Here’s how The Coming Prosperity begins…
This is a book about the unparalleled possibilities of now. It takes as its backdrop an inescapable fact: the majority of the world’s population is at last connecting with the global economy; billions of people are deriving benefits from the past five centuries of technological and institutional innovation from which they have previously been excluded. As a consequence, human well-being will likely improve to a greater extent in coming decades than at any time in history. But progress toward global prosperity is not inevitable. The choices we make today will determine the extent and reach of the coming prosperity, and the part we play in it.
There would be no need to write this book if a general appreciation existed for the scope of the coming prosperity, or the half millennium of historical momentum from which it derives its impetus. Yes, the ascendance of China, India, and Brazil is universally recognized. But, for some understandable reasons, this new reality still mostly inspires alarm rather than eager anticipation.
In the US, in particular, the economic ascent of the global majority is mostly either blamed for the nation’s alleged decline or damned as the underlying cause for an array of global challenges—from climate change to water scarcity. Sure, Shanghai is suddenly full of whiz kids poised for dominance in the science fairs of the future, and villagers in Kenya can now receive money from a relative abroad on their cell phones. Great—that’s good for them. But such changes aren’t going to do much for veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who can’t find work, or for families who lost their homes to foreclosure in the most severe recession since the Great Depression. Paychecks for most US workers have not reversed the downward slide they began when Richard Nixon was president—back when the most high-tech object in an average American household was a Casio calculator. The number of people on food stamps exceeds the population of California. Much of Detroit remains a wasteland, New Orleans is struggling to regain its former glory, and everywhere else different versions of the new American Nightmare—persistent un- employment, lost wealth, and exhaustion of technological possibilities— seem to be overtaking the American Dream. The coming prosperity? Nice try. A country headed down the tubes is more like it.
Let’s be honest: There is truth here. America is not just a place in transition. It is, in too many homes, a place in pain.
But the immediacy of pain on our doorstep should not blind us to the epochal promise of prosperity that is evident on the horizon. That promise is every bit as tangible for Peoria as it is for Beijing. New pathways of progress are opening up more rapidly than old ones are closing. Never have more people had greater opportunity to create value for society, and for themselves, than we do today.
Of course, shared value is no more about profit than prosperity is about the accumulation of more stuff. While the search for economic profit and the desire for material wealth are, inarguably, very powerful human motivators, they do not constitute the totality of human interest. In the world’s wealthiest places as well as the poorest, some of the most remarkable entrepreneurs and innovators will always be those who think less of how they will benefit, and more about what they will change. The efforts of such individuals to push back against entrenched incumbent interests are an essential element of the coming prosperity.
Without purpose, there is no progress. For individuals, companies, and nations alike, it’s time to be what matters.
More about the book in this Kauffman Foundation video interview.