Most of us view wealth in terms of possessions, such as tangibles like gold, silver, jewelry and cars. Many also include intangibles such as annuities, securities, degrees from elite universities, government entitlements, health insurance, friends and the like.
But what does wealth, stripped naked, look like? Where does it come from and where does it go? After all, the only true thing history teaches us about wealth is that it’s not static … it moves around!
At one time the Persians dominated much the world. Its tangible wealth was immense, unfathomable … until Alexander the Great looted it, then topped it off with bits from other empires he conquered!
Just where did all of that wealth go? A fat lot of good it’s done contemporary Macedonians!
What’s with that? Is wealth a hot potato for great men to hold and then throw to the next great invader?
No, it’s because tangible assets don’t create wealth. They’re the result. True wealth is something else. It’s main ingredient? Dreams!
Dreams propel people. They stir the ether. They animate, motivate and catalyze … and they’re infectious. When enough people catch them, miracles happen.
Individual dreams accrete to form shared dreams which, in turn, create seismic events resulting in great wealth … in one or another of its many guises.
For example, how many dreamers energized the Renaissance in Florence? Not only did all their little dreams spontaneously combust to profoundly influence the way we think to this day, but the art from that time, such as Rafael’s portraits or Michelangelo’s sculptures, still create wealth for those who buy and sell such things.
A convincing case could be made that each giant leap forward, or backward, in human civilization results from dreams that snowballed into reality … from the astonishing achievements of Classical Greece to the birth of modern science in Elizabethan England, from man’s footprints on the moon to the on-going revolutions in communication and medicine of the techno-wizards working in the US today. Dreams breathed life into all of those accomplishments.
But dreams are ephemeral. Like clouds they have a short lifespan. Dreams need constant nourishment and re-invigoration. If not they cease, so too the resolve to stand up to and defeat the would be the Alexanders of our day.
Dreams and the dreamers who dream them create wealth, and, in the final analysis, security. It’s the drive, the ambition and the personal sacrifice they engender that give birth to wealth … just as ripples from the death of dreams inevitably subsume wealth.
So, stripped naked, wealth is an aggregate of individual dreams manifested by highly motivated work. It doesn’t always turn out for the best, the ungodly body counts of the past century prove that. But for good or ill, it’s not armies, rituals or leaders who create wealth … it’s dreamers! And they’re all around you.
Sure they’re artists, academics, media celebrities, poets or philosophers in high places, but you’ll also find them in every city, town and village in America. They’re the dreamers of little dreams called small businesses.
They run the mom ‘n pop stores, local franchise stores, eateries, and car repair shops. They’re your pharmacist, your attorney, your friends and your neighbors. They’re dreamers who’ve risked everything for their dream.
Most of them fall short. Some do okay (which means they’ve created a job for themselves, and not much more) and others fail. Some make a comfortable living, and others actually attain their goals. And a select few succeed spectacularly (e.g. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates).
Lately I’ve come to worry about the little dreamers in my neighborhood. They’re discouraged and seriously depressed. Many are barely hanging on. Many more are broke preparing for their going out of business sale.
And their numbers increase daily! Just drive through your town and count the number of commercial For Lease signs. And while you’re at it count the number of vacant storefronts, factories, warehouses and Store Closing signs.
Then listen to disparagement of these merchant dreamers from the highest leaders of the land who diminish their accomplishments by telling them that they didn’t build it or calling them unpatriotic if they try to avoid confiscatory rates of taxation.
Of course all this implies that a entrepreneur’s success relies on an implicit partnership with others, specifically a government that provides the infrastructure, legal protections and myriad of other benefits that make success possible.
But if it is a partnership, it’s a hybrid that dissolves when things don’t turn out well. When a business fails, the government, in the short run, loses nothing. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, gets pain and poverty.
It’s like an act from the theater of the absurd! Governments burden dreamers with countless regulations, and disparage them even as they work endless hours in pursuit of their dreams and tolerate debilitating stress while risking everything!
Should we not praise them, appreciate them and encourage them? Their dreams enrich us all!
At some point many of them will probably wise-up, lick their wounds and quit. After all, why enter a partnership with a partner who takes half the profits, none of the risk, and then vilifies you in the public square?
We should look closely at those who lead us. Will their zeal over-burden our little dreamers? Will they make dreams too hard to attain?
Will they forget that little dreams have made our nation’s big dream possible? And will they remember the lesson history has taught us time after time after time … that wealth and dreams are migratory?