Vichaar Series: Can wealth be generated sustainably?

Vichaar Series: Can wealth be generated sustainably?

Vichaar Manthan's Sustainable Narratives conference covered a host of topics, including sustainable wealth creation. The panel included Jamie Whyte, Liberal Economist and Former Director of Research at the Institute for Economic Affairs; Harsh Gupta, Chief Investment Officer at the Ashika Group; and Eric Lonergan, Macro-Hedge Fund Manager and Economist. The discussion was chaired by Dr Sachin Nandha, CEO of private equity firm Pillbox Capital and National Co-ordinator for Vichaar Manthan UK.

Are free markets important?

In his opening remarks, Jamie provided a succinct explanation of wealth and how he thinks it has come to the point it is now:

“Almost all the wealth that has been created in the entire history of mankind has been created in the last 200 years. That is a tiny fraction of how long we [humans] have been around.”

He does not accredit this to efficiency but to an explosion of innovation. He suggested that the industrial revolution led to global change, and that the way to sustain development is to sustain innovation.

“Three things which will act as a defence of economic liberty is allowing innovation to happen, profiting from innovation to occur e.g. lighter regulations and taxes; and allowing companies to fail rather than being bailed out so that others can get ahead if they are better than those companies.”

Harnessing existing technology

Eric echoed the same sentiment and highlighted two global problems: lack of innovation and ambition in both environmental areas and recessions, and wealth inequality.

“Recessions are cyclical and have occurred almost every ten years, yet we have no solutions for them and continue to use and rely on institutional structures from the 1800s such as banks.”
He suggested that we need to harness existing technology and use balance sheets to give a greater number of people a share in the capital base, which can go towards setting up a national wealth fund.
“Why are you not rewriting the rules of cyclical intervention to prevent recessions, or, if not to prevent recessions, to prevent the harm from recessions.
Markets can be an ethical force for conflict resolution. When faced with an opponent that is different, we can either got to war with them or trade with them.”

Where does India fit into all this?

Harsh Gupta discussed what sustainable wealth creation means and how India is contributing to it. He started by expanding on Jamie's opening remarks about population growth as the reason for innovation, but through a lens of colonisation. The populations of several former colonies have not only doubled, but gone into the hundreds of millions since gaining independence.
Harsh highlighted four areas which help to sustain wealth creation: political, fiscal, environmental (or moral) and geopolitical.
“We are now seeing the spread of the modern state system and need an activist state along with free markets.”
Although India has a long way to go, it has many positive factors supporting it. He reflected on India being fiscally well placed and its angle as a democracy making it 'anti -fragile'. Recent years have brought improved infrastructure and highways, sanitation creation, affordable housing and now there are reforms to bring about drinkable tap water to every household by the middle of this decade. Renewable energy sources and structures being invested in also makes India's growth more sustainable.
Harsh agreed with Jamie that global inequality is decreasing but that within countries, inequality is, in fact, increasing.

Is wealth inequality an issue?

Jamie and Eric took opposing views on wealth inequality, with Jamie defending the position that it does not matter that billionaires continue to make exponentially more money; as long as they are improving their wealth, they are still moving up essentially. He reflected on the administrated or spontaneous responses to this problem. “With technological advances, people will choose their own responses to these issues rather than the state taking ownership.”
Eric argued that it's not a good idea to have all that wealth concentrated in a pool of high net worth individuals who can claim great power from it with media and politics; rather a spread of wealth could potentially be a better, and more fair, way. “Investing a percentage of GDP to the private sector by creating a National Wealth Fund (NWF) may also be a way forward.”
Harsh added to the conversation with India's point of view. “The relationship between your economic position and the influence you have on politics and media is definitely on the decline, albeit not completely gone.” He admitted that although corruption is still an issue and a lot of non-transparent funding of political parties does happen, the common man is not worried about what billionaires are doing but more engrossed in bettering their own circumstances.
This manthan explored many topics around current economic models, including free markets, technology and wealth equality on a global and domestic level. What is the next best step on a global and national economic front; is the answer to let free markets pave their own way forward or for countries to champion and allow their own domestic companies to lead? Does the answer lie in an NWF and eventually a sovereign wealth fund?
A great discussion providing ideas and food for thought, which will hopefully get you churning on these questions.
by Vaishali Khandel
Vaishali is a qualified GP and Meditation Practitioner in the Midlands, England, with a keen interest in global wealth and health inequalities. She is also a volunteer for Vichaar Manthan UK.
*Info: This panel and other Vichaar Manthan Sustainable Narratives virtual sessions.

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