Friday, April 6, 2012

Wealth and Morality are not mutually exclusive

Not for nothing is Archbishop Desmond Tutu widely known as "South Africa's moral conscience". The Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1984, Archbishop Tutu was one of the leaders of the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa. He headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the fall of apartheid which so enabled South Africa to move on from the past and not start a war of vengeance. He speaks often in defence of moral positions. 

So when he wrote a piece in the Financial Times, I sat up and read. He argues in his piece that you don't have to lead a life of austerity to be moral or spiritual. Being wealthy is not a crime (its often made out to be by those who claim to speak for the poor). "It is fine to make a living; we are meant to enjoy abundant lives. The conflict comes when we separate ethics and economic progress and when we equate the latter with happiness", he says.

There's a beautiful statement in his piece.  "Shareholder responsibility is not only to make profits. How they are made also matters." Beautifully put.

I'll leave you to read the article yourself. Its not earth shattering or a blindingly  novel idea. But I believe he has stated very well, with all his moral authority, that yes, you should strive to be wealthy, but be careful of how you become wealthy.

In early stages of a career wealth seems to be everything. That's the goal to aspire for. As you grow older, you may realise that wealth is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for happiness. You may or may not be religious, or even spiritual. But you have to be "moral" to attain a degree of happiness. Those who age, without this realisation, have grown older, but no wiser. It may appear that they have the trappings of happiness, but in reality, they do not.

The opposite is equally true. To condemn wealth and say that it is a barrier to morality, or even spirituality, is sheer bunkum. Glorification of poverty is one of the greatest sins that people can make. Unfortunately many activists do so stridently. They should listen to Archbishop Tutu.

I've often felt that the world needs moral leaders. In the ancient world, the Pope performed that function (alas often appallingly). Leaders, tainted by religion, are now too narrow to be moral world leaders. In the modern world, there are no moral leaders. The closest to having that aura would be Nelson Mandela, but he is an old man now. Archbishop Tutu is somewhat in that mould, even though much of America vehemently criticises him for his strident opposition to Israel's policies on the Palestinians. The world needs more men (and women) like them.