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When I was a little boy my best friends and I developed an elaborate plan to sail the oceans, discover treasure and become rich. We made a solemn oath sealed in blood from a pin prick to our thumbs. But as an adult, reality has set in, making our promises distant dreams unlikely to become reality.
The desire to prosper is universal. The Baha’i Faith gives us insights into processes that individuals and societies can leverage to create wealth. A good first step is faith in each individual’s God-given potential. Baha’u’llah explains that we must:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 162.
Pregnant with important implications for the organization of society, this passage has at least two that bear directly on the subject of prosperity:
One: every person has potential – which, once cultivated by education, can be profitable to the individual and useful to society.
Two: the education of every individual creates value for society that is greater than the costs of that education.
Some people consider universal education a positive and progressive ideal — but it actually represents a practical requirement for the sustainable development of the planet.
Unfortunately the majority of the children in the world will not have the chance to develop their full potential. Their families simply do not have the means. We all understand that wealthy families can provide their children with a superior education and a much more prosperous life. But why should only the wealthy have access to education and its benefits? This profound problem afflicts billions of people all over the planet. In fact, the United States makes a compelling case study for examining the universal forces at work on this huge issue.
Americans face an unprecedented decline in economic security even as they work harder and more productively than ever before. Americans occupying the middle class have seen their incomes decline rapidly. In 1999 median household income was $56,080. Today median household income is $51,017. More telling is the long term decline in real income for American workers. According to the 2013 Economic Report of the President real wage growth for 80% of the private sector has fallen 14% from 1972 through 2012. Productivity for this population over the same time frame has doubled.
This means that even that paragon of a middle-class economy, the United States, faces a troubled economic future. As Lawrence Summers recently stated in his November 19, 2013 address to the Wall Street CEO Council it is “really scary” that the United States no longer offers “more equal opportunity every generation”. He called the widening gap in income distribution profoundly corrosive. (Please see his remarks here: Summers: Income Inequality ‘Profoundly Corrosive‘)
This great disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest weakens our societies and imperils our collective prosperity. Baha’is believe that great income gap needs to be closed:
We ask God to endow human souls with justice so that they may be fair, and may strive to provide for the comfort of all, that each member of humanity may pass his life in the utmost comfort and welfare. Then this material world will become the very paradise of the Kingdom, this elemental earth will be in a heavenly state and all the servants of God will live in the utmost joy, happiness and gladness. We must all strive and concentrate all our thoughts in order that such happiness may accrue to the world of humanity….
For instance, the owners of properties, mines and factories should share their incomes with their employees and give a fairly certain percentage of their products to their workingmen in order that the employees may receive, beside their wages, some of the general income of the factory so that the employee may strive with his soul in the work.
It is impossible for a country to live properly without laws. To solve this problem rigorous laws must be made, so that all the governments of the world will be the protectors thereof. In the Bolshevistic principles equality is effected through force. The masses who are opposed to the people of rank and to the wealthy class desire to partake of their advantages. But in the divine teachings equality is brought about through a ready willingness to share. It is commanded as regards wealth that the rich among the people, and the aristocrats should, by their own free will and for the sake of their own happiness, concern themselves with and care for the poor. This equality is the result of the lofty characteristics and noble attributes of mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, pp. 42-45.
We can address the solution to the problems of increasing economic insecurity most effectively in the light of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. Specifically, we can explore the application of the Baha’i teachings of work as worship and the oneness of the human race.
Read the next article in the True Wealth Series: Coming Soon