Friday, May 05, 2006

Redefining success in the universal society

Futile Wealth Accumulation: Redefining Success in the Universal Society - (Part I)

The emergent redefining force of globalization has wittingly eroded pre-existing barriers between cultures and triggered the emergence of a universal society in which economic, political, environmental, and cultural events in one part of the world quickly come to have significance for people in other parts of the world. This is consequent upon ground breaking innovations and advances in communications (Single Wireless-CDMA base stations are now being deployed in Kenya covering 120km radius and you have underwater fiber-optics communications cables in the Atlantic/Pacific connecting entire continents electronically and have now rendered satellite telecoms a secondary option), transportation (we now have jets like the Airbus-380 and Boeing 787 that can fly unprecedented distances and maglev trains exceeding 1000km/h) and information technologies (examples abound all around you). It explains the growing economic, political, technological, and cultural linkages that connect individuals, communities, businesses, and governments around the world and also involves the growth of multinational corporations (businesses that have operations or investments in many countries) and transnational corporations (businesses that see themselves functioning in a global marketplace).

The most dramatic evidence of expanding universal wealth is the increase in trade and the movement of capital (stocks, bonds, currencies, and other investments). From 1950 to 2001 the volume of world exports rose by 20 times. By 2001 international trade amounted to a quarter of all the goods and services produced in the world. As for capital, in the early 1970s only $10 billion to $20 billion in national currencies were exchanged daily. By the early part of the 21st century more than $1.5 trillion worth of yen, euros, dollars, and other currencies were traded daily to support the expanded levels of trade and investment. Large volumes of currency trades were also made as investors speculated on whether the value of particular currencies might go up or down.

Now, “Seven habits of highly successful people” (by Steven Covey; he visited Nigeria recently), “21 Irrefutable Laws of success”, “How to be successful”, “Success Power”, “Success Digest”, “Be the Best”, “Rich Dad Poor Dad ” …… (and the list goes on) represent slogans, publications and clich├ęs that have become pervasive and crucial to functioning in our evolving, fast paced, digital, consumer driven and neo-liberal capitalist policy dominated dispensation. Prosperity indices (in GDP terms) the world over are striking unprecedented all-time highs and to be left behind in this revolution could be equated to being accursed or more simply put, uninformed! Huge Private investments, cross-border acquisitions and mergers, hedge, pension and mutual funds, corporate restructuring and debt financing are now becoming the norm in a global economy where neo-liberal and capitalist economic integration ideologies of the “Washington Consensus” (a term describing the predominant western indoctrinated institutions of globalization namely the World Bank and the IMF both headquartered in Washington) are reigning supreme.

We as individuals are now constantly being challenged and engaged to be more efficient, effective, productive, learned and emotionally intelligent if we are to attain and maintain the career and achievement heights we desire in what is now termed the knowledge society. The numerous ingenious publications on self/corporate development and actualization, financial security, communication and Success are very much aware of the opportunities presented by the thriving global free-enterprise domain where the individual who is able to harness potential, leverage resources, utilize appropriate technology and translate it into commercial success achieves competitive advantage and is labeled successful. Success in this era now incorporates both attainment and sustenance of societal recognition, respect and admiration.

Let’s now examine the lives of those currently experiencing success. Drawing on the U.S (land of the extremely wealthy) as our first case study, incomes especially for the upper and middle class have increased significantly over the past decades and are still increasing. Statistics has it that the top 30% earn as much as over 50 times what the lower 30% earns. Research (non-faith based) has however revealed a downturn in the level of happiness, (as they put it), contentment and fulfillment experienced by the people in this class. In-fact, some were candid enough to suggest that their soaring prosperity increased pressures and demands on them to at the minimum, maintain their levitating social status. To express this more succinctly, the more wealth they accumulated, the less peace they experienced. This sounds more like a curse but you couldn’t expect less when u have to be aggressive and highly speculative to consolidate social standing and remain on the success list!
By the late 1990s the 20 percent of the world’s people living in the highest-income countries had 86 percent of the world’s income; the bottom 20 percent had only 1 percent of the world’s income. An estimated 1.3 billion people, or about one-sixth of the world’s population, have incomes of less than a dollar a day. Inequality has grown worse, rather than better. More than 80 countries had lower per capita income (income per person) at the end of the 1990s than they had at the end of the 1980s. In 1960 the top 20 percent had 30 times the income of the poorest 20 percent. This grew to 32 times in 1970, 45 times in 1980, and 60 times in 1990. By the end of the 20th century the top 20 percent received 75 times the income of the bottom 20 percent. It’s been the rich getting richer all the way but how do you reconcile that with a survey published in Newsweek that authentically revealed that Nigerians, (classified as one of the poorest based on per-capita-income but an enormously talented mix of people who have been exploited for decades running) are the happiest people in the world!

Now, examining another survey of Australian millionaires, the study indicated that only one in twenty of them had a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. The others simply felt they were still under-achievers and needed to work harder in order to create an enduring impression, an elusive dream anyway!
These findings defy the logic that more resources and a better standard of living imply peace of mind and improved psychological well being. Higher income inequality (a natural spawn of capitalism) resulting in a richer upper class at the expense of the poor workforce (who actually get the job done) ought to make the rich happier you might be tempted to argue but emotional satisfaction has remained elusive to the crux of the high achievers.

Could we then hypothetically relegate and de-emphasize the significance of wealth and social achievement in the true concept of success since the perceived notion of success includes happiness and fulfillment in addition to others? Bearing these in mind, would it be appropriate for us to classify the greater fraction of the proletariat of our societies as being successful? Was it Winston Churchill that said he had achieved so much but at the end of the day felt he had achieved nothing! A contemporary dictionary defined success as attainment of power, wealth and fame (fulfillment not included). Well, maybe success has lost its true meaning or that the word in itself is fundamentally deficient in describing what we should strive towards as humans! Maybe scholars out there could help find that word that sums-up all round fulfillment and accomplishment. Even if that single word exists, there’s only one true source. If you don’t know that source, you can call me or send an e-mail and I’ll be glad to deal with your potentially anathemic ignorance!