Money loses its value when culture is ignored

Money loses its value when culture is ignored

Modernity is obsessed by ownership and encourages it. Lack of ownership often leads to poverty, perpetual rent and insecurity. This was not always the case. In Britain social housing created security and enabled mobility too, but Thatcher put an end to that.

With ownership comes responsibility. Again some people are able to avoid the obligations of ownership, often sadly the wealthy and ultra-rich. Students in London are now asked to pay six months rent in advance. Once the rent is paid the landlord hides under the agents and disappears from responsibility for upkeep. It’s a ‘rentier’ market - the landlord is busy extracting wealth and staying invisible. The rich prefer invisibility when making money, especially from tax authorities.

Shareholders think they own a company but research shows that overwhelmingly they are speculators rather than investors. As to the responsibility that comes with share ownership, that is nowhere to be seen and is legally unenforceable. Also, a simple fact which non-finance people do not know is that when a company’s share price goes up the corporations do not get any of the new money. Speculators profit simply from having access to the finance that can buy shares. It’s lazy money.

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Empire was a massive claim on ownership which was in effect piracy. Supposing today you want to buy prime property. You would have to pay a big price for access to mining, oil or rare raw materials. What if instead you could conquer the country – then you get all of the land and resources for free and you can tax locals to extract even more wealth from that. The gun is more powerful than any piece of legal paper or rights. Often corruption can influence ownership of prime assets.

It is estimated that Britain made $25 trillion of today’s money from the colonisation of India. Industrialisation and development of Britain depended on its colonies. With Brexit Britain has an opportunity to recolonise through financial power although this is waning. When Thatcher expanded the ‘City Of London’ at the expense of Manufacturing or Agriculture, it made all of us poorer in skills, jobs and technology. Including so-called finance experts who learnt to expropriate in a criminal and sophisticated way.

Ownership leads to possessiveness which breeds higher levels of insecurity. The sages of India knew that and preferred poverty as a route to lasting freedom from birth and death. Today in our business classes we teach that freedom comes from wealth and possession, which is the exact opposite. We also teach that wealth comes from skill and talent when in reality it is often about power and influence. Politics and corruption are off the business syllabus even when they are central to its practice.

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Mortgages and loans give families the feeling of ownership and the security of having their own home even when their wealth comes from debt. However, the need to pay regular interest can become a bondage chain like slavery which people sign up to willingly. It reduces risk taking and freedom and makes us all greedy and materialistic. It changes our behaviour.

Ownership gives people the myth of power and control, but they forget that everyone will die one day, and it’s important to let wealth and success flow rather than to accumulate it and bully others into paying their interest or rent. The concept of unearned income has vanished from debate but so much of finance generates exponential wealth without any sweat or restraint. Its size has grown over the last hundred years leading to huge inequality. My research has shown that culture plays a huge role in the making and retention of wealth. Not every owner can retain wealth for long. Indians with Dharmic faith have retained money in families for generations, which is truly rare.

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People ask me about the concept of sufficiency in wealth. There is no objective definition for this. For sages, zero wealth and possession are the ideal and zero is clear, measurable and objective. For us mortals we need to decide what is enough for us. Understanding how wealth and possession can change our behaviour and relationships is critical to peaceful and harmonious social wellbeing. Buying a yacht will make you unhappy when you see a friend with a bigger boat. I admire wealthy people who live a simple life and never show off their wealth. They are often also generous with their charity, although they do not like people asking them to donate. What would help is if they had a clear strategy of how they will let their wealth flow and then give generously. That can be a key to freedom for the wealthy too. Charity is joyful and keeps ownership in perspective.

Professor Atul Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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