What do the people of a country desire most? Is it simply a higher level of income and its resulting increase in purchasing power–or do the needs of a populace go beyond monetary concerns?
If we study the revolutions that have taken place in history; we see that economic strife was a direct result of an elite group of people who had monopolised the political arena. Change is not possible unless the root cause of monopolisation is weeded out.
If you ask me, studying history is very important. The reasons why nations succeed and create wealth for its citizens is because the groups that monopolised wealth and power were either overthrown or a system was put in place to limit the power that a select group of people can have over the destiny of a nation. The history books also remind–and gently warn–us that revolution and revolt is not the answer. Many of these revolutionary changes inevitably lead to one group replacing another as the elite of a particular society. This leads to no real transformation of the capacity of a nation’s populace to fulfil their destiny on earth.
The ‘change’ that spurred the revolution forward ended up resulting in no change at all–but simply a change of hands.
The Economic Force of a Nation
Since ancient times, the country known today as Myanmar has been famous for its wealth in natural resources of all kinds. The Sanskrit name Suvarnabhumi, meaning Golden Land has been associated with Myanmar for over two millennia. Today, Myanmar’s natural resources include oil and gas, various minerals, precious stones and gems, timber and forest products, hydropower potential, etc. Of these, natural gas, rubies, jade, and timber logs are the most valuable and currently provide a substantial proportion of national income.
A country’s lack of natural resources is often cited as holding a nation back from economic prosperity. But in my opinion, this answer is far too simple. Some countries that are resource rich have a long history of conflict and war. The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar has been in turmoil since Feb 1 when the military ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending the nation’s decade-long experiment with democracy and sparking daily mass protests.
The transition from a military government to a civilian one is familiar to other countries in the world. There are inherent constraints in that transformation–especially when we take into consideration ethnic diversity, external involvements, and the overarching influence of military organisations on civilian institutions.
The entrepreneurs of a country are a creative economic force; but at the end of the day, things like property rights, freedom to trade, a sound legal system, the building of roads–otherwise known as state planning–can only be catapulted forward by the government. When they are organised in such a way that everyone can partake in and benefit from them, these institutions are inclusive. Conversely, if these systems are set up in such a way that they benefit one portion society at another’s expense; then they have in essence failed at providing the incentives for the power of the collective to advance and work towards the betterment of society as a whole. When this materialises, the economy either stagnates or prepares itself for a revolution.
It is perhaps a truism that the elites of a country do not want to share or open up; as this is perceived as a direct threat to their power and foothold in a society. If you are a leader, let me ask you a few simple questions to understand what your inner compass is pointing towards. Are you motivated by using your position as a means to achieve your own personal goals? Or are you content with being the leader of a community that is simply wealthier and happier than it was before your arrival on the arena?
No matter where in the world I look, corrupt leaders are a dime a dozen. They seize and hold onto power. It doesn’t matter whether it is a monarch, a coloniser, a socialist revolutionary, a president or a usurping militia. Some academics and political leaders choose to paint a worldview that leads people to falsely believe that it is the political system that is causing all the problems in a country. But truly, it is not the system; but rather the corruption that underpins the political system that leads to chaos for one and for all.
If you ask me–only leaders of the country and by extension the design of the political system–that can ensure a wide distribution of power to create genuinely successful nations in which all have the chance and opportunity to prosper and participate.
In the case of Myanmar, the old mercantile elite were of Indian and Chinese origin. When the private property of these individuals was confiscated and handed over to a number of military-run state corporations; this resulted in their departure from the country, along with many of of Burma’s intellectuals. This type of brain drain causes countries, industries, and organisations to lose a core portion of valuable individuals. To restore all that is lost, is a colossal task for any government and requires full cooperation of all the stakeholders in that process–including the international community and foreign investors.
In either case, a good system of governance or a good leader is simply not enough. Luck plays a pivotal role in whether a nation succeeds or fails. If you look at a country’s history over time, you see that there have been many rise and falls; many ups and downs, many victories and also losses. No country has been immune to these tides–neither in their economics or in their politics.
In either case, corruption is damaging to one and all. So before you tackle anything else, this is the insidious root that must be ripped out and burnt. Corruption is an affliction that punishes good behaviour and thus it should never be tolerated. If we reward people for bad behaviour, then that is the behaviour they will embody and actualise. Corruption is not a virtue and in most if not all societies, it remains an endemic; a cancer that leads to the demise of a society.
Corruption is driven by the greed that is inherent in some humans who inhabit the world. No matter how strict the rules and tight the system, some individuals will inevitably still be tempted to transgress, find loopholes in the system and unscrupulously use it to their advantage at another’s expense.
Greed and Generosity
Most people are not natural givers. Some struggle with generosity because they are worried that their resources would not be enough for them if they give to others. Others are focused on saving as much as possible for any and all possible futures; and giving to others would defeat their purpose. Others are simply hoarders who don’t understand that money needs to circulate for a successful economy.
However, an ideal human being is someone who is generous. We admire generous people, especially those who have helped us in a time of need. Our capacity to give is always far greater than our capacity to receive. Elites in all walks of life usually resist setting up more pluralistic and open economic institutions because they wrongly believe it threatens their own power. To them, power is seductive, alluring and hard to give up. In the wrong hands, it creates strife for the wrong people.
In either case, giving up greed is not the same as giving up power. Giving up greed is about welcoming a spirit of generosity that seeks to share–as opposed to hoard–wealth that was simply in our stewardship for our short-lived stint on planet earth.