The Keys to Prosperity
First, you have to produce enough. Goods and services. Everything from food and shelter, to music and philosophy.
Second, because prosperity means widespread affluence, you have to take what you produce and get it to everyone or as many people as possible.
Third, you have to be sure you’re producing the right stuff – food that makes people healthy, philosophy that doesn’t turn people evil, housing that keeps people healthy and in good social contact with each other, and producing in a way which doesn’t destroy the bases of prosperity, whether that’s the soil, water and climate you need to grow food, or the ethics which make prosperity possible.
The principles behind this aren’t that difficult, really. Use the free market for what it’s good at (creating and distributing certain types of goods and services.) Discourage rent-seeking. Understand that how much money people get is largely unrelated to their contribution to society. Remove bottlenecks to growth. Don’t destroy your sinks (like carbon in the atmosphere), don’t overuse renewable resources, understand the obsolesence of non-renewable resources. Keep the rich poor, so they don’t buy the political system, keep influentials independent as much as possible, keep the interests of the powerful alligned with the mass of society. Don’t financialize.
Oh, to be sure, there are technical details, but the core is ethical. The people who make up society must want to do the right thing, must believe in a particular conception of kindness and fairness. It is not accident that after the Great Depression and WWII, when the majority of people in the West understood, deep in their bones, that life is unfair and that group effort is what makes nations great that the great general prosperity occured. It occured because the GI generation and the Lost Generation insisted on it, voted for it, worked for it. It happened because they believed in general welfare, in looking after the least amongst them, and in the future, not the past.
Prosperity is ethical. The ancient Greeks had a saying which ran as follows: “a society is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never rest.”
To repeat, don’t let any group get too powerful or rich, make the right stuff, then distribute it. Sometimes the right stuff should be distributed by the free market (which is kept free by very strict government oversight), sometimes it is distributed by the government, sometimes it is provided by neither but by the social sector (parenting instead of daycare.)
Again, ethics are the most important part of prosperity, just as you can’t cheat an honest man, an ethical population will create prosperity. As Machiavelli wrote, good laws will not save bad people, and good people can make bad laws work. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United State, and its rampant contempt for its own Bill of Rights.
As soon as people become greedy, as soon as they want much more than their neighbour, prosperity will fade. Contrary to the mantra of the greed is good free market fundamentalists, greed is only good in moderation, and a society with many billionaires cannot and will not stay prosperous. Once we stop caring about the sick, the poor and the prisoners, once we become mean, self-interested and judgmental, we undermine the mass participation and the kindness which is required for prosperity.
The developed world will become prosperous again when societies pull together for the benefit of all, when greed is no longer glorified and barely tolerated, and when we decide to make the right stuff, the stuff that is good for us, instead of the stuff which we know is bad for us. And we will find true prosperity when we commit to raising everyone in the world to prosperity. Prosperity based on exclusion, whether that exclusion is based on where you were born, who your parents were, or what attributes you won in the genetic lottery, cannot and does not last. If we want lasting prosperity, we must all come together, with apologies to Dumas, as one for all, and all for one.