Wealth of Nations

Too bad that Adam Smith was so narrow in his focus when he wrote his famous book revered still today by so many modern economists. Of course, that focus was quite deliberate on his part, as he sought to educate us about the behaviors of monies and economics, labor and markets.  But An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations has had the residual effect of leading most serious students of the work to believe that, indeed, wealth is measured by purely economic metrics.

That’s too bad, because our reality is so much broader than that.  Our wealth is measured on a number of scales, each of which might be said to be as or even more important than the money metric.  As our modern society careens its way to ever more spending, debt, consumption, environmental degrading and even planetary threat, we eventually understand that our lives are made up of more than monetary accumulations.

That truth has been embedded in the work by Winds of Peace over its entire history, though perhaps in evolving forms.  We have spoken of development in terms of holistic well-being, considering the intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, occupational and physical dimensions of peoples’ lives.  We have accentuated the importance of transparency, integrity, gender equality, stewardship and collaborative work as means of enriching lives.

It may be self-selection, then, that has led me to read the book, Prosper!, authored by Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart. This intriguing work includes a more fully-descriptive detailing of eight forms of capital, a concept I first encountered at a workshop which Martenson and Taggart facilitated  last Spring.  The concepts resonated with how I have viewed Foundation core beliefs and the book now provides a refreshed and broadened perspective about forms of capital and the compositions of true wealth, and why they transcend the traditional view of what constitutes wealth.

In summary, the eight forms of capital are likely familiar to everyone, but perhaps not in the sense of wealth-building.  But reflection upon the eight elements quickly affirms their importance and their essence to our wellness.

Prosper does include Financial Capital among the eight components, covering the realities of income and expense, debt and money.  There is no attempt in the book to diminish the reality of financial needs in our lives, only an attempt to put them into a different context.

Living Capital is the land, the trees, water, the soil, the other living creatures with whom we share the earth, and our own bodies and physical health.

Material Capital is made up of our tangible possessions like our homes, automobiles, building materials, tools, stored food, computers.

Knowledge Capital includes the things that we know and events we have experienced, and our abilities to apply that knowledge to the issues of our lives.

Emotional and Spiritual Capital refers to our capacity to adjust to the changes in our lives, the way we respond to events and conditions, the calm and centeredness with which we come to terms with both internal and external challenges.

Social Capital refers to our private and public relationships, the people in our lives who are family and friends, with whom we exchange favors and care, for whom we are willing to give of ourselves.

Cultural Capital is made up of the fabric of the communities in which we live, the stories, songs, habits and histories of the people in our midst.

Time Capital is just that: the time that we are allotted in our lives to accomplish and experience whatever it is to which we aspire.  It’s a finite, ever-depleting commodity, the amount of which is unknown to each of us, and therefore of immense value of itself.

For each of us, we possess more of some kinds of capital and less of other kinds.

The consideration of these eight forms of capital has given me occasion to affirm my own thoughts about wealth. Our continuing partnerships with rural Nicaraguans affords the opportunity to observe more distinctly the various forms of capital at work in their lives.  They may possess very little in the way of financial capital, but in fact may hold exponentially greater capital in the form of Living or Social or other assets.  And since the various forms are fungible among themselves, the wealth of rural Nicaraguans (or other financially impoverished around the world) may be far greater than we think, maybe even greater in some instances than that experienced here in the United States: I know who is hungrier, but I’m not sure who is the better nourished.

None of this is meant to diminish the impact of extreme poverty on those for whom Financial Capital is but a dream; indeed, a human must survive before it can thrive.  But at this time of year, when our priorities seem to be focused so predominantly on frenzied consumption of financial resources, awareness of our “other” capital accounts can serve as an important distraction.  It’s a pause that might call into question how we “invest” for our futures….


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *