, not stuff. Stuff can be a means for accumulating wealth, but it is not wealth.
Capitalism is Failing
Capitalism is the greatest tool for accumulating wealth that man has developed. However, it no longer works. Near-stagnant GDPs in advanced economies all over the world attest to that fact. Obviously, something is awry. Wealth is concentrating at the top. Productivity rewards go to the wealthy. Middle class real wages decline or remain stagnant. Much of the reason for that lies in the failure to understand why Capitalism is better than every other economic system we have tried.
Capitalism is an evolutionary, solution-finding system. The more we remove it from being an evolutionary, solution-finding system, the more poorly it will function. An ethos has developed over the years, that explicitly tries to quench its essential trait. Capitalism, we are told, is a system for generating stuff; the more, the better. As we all know, GDP measures the creation of stuff, not the accumulation of solutions. But measuring GDP leads to perverse outcomes.
By the 1980’s the static economic models used for theoretical illustrations had become cant and affected both government regulation and corporate thinking. Prior to that time the goal of the CEO was a satisfied customer and a satisfied shareholder was a hoped-for byproduct. Starting in the 1980’s the phrase “shareholder value” became inescapable. By 1987 when T. Boone Pickens wrote his Eponymous Memoir, “Boone”, shareholder value, was the siren call for corporate raiders.
Regulations were written the ensured executive compensation would be calculated on share prices, not profits or sales. Accordingly, average CEO compensation rose from 30 times that of the average employee to 500 times…. a relative growth of over 1,500 percent. Executive wages became a large piece of the concentrated “wealth”. This over-concentration of pseudo-wealth has pushed the world into a hyper-critical state. It is the nature of hyper-critical states that very small events can cause a dramatic change in state. The pitchforks and torches may be outside your door tonight.
Growing Real Wealth
If you accept that real wealth is solutions to problems, then you see the world as a very different place:
- Economic growth is the rate at which problems are solved/
- Maximising the number of people solving problems will maximise growth and wealth.
- Therefore, maximising the opportunities to be a problem solver will maximise wealth.
The reader might comment “Governments just get in the way.” But that would be wrong. Although Democratic Capitalism is the greatest tool we’ve ever developed for wealth generation, it has a number of problems:
- It doesn’t define long-term problems well.
- Capitalism is biased toward the first, not the optimal solution.
- It may hamper or destroy good solutions while in the process of providing a bad solution.
The Role of Government
These failures are best resolved by a democratic government that provides the necessary regulation to correct each of these problems. It should not, however abet rent-seeking through predatory licensing (e.g. licensing of hairdressers, cabinetmakers, etc.). Neither should it use any other of the many tools that government has at its disposal to put its thumb on the scale. Regulations are not intrinsically bad or good; their manner of application and results are determinative. Their goal is to help people solve more problems than they create.
The second major role of government is to maximise the number of problem solvers in society. Among other things, this means ensuring that everyone starts their economic life with the best possible equipment to solve problems. Genetics and luck will always determine that outcomes will be different, but in a well functioning society, we can expect wealth distribution to fall on a normal curve.
The very best way you can protect your assets is to live and work in a society that practices this sort of capitalism. As a matter of self-protection and self-satisfaction, you should encourage your government to organise itself to maximise the number of people solving problems.
In the short term, you may want to seriously consider diversifying where you keep your assets. We can help you do that. Contact us now.