Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Future of Faith

The Future of Faith

By Harvey Cox

 

Review by John E. Wade II

I encourage you to read this far-reaching history, current state and future of faith—primarily Christian insights, but also important reflections on religions in general.

It seemed religion was fading and not to shape politics or culture.  But that is not the case, as it is showing new vitality all over the world.

Some confuse this new resurgence with fundamentalism; but, fundamentalism is dying.  “Fundamentalisms, with their insistence on obligatory belief systems, their nostalgia for a mythical uncorrupted past, their claims to an exclusive grasp on truth, and—sometimes—their  propensity for violence, are turning out to be rearguard attempts to stem a more sweeping tidal change.”

People are in awe of our own world and concerned with a faith that affects us here and now rather than the hereafter.

A key statement is, “We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live.”   I have faith in Almighty God and that little piece of God in each of us and all of us.  Thus, I feel I owe kindness to all and invite others to develop the same faith.

Cox makes a wonderful point, “But faith, which is more closely related to awe, love, and wonder, arose long before Plato, among our most primitive homo sapiens forebears.  Plato engaged in disputes about beliefs, not about faith.”

The first three centuries after Christ is what the author calls the Age of Faith.  Then came Emperor Constantine the Great (d.387 CE), the second most important person in Christianity after Christ.  He ushered in the Age of Belief that, quite unfortunately, lasted for fifteen hundred years.

The author explains its demise quite adroitly, “. . . ebbing in fits and starts with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the secularization of Europe, and the anticolonial upheavals of the twentieth century.  It was already comatose when the European Union chiseled the epitaph on its tombstone in 2005 by declining to mention the word ‘Christian’ in its constitution.”

Despite many who expected Christianity to diminish, instead, it has taken on new life, mostly outside the West in the “Global South.”  Women are coming into prominence as they did during the first three centuries after Christ—before Constantine.  In the Global South the Pentecostals are by far the fastest growing Christian group.

Cox states that many people call themselves spiritual, but not religious—differentiating themselves from doctrines, dogma and creeds.  After a long spiritual journey, I characterize myself as spiritual and respectful of all loving religions and loving faiths .  Cox puts spirituality well, “. . . a way of life rather than a doctrine structure.”  Kindness for all and from all, including oneself is the way of life I try to pursue.  A researcher named Seth Wax gathered 105 interviews with people who said they were “spiritual” and concluded that this quality “. . . increased their sense of responsibility in their work and society due to having a larger goal.”

There are now more than four hundred mega churches and they are not fundamentalist.  One estimate is that 40 percent of all adult Americans belong to some of the many small groups that are part of these churches.

Cox makes a perceptive statement concerning the world today, as far as spirituality: “The atmosphere today is more like that of early Christianity than like that obtained during the intervening millennium and a half of the Christian empire.”

Beliefs and faiths can be tested and vary in the best of us.  “Mother Teresa (1910-1997) confessed that for years she had harbored troubling doubts about the existence of God, even as she worked ceaselessly to relieve the anguish of the sick and dying in Calcutta.”  Many criticized her for her doubts.  But a student wrote, “Mother Teresa’s life exemplifies the living aspect of faith, something sorely needed in a society where Christian identity is most often defined in terms of what a person believes rather than how he or she lives.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”  I think so, quite fervently.

Cox states directly that, “We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught that ‘faith’ consisted in dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds that have spun out.”  He explains that Buddhists and Hindus don’t use “beliefs.”  Even Islam only expects the affirmation, “There is no god but God, and Mohamed is his messenger.”

The earliest manner in which the New Testament was described was living “The Way,” pursuing faith rather than beliefs and creeds.  Cox writes, “The experience of the divine is displacing theoriesabout it.”

Albert Einstein considered himself to be a “devoutly religious man.”  But his was a faith built on wonder and awe of the universe, not any creed or religion as such.  The author thinks Einstein would probably call himself “spiritual, but not religious” if he were living now.  I have a customized license plate on my car which says WONDER.  I firmly am in awe and wonder of Almighty God’s handiwork in everyone and everything.

The author states, “The awareness of one’s own mortality raises the question of the meaning of life, and this eventually spawned philosophy, religion and culture.”  For me, I find the greatest meaning in life is in serving, using my mind, body and little piece of God in my calling.  I find my calling is calling right now as I write these words.  Of course, we all have our calling(s) and they vary as we progress through our lives.

The author goes on to say. “Faith does not mean ‘belief in’ this or that myth of creation.”  Cox writes, “Some well-meaning theologians think Christians are indeed asked to believe too many things.”  I certainly think that’s true, very true.

Cox makes a very good point about values.  He writes, “What should I do? Is always linked to Who am I?”  He further writes, “The self is not a static entity.”  He makes the comment, “The ‘universe within’ is just as mysterious as the universe out there.”

Cox makes a wise statement: “The three ways we encounter the great mystery—the universe, the self, the other—all leave us with a sense of uneasiness, incompleteness, and dissatisfaction.”  His solution is faith.  “Faith, although it is evoked by the mystery that surrounds us, is not the mystery itself.  It is a basic posture toward the mystery, and it comes in an infinite variety of forms.”

I think our minds and spirit can only comprehend a finite part of these highly complex and vast mysteries.  Yet, God has a plan and knows about the universe—right down to every single person—on a moment by moment basis for all of eternity.

Cox writes, “Faith begins with awe in the face of mystery.”  Later he describes life as an “unfinished epic” as we live our lives “. . . in a world whose potential is yet to be fulfilled.”  I believe humankind is proceeding forward toward a Heaven on Earth.  I seek to become a pathfinder for that ultimate journey.

Cox explains, “The Hebrew prophets, Jesus Himself, and the last pages of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, all teach that the Kingdom of God is something that happens in and to this world.”  My wording is “ Heaven on Earth.”

Cox writes, “Moving the focus from Jesus as an individual to His life purpose greatly widens His relevance in a religiously pluralistic world.”  Jesus’ “. . . hope and confidence –His  faith—was constantly focused on the new world God had promised ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’”

Cox explains, “One of the most devastating blunders made by the church, especially as the Age of Belief began, was to insist that the Spirit is present only in believers.”  I deeply believe that there is a little piece of God within each of us and all of us since the dawn of humankind.

New discoveries, according to Cox, give Christianity a second chance.  These new findings help explain why women who were so important in the earliest days “. . . were pushed to the underside and the edges.”  Visiting early Christianity shows diversity, no “apostolic authority” and the view that the Kingdom of God was seen as an alternative toward the Roman Empire that “tyrannized them.”

Paul “. . . underscored time and time again the greatest of these [Christian] gifts was love.”  I agree that love, kindness, and compassion are the foremost gifts of all the great religions.  I believe that radical Islam, which breeds hate, does not come from God.  It is a perversion of a peaceful Muslim religion.  Unfortunately, there are extremists who do evil deeds in the name of other religions as well—and none of these actions come from God.

Cox wrote, “Jesus had taught that God’s Kingdom would come on earth.”  In other words, Christ pointed toward Heaven on Earth.  Cox explains, “Actually, however, Jesus’ enemies understood Him all too well.  He was, in truth, a real threat to the empire . . . Religion was political, and politics were religious.”  When Christ taught the prayer, “. . . on earth as it was in heaven”. . .  it was all too clear then whose Kingdom would have to go.

It was much later in the late eighteenth century, when the separation of religion and state emerged, that Christ was separated from Roman politics, although Constantine had a part, too.  Cox wrote, “for nearly three centuries the Age of Faith thrived.”  Cox presents different viewpoints as to why the age ended, but there is no question that creeds and dogma took over and became “. . . obstacles to faith.”  Rick Warren, of Saddlebrook Church in Orange County, California, is quoted as saying, “. . . what the church needs now is a ‘second Reformation,’ one based on ‘deeds, not creeds.’”  I agree.  It’s what we say and do that counts, and I believe that this is what our loving God wants.

Constantine “. . . was undoubtedly responsible for the murder of both his son and his mother.”  Yet, he made Christianity the state religion and organized and served as “. . . patron-in-chief” of the church.  He organized, funded and hosted the counsel of Nicaea.  Even though he had little knowledge or interest in theology, he in effect dictated the fundamentals of the Age of Beliefs, lasting for 1500 years.  Odd things followed.  “In 1431 Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic.  In the twentieth century she became a saint.”

In the twenty-first century all the great religions are mostly everywhere.  Cox states, “Due not only to tides of immigration, but also to jet travel, the internet, and films; the dispersion of religions all over the globe now makes us all each other’s neighbors, whether we like it or not.”

Religion can be hazardous.  Cox writes, “It was not a Muslim who killed Gandhi, but a fellow Hindu.  Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto was murdered by a fellow Muslim.”  Cox concludes that we not only need interfaith dialogue, but also intrafaith discourse.

Cox writes, “Fundamentalists collapse faith and belief.  He rightly writes that “. . .  many fundamentalists are also people of genuine faith who trust God as they understand Him and try to love their neighbors.”  However, as Cox and I agree, “. . . the fundamentalist obsession with correct beliefs often makes faith, in its biblical sense, more elusive.”  Cox explains a key observation.  “Contrary to the image they have had, fundamentalists were not mostly rural, nor were they an uneducated or semiliterate gaggle.”  He concludes that being a fundamentalist is hard because you not only have to contend with the skepticism around you, but your own doubts as well.  Living your own faith is, in my opinion, a fulfilling, meaningful and fruitful way to journey toward Heaven on Earth.

Cox notes that there are many bibles—ones for Jews, Catholics and Protestants.  He makes an interesting point, “What if they were Bible-believing Christians in the second century CE?  At that time the only Bible Christians had was the Old Testament.  The New Testament had yet to be compiled.”

Cox puts it quite frankly and I certainly think he’s right.  ”The idea that ‘The Bible’ has always been the same book year in and year out and you either believed it or you did not may be comforting, but it has no basis in reality.”  There are multiple translations, some of which still puzzle the scholars to this day, such as the ending to the Book of Job.  To point out the difficulty in saying there is “The Bible” Cox points out that a publishing house listed, “. . . twenty different versions of the Bible in print and selling well.”  Also, there is no original Bible.  All are copies.

Cox thinks of the Bible somewhat the way I do, that we should, “. . .take the Bible back from the fundamentalist hijacking and make it once again a genuine support of faith, instead of an obstacle.”

In 1900 Cox writes that fully ninety percent of Christians were located in Europe or the United States.  Now, sixty percent of all Christians live in Asia, Africa or Latin America.  He writes that this sixty percent is expected to swell to sixty-seven percent by 2025.  Most Christians now live in the Global South.  Christianity is no longer a Western religion, and the practices in the Southern Hemisphere are different.  They are also mostly not white, but black, brown or yellow.

Cox relates an interesting story.  A hero priest stood up in San Salvador after a fellow priest was killed by a death squad.  Father Romero started announcing the names of the victims and disappearing persons from the pulpit.  He knew he was a dire risk for his actions, but his faith led him to do the right thing.  He said, “If they kill me, I will live on in the life of the people.”  The death squad did murder him.

But, this brave priest lives on.  Cox writes, “Romero’s violent death also made him the saint and martyr of liberation theology, the most innovative and influential theological movement of the twentieth century; and also probably the most misunderstood.”  Cox goes on to explain, “Liberation theology is not, as its critics charge, a political movement that deploys religious language.  Rather, it is a profoundly religious movement with important political implications.”

Christianity is alive and well as a way of life.  But, Cox writes, “In those countries where the clerical leadership clings to the older model, the churches are empty.”  I believe we are in The Innovation Age—in technology, faith, government, education, life itself—and we will move forward in love into the Spiritual Age.  This will encompass the whole world, each of us and all of us.

Cox explains it is not fundamentalists who have grown so much, but that ninety percent of the amazing increases have been Pentecostals, who are quite spiritual, not literal.  In Africa, Asia and Latin America, they are following the way of Christ with “. . . outreach efforts to drug addicts in Hong Kong, sex workers in Bangkok and Calcutta, babies with AIDS in Africa, and dozens of other programs.”  Another key item that Cox reveals about Pentecostals, “They school people in the indispensable skills needed to make democracy work.”

Cox writes, “Pentecostals are known everywhere in Latin America for their straight-forwardness and honesty.  They are sought out for middle-level jobs because employers know they will stay sober, arrive for work on time, and not steal the petty cash.”  These statements speak highly of these people.  Cox also states that because of their advocacy for changes that some “. . . believe that Pentecostals could become the core of fundamental non-violent transformation.”  Thus, in my words, they may become pathfinders toward Heaven on Earth.

The final chapter of this interesting, informative and captivating book has the same title as the book itself, “The Future of Faith.”  Cox writes quite clearly, “Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying.”  That’s exactly what happened to me personally.  I was brought up a Presbyterian, with the Apostle’s Creed and other dogma.  I have put much of that behind me, though my faith in Almighty God and that little piece of God in me is stronger than ever.  I try to live my faith.

Cox thinks that this change from dogma to faith “. . . is taking place along with similar reformations in the other world religions.”  Cox states categorically, “A religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable.”  That’s certainly true with me personally.

Religions are more and more global, less dogmatic, and women are playing a greater role.  Cox writes, “Women are publishing commentaries on the Qur’an, leading synagogues, and directing Buddhist retreat centers.  There are now women pastors, priests, and bishops in Christian denominations.”

Cox concludes the whole book with the following comment, “All the signs suggest we are poised to enter a new Age of the Spirit and that the future will be a future of faith.”  I heartedly concur.  But first, we must navigate The Innovation Age, which is present right now.

The Business Solution to Poverty

The Business Solution to Poverty:

Designing Products and Services for Three Billion Customers

By

Paul Polak and Mal Walwick

Review

By

John E. Wade II

This is a book that cries out to those of all ages who want meaning and purpose in their life.  The goal is simple—bring out of poverty those 2.7 billion people who live on $2 or less per day.  As the authors graphically and specifically point out—this is far from easy.  But, think about it, what in life of great importance is easily accomplished?

The book itself points out some of its potential readers: entrepreneurs or investors seeking practical ways to profit from new enterprises in emerging markets, executives at major global corporations who want to address the potential customers at the bottom of the pyramid, development practitioners in government, nonprofits, the United Nations or other such organization, philanthropists and investors who want to challenge world poverty, and concerned world citizens everywhere.

I agree heartedly with one of the first statements by the authors, “…we believe that the greatest potential for reducing poverty in today’s global environment lies in the power of business.”  These 2.7 billion people “…constitute an enormous untapped market.”  Estimates are that these people have collective purchasing power of $5 trillion and that as they move out of poverty that figure will double and triple.  These poverty stricken people will be tomorrow’s middle class; and the authors state categorically, “Approaching the problem from the top down has almost never worked…”

I have written below a long review with lots of direct quotes because I have gotten permission to do so and because the book is so well written and simply worded that paraphrasing didn’t seem necessary or appropriate.  For those who want to get a summary of the book/book review, here are the book’s “Takeaways,” with a bit of commentary from me.

1.      “We believe there is one sure way, and only one way, to foster genuine social change on a large scale among the world’s poverty-stricken billions—by harnessing the power of business to the task.”  I fervently agree.

 

2.      “Conventional approaches to end poverty have largely failed, and as Einstein taught us, to continue believing they’ll succeed would be madness.”  I agree with their point that conventional approaches have largely failed.  But I must say I disagree with Albert Einstein. Being persistent in repeating the same approach to a human problem oftentimes is the only way to eventually succeed.

 

3.      “The most obvious, direct, and effective way to combat poverty is to help poor people earn more money.”  This may sound simplistic, but earning money can lead to sustainability whereas money through government or charity leads to low self-esteem and is very uncertain in the long term.

 

4.      “Although a handful of development initiatives have succeeded in improving the livelihoods of as many as 20 million poor people, none has yet reached significant scale.”  This is a major and overriding point in this book.

 

5.      “Poor people have to invest their own time and money to move out of poverty.”  Giveaways don’t work in the long term, for sure.

 

6.      “The Don’t Bother Trilogy: If you don’t understand the problem you’ve set out to solve from your customers’ perspective, if your product or service won’t dramatically increase their income, and if you can’t sell 100 million of them, don’t bother.”  Scale is critical for global success.

 

7.      “To meet the biggest challenge in development—scale—your enterprise must aim to transform the lives of 5 million customers during the first 5 years and 100 million during the first 10.”  I like the idea of having definite large-scale goals.

 

8.      “Zero-based design requires that you begin from scratch, without preconceptions or existing models to guide you, beginning with your goal in mind—a global enterprise that will attract at least 100 million customers and $10 billion in annual sales within a decade, operating in a way that’s calculated to transform the lives of all your customers.”

 

9.      “In designing products that will open up new markets among the world’s poor, ruthless affordability is the single most important objective.”  This is a huge challenge with a simple goal, but very hard to do.  However, since we are in the Innovation Age, I believe that we can do it.

 

10.  “Design for extreme affordability rarely comes easily.  Making anything both workable and cheap may take years of careful, incremental adaptation and revision.”

 

11.  “Designing a branding and marketing strategy and a last-mile supply chain that will put your product or service in the hands of millions of customers is three-quarters of the design challenge.”  This is a big problem in rural areas in particular.

 

12.  “To achieve true scale, pick a problem that challenges the lives of a billion people.”  This avoids a focus that is too small to defeat world poverty.

 

13.  “The product or service you plan to commercialize must be culturally independent.”  This allows scale country to country.  The economics of scale is one of the key factors that allowed Henry Ford to lower the price of automobiles to make them affordable for average people.  Volume of production will be a key to allowing this bottom pyramid to be able to afford the products envisioned by this book.

 

14.  “A brilliant rich-country executive—or even an upper-class executive from the Global South—may be totally out of his or her element working with poor people.”  To major corporations that I hope will heed this call, this may be a crucial consideration.

 

15.  “Manufacturing at scale is possible through distributed (decentralized) production facilities only if parts or modules are precisely machined to near-zero tolerances and available space and the sequence of steps on the assembly line has been optimized.”  I encourage you to read the whole book, including the case studies which I did not review, to comprehend this “Takeaway.”

 

16.  “One of the greatest impediments to achieving scale is the high cost of delivering products and services, not just the ‘last mile,’ but the last 500 feet.”  This is particularly true in rural areas where so many of those living on $2 or less per day reside.

 

17.  “Decentralization is one of the keys to building a large, transnational business capable of making headway against global poverty while turning a generous profit.”  Remember that profits are necessary to create sustainability and scale.

 

18.  “A business that practices stakeholder-centered management can maximize the chances that it will not just survive but flourish over the long term.”  I agree completely.

 

19.  “Striving for the lowest possible environmental impact is smart business.”  I believe climate change is one of the top problems of our planet and I’m certainly not the only one who has that view.

 

20.  “To thrive over the long term, a business must optimize its most valuable asset—its people and the intellectual property they produce—by ensuring that they are well paid, treated with respect, engaged in building their own careers, and given ample opportunities to find meaning and balance in their jobs.”  All the people in and out of our businesses globally should be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness.

***

Paul Polak, one of this book’s authors, wrote, Out of Poverty.  In it he explained how a market-driven nonprofit organization he founded in 1981, “…had lifted 17 million rural people into the middle class by rigorously applying practices they developed in the field in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Somalia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and new agricultural marketing practices—were revolutionary because they were market-driven and designed for and with $1-a-day farmers, and, not incidentally because they worked.”  There are approximately one billion people still living on $1 or less per day.  The authors spell it quite plainly, “…our primary concern in this book: a desire to eradicate poverty.”  I must explain that they are writing about dire poverty, $2 or less per day, not the comparative type of poverty which lingers in developed nations.

The authors explain, “…traditionally, capitalist approaches have exploited poor people and done irreparable harm to the environment.  But what we advocate is different: a way to achieve results on a global scale and solve your fundraising challenge without victimizing poor people or despoiling the environment.”  I’m not sure I would agree with the “exploit” statement, but I wholeheartedly agree with this book’s approach and premise of using business techniques to conquer world poverty.

The authors make a wonderful point—that this poverty involves “…a horrendous waste of human talent.  How many scientists, physicians, teachers, business innovators, gifted artists, and brilliant community leaders might emerge from the bottom billions if they were freed of the shackles of poverty?”  This poverty causes great environmental damage, which claims the most damage to the poor themselves as they “…over-farm already poor soils, cut down trees for fuel, use local fuels for cooking and heating, and compete for fast-shrinking supplies of water.  Lack of education, high infant mortality, and the need for more hands to increase family income lead to overpopulation, which adds a multiplier effect to the existing pressure that humanity exerts on our dwindling resource base…[with] practically all the projected increase in the world’s population between now and 2050…among people who live on $2 a day or less in the world’s poorest countries.”

There is a huge market potential with the emerging economies of the Global South making up approximately $12 trillion or eighteen percent of the globe’s total economic output.  According to the authors, “Global South”  transcends geography and “…refers to the generally less-developed, low-income countries typically classified as ‘developing nations,’ ‘underdeveloped countries,’ and ‘emerging nations—despite the fact that most of India, for example, lies north of the Equator, and Australia and New Zealand, which are by no means underdeveloped, lie far to the south of the line.”  Increasingly, global businesses are coming to realize that their opportunities in developed countries are limited and that it is a matter of corporate growth to seek to serve “…the New Frontier.”  I thoroughly agree with the authors as they wrote, “In business, life is change.  No well-managed corporation with global aspirations can afford to overlook new market opportunities.”

To understand the location of the world’s poorest people, the authors explain that most are concentrated in four areas across the globe: the Indian subcontinent (including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka)—900 million; Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines)—700 million; Sub-Saharan Africa (the dozens of nations that lie south of the Arabic-speaking countries on the Mediterranean coast)—roughly 500 million; and China—perhaps 300 million.  These four areas encompass about 2.4 billion with another 300 million spread around the world.

The authors sum up their premise, “The remedy we propose is to tap the mainstream capital markets to fund large-scale, global enterprises that address the basic needs of these 2.7 billion people: needs for clean water, renewable energy, affordable housing, accessible health care and education, and, above all, jobs.”  Their approach is founding businesses with a ten year goal of achieving a customer base of 100 million with revenues of $10 billion or more per year profitably enough “…to attract both indigenous and international commercial investors while minimizing its environmental impact to the greatest extent possible.”

***

The authors have a definite route that they call zero-based design.  The first element of this formula is to listen to the poor people, not through pity, but as customers.  Think like Steve Jobs and create markets.  Scale is an essential component of this plan.  That is, “Design for scale from the very beginning as a central focus of the enterprise, with a view toward reaching not just thousands or even millions of poor people but hundreds of millions.”

“Ruthless affordability” requires designing products and processes “…not just 30 to 50 percent less than First World prices but often an order of magnitude less, or 90 percent.”

Another crucial key is “private capital.”  It is important to reach generous margins of profit “…which will play a central role in expanding any venture—drawing from a pool of trillions of dollars in private capital rather than the millions typically available for philanthropic; or government-sponsored programs.”  This is a vital point and the key that’s missing in other approaches.

The next element is “last-mile distribution.”  Because so many of these potential customers are in isolated rural areas, it is not only critical to plan for the last mile, but often the “last 500 feet.”

The authors’ list “aspirational branding” as the next element.  This one surprised me.  We are used to sophisticated branding in the developed world.  But the authors explain this is perhaps even more important with those in the bottom of the pyramid.

The final element is “Jugaad innovation.”  The term “Jugaad” is rooted in Hindu and refers to a creative or innovative idea that provides a quick, alternative way of solving or fixing a problem.  This involves working with what you have, and might even be called ingenuity.  Extensive testing and development are crucial.

***

Both social goals and profitability are important, “For example, if an enterprise adopts the mission of selling crop insurance to large numbers of poor farmers at an attractive price, embeds that mission into its DNA, and never wavers from it, transformative social impact is inevitable.  The real challenge is earning attractive profits while doing it.”  The authors refer to stakeholder-centered management which means that the business addresses the needs of customers, employees, the local communities, the environment and the owners.

Part One

Only Business Can End Poverty

I agree quite fervently that only business can end poverty, not only in the Global South, which is the subject of this book, but that premise applies globally.  The authors describe examples of poor rural people; reading this is a must if you intend to get a serious idea of their life. There are a few general characteristics—“The poor just get by,” very much in a survival mode, “The poor receive little news.  Most of the information poor people receive comes by word of mouth from families, neighbors, and friends, and occasionally by radio, filtered through a village culture little influenced by national and global news.”

“The poor rarely travel.” They are isolated and are “…rarely aware of the new ideas and new opportunities that surface so frequently in today’s fast-changing world.”  “The poor have few choices.” The modern world is out of reach.  Instead “…one out of five of their infants die of preventable illness…They’re vulnerable to whatever else comes along in the village where they live, whether it’s inferior health care, substandard food, dangerous transportation, or illegal activities by the police or village officials.”

“The poor live with misfortune never far away.” Things from uncertain rainfall to children’s bouts of severe diarrhea surround the poor.  It’s not just because income is limited, but “…because what income they receive is irregular and unpredictable.”

The book provides some serious wisdom about this poverty in the chapter, “What is Poverty?”  “It’s shocking.  After the world’s rich nations invested more than $2.3 trillion over the past 60 years to end global poverty, billions of our fellow humans remain desperately poor…Top-down development programs administered by governments, international agencies, foundations, or big NGO, [Nonprofit Government Organizations] rarely work because they’re so vulnerable to government corruption, bureaucratic inaction, the distance between the planners and the supposed beneficiaries, and both distrust and a lack of interest on the part of people who live at the grass roots.”

“Giveaways breed dependence and self-doubt instead of change.  Philanthropy isn’t the answer, either.  Despite the severely limited funds available, they’re squandered on a great diversity of uncoordinated, small-scale efforts to address every problem under the sun.  We can’t donate our way out of poverty.  Even Bill Gates, with $70 billion at his disposal, has referred to his wealth as a drop in the bucket in our $70 trillion global economy.”

It is estimated that 925 million people go to bed hungry at night globally.  “Poor people as we have come to know them in the Global South typically experience un- or underemployment; encounter barriers to opportunity based on their gender, race, ethnicity, or religion; lack some or all of the basic human needs, including clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing, and shelter; and all too often, lose hope and lack even the most basic self-esteem.”  Surely we can do something about this.  The light at the end of the tunnel is, in my opinion, this book, and its application with determination and persistence.

***

The next chapter is, “What Can Government and Philanthropy Do?” Since World War II global GDP went from $4 trillion to $70 trillion in 2012.  The authors explain that the main improvements have been in public health and primary education.  And it is true that the percentage of the planet’s people living below subsistence level has decreased from about a half to thirty-eight percent.  But in absolute numbers of desperately poor people, there are more today (2.7 billion), than sixty years ago (2.6 billion).

United Nations aid (about $5 billion in 2012), non-military U.S. aid and other aid has had significant effect in particular places, but “their net effect on the incidence of global poverty is nil.”  The author’s Takeaway is “The most obvious, direct, and effective way to combat poverty is to enable poor people to earn more money.”  “Building infrastructure—the World Bank’s longtime favorite mission—allows top government officials to award construction contracts to their families, friends, and supporters, often with kickbacks in return.  Unfortunately, massive foreign aid is often diverted to armies and police forces to preserve the power and hidden bank accounts of ruling elites, to the disadvantage of the country’s poor people.”

There are more than five million citizen-based organizations globally which attempt to fight poverty.  While these efforts are earnest, admirable and effective, these organizations “…tend to be scattershot and are almost always on a small scale.  Scale is the overarching issue for the citizen sector.”  From time to time these groups develop effective ideas such as one which CARE introduced, a micro savings and loan program “…based on savings rather than debt and is managed by members of the community rather than professionals…These ‘village savings and loans’…now serve some six million people in 58 countries.”

Worldwide, microcredit is now considered “…one of the most favored methods undertaken to fight poverty.”  However, it appears that many in the “$70 billion microcredit industry, practice fraud, demand usurious interest rates (sometimes even greater than those of moneylenders), and in at least two celebrated cases have made huge fortunes for their investors at the expense of their clients.  In some countries, the results have been tragic: poor people overloaded with debt and nothing to show for it—and even, in one extreme case in India, a wave of dozens of suicides brought on by aggressive debt collectors.”  Even in Bangladesh—“home of the microcredit movement and the country where it has expanded the most”—the country has gone down on a UN measure of poverty from 136th in 1991 to 146th twenty years later.

But not all is bad news.  In health care, “The eradication of smallpox and the near elimination of polio, plus recent efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, have saved millions of lives and captured the public imagination.”  The authors laud the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in donating major sums of money to improve health care, “But so much more needs to be done!”

Education has been largely a success with literacy increasing significantly “…in recent decades in every region of the world.”  UNESCO estimates that world literacy went from about fifty-six percent in 1950 to eighty-two percent in 2000.  The authors explain, however, that schools in the Global South pay their teachers a pittance and have high teacher absenteeism.  These children do learn how to read and write in some fashion though.  The book encourages further efforts by governments in education, as there has been success previously, but states that better teacher salaries in the Global South would be helpful.

Other possible government advancements could be “…upgrading the legal system, expanding physical infrastructure, and improving business conditions.  In practice, making police and the courts accountable would be a big step forward.  Building more all-weather roads would help a lot, too.  And the thickets of often obscure laws and regulations that make establishing a business a months-long nightmare in many countries should be streamlined.”  Continuing, “in countries where they’re permitted (or can function under wraps where they’re not), citizen watchdog organizations can make a big difference by publicizing corruption, systematic uses of violence to stifle dissent, and other sins of government.  International organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, and Amnesty International are excellent examples on the global scale.”

***

The chapter, “Why Business is Best Equipped to Fight Global Poverty,” starts with a statement that I heartedly endorse, “It’s not just that traditional methods have failed.  Businesses possess unique characteristics that are ideally suited to the task of innovating new approaches—and taking them to scale.”  The authors explain—and I certainly agree with them—that private businesses encompass three “…overarching and undeniable advantages in addressing the challenge of poverty:

·         Profitable businesses attract substantial capital.

 

·         Successful businesses hire lots of people.

 

·         Successful businesses are capable of reaching scale.”

The authors write—and again I fervently agree with them—that there are other factors that enhance the economic power of business as follows:

·         “Businesses, especially well-established companies, often can marshal all the necessary specialized expertise in design, financial management, marketing, and other fields that are usually lacking or inadequate in either the public sector or the citizen sector.

 

·         Private businesses tend to be less susceptible to political pressure than governments, multilateral institutions, and most citizen-sector organizations—especially in countries with weak governments.

 

·         Prosperous enterprises stimulate economic growth in the communities where they do business.”

The World Bank estimate of global GDP for 2013 is $75 trillion.  Approximately $1 trillion more is invested in the Global South as investors are “…eager to find opportunities for lucrative new investments there.”  However, there are dire challenges “…such as loss of hope, caste or class barriers, alcoholism, drug addiction, adherence to self-defeating religious beliefs, the subjugation of women, the lasting effects of childhood malnutrition, and severe physical or mental limitations—not to mention usurious moneylenders and landlords or corrupt and oppressive governments.”  The authors spell it out, “While improved education, health, political power, infrastructure, and nutrition all play important roles, we have no doubt that improved livelihood provides the most direct path to the end of poverty.”  I fervently agree with this summation.

The authors declare that, “Once you start the process of moving families out of poverty, their neighbors take notice and begin, quickly or slowly, to imitate them.”  The authors have decades of experience in the Global South and believe that “…the problems of poverty can be addressed on a large scale only through a new generation of multinational companies built to provide products and services expressly designed to meet the needs of the poor.”  Each such company will be able to do the following:

·         Transform the livelihoods of 100 million $2-a-day customers within 10 years

 

·         Generate annual revenues of at least $10 billion

 

·         Earn sufficient profits to attract investment by international commercial finance

Part Two

Zero-Based Design and the Bottom Billions

Recommendations given to launch a business that can transform the lives of 100 million poor people include the following:

·         “Don’t take a course.

 

·         Don’t get a MBA.

 

·         Don’t read a book (except this one, of course.)”

 

First go to the people you want to help and “listen.”  “The simple truth is you can’t talk people out of poverty, and donating stuff to them usually won’t make a lasting difference either.”  I agree.  The “Takeaway” is, “Poor people have to invest their own time and money to move out of poverty.”

Following is the trilogy of “Don’t Bother”:

·         “If you haven’t talked to at least 100 customers in some depth before you start, don’t bother.”

 

·         “If your product or service won’t earn or save three times the customer’s investment in the first year, don’t bother.”

 

·         “If you can’t sell 100 million of your product or service, don’t bother.”

Another “Takeaway” was “To meet the biggest challenge in development—scale—your enterprise must aim to transform the lives of 5 million customers within 5 years and 100 million during the first 10.”  It is important to design for a generous profit, and one of the best ways to measure profit is by “free cash flow (the amount of money your business has available after paying for personnel, overhead, interest on loans, and any necessary investments in developing new products, purchasing new assets, or opening new markets).”  The business must pursue “ruthless affordability” for the poor people who require dramatically inexpensive materials, operations and overhead.  Whether the customers are rural or urban, it is critical to arrive at “…last-mile (more accurately, last 500 feet) distribution.”  Branding is necessary.

The book makes an optimistic statement worth repeating, and one which I concur, “…globalization has increased intercultural awareness, mobile phones have gone global with astonishing speed, concern has grown about global poverty, corporations are adopting socially responsible practices and policies (or pretending to do so), and young people leaving colleges and graduate schools have been demanding jobs that offer the opportunity for meaningful work.”  As for myself, I can’t be classified as a young person anymore, but I have come to the definite conclusion that my calling is calling toward Heaven on Earth.  This book review and my recommendation of the book itself are part of this ultimate quest.

One of three examples of ruthless design were outcomes of Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.  It is “…the Fertiloo, an affordable compost latrine that provides rural families with access to improved sanitation while offering a safe and easy way to contain their human waste and use it as fertilizer for crops.  Designed to cost less than $100, the Fertiloo team received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is refining its design in the field in Haiti in collaboration with a local partner.”

There is a statement in the book that should be a red flag to major global corporations, “There’s already considerable evidence that major corporations will remain competitive in the global marketplace only by creating vibrant new markets serving $2-a-day customers at scale in addition to serving more affluent customers.”  Another such bold comment is, “The corporations of the future will need to serve the bottom-of-the-pyramid customers as well as the rich to stay in business.”

According to the book, “…there are a billion people who never connect to electricity…Another billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water.”  They believe there are three reasons that the needs of the bottom pyramid are not being met by existing businesses:

·         “They don’t see the profit in it.

 

·         They don’t have a clue how to design the radically affordable products and services that poor people need.

 

·         They don’t know how to design and operate profitable last-mile supply chains.”

As an example of how corporations can move in the direction of solving these problems and addressing the opportunities, the authors point to Walmart and how they have prospered at higher levels of wealth with small margins and large volume.  Incidentally, just a day ago I read an Investor’s Business Dailyarticle (December 24, 2013) entitled, “Africa’s Fast Growth Attracts Investment.”  One of the interesting investments highlighted in that article was when “…Wal-Mart became one of the first big U.S investors when it paid $2.4 billion in 2011 to buy South African retailer Massmart.”  The book states that Wal-Mart and others are not yet reaching that bottom pyramid.  But I think they will; and they have to start by entering these Global South countries.

 

***

 

In “The Ruthless Pursuit of Affordability,” the authors sum up a lot, “Products that are attractive to poor customers must indeed be affordable, but they also need to work well and look good.  Poor customers are, if anything, more aspirational than the rich.  And their demands and need for value are greater, too.  When money is scarce, it’s got to be used as efficiently as possible.”  An example of such a product is the treadle pump, “…widely regarded in development circles as one of the most successful income-generating innovations introduced to poor farmers around the world.”  It “…is operated by an individual using StairMaster-like pedals to draw water from as deep as 20 to 25 feet underground or from lakes or streams….It’s estimated that a total of three million pumps have been put to work on small plots of land, primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  These three million treadle pumps are now generating new net income of more than $300 million per year for one-acre farmers who live on less than a $1 a day—not a trivial sum to any but the very largest businesses on Earth.”

Step by step the authors explain how to go about designing such products; I encourage anyone with a practical interest to explore this chapter completely, as well as the rest of the book.  The path to prosperity in Heaven on Earth depends on such actions.

The chapter, “Zero-Based Design in Practice: Low-Cost Drip Irrigation” is a case study of how drip irrigation for small acreage was developed.  I will not retell the case study—I urge you to read the entire book; but the chapter has this “Takeaway,” “Design for extreme affordability rarely comes easily.  Making anything both workable and cheap may take years of careful, incremental adaptation and revision.  But it can be quite rewarding.  During the past two decades, the area under drip irrigation and other micro-irrigation methods has risen at least six-fold globally, from 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) to more than 25 million.  Gains in China and India have been the most dramatic.”

The “Design for the Market” chapter explains how hard it is to solve the technical problems and has this “Takeaway,” “Designing a branding and marketing strategy and a last-mile supply chain that will put your product or service in the hands of millions of customers is three-quarters of the design challenge.”  This chapter explains how the treadle pump was marketed successfully.  I encourage all to read the whole of it.  “Every key player in the distribution chain has to make an attractive profit…[Paul Polak, co-author] doesn’t work with any technologies unless the customer can get three times his money back in the first year by using the technology.”

The “Zero-Based Design in Practice: A Cautionary Tale” chapter gives a case study of a well-intentioned attempt of a MIT-conceived solution to the use of wood charcoal in places like Haiti.  Such use “…results in devastating soil erosion—a major contributor to the hundreds of lives lost every year due to mudslides and flooding—and can also lead to…degradation of aquatic life along the coasts of Haiti…[and]causes respiratory problems in children and increases the risk of cancer.”  I will leave this case study to you to decipher, only to say that “The fatal flaw in the project was that no one on the field team understood marketing.”  The author gives a final assessment of what might have been done and I agree with them that succeeding in these ventures requires, “…a whole lot of work.”  But if you do it right—over time—you can become a pathfinder toward Heaven on Earth.

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew

The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World

Interviews and Selections by Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill, with Ali Wyne

Review by John E. Wade II

 

 

What is so amazing about this book is the breadth and depth of this extremely successful and wise leader of the Singapore, during the time that it was a state within the British Commonwealth through its full independence and the formation of the Republic of Singapore.  Lee was the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990 and is considered the founding father of modern Singapore.  When Lee assumed office, per capita income was about $400 per year and it is now more than $50,000.

Leaders including Richard Nixon, Barrack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and a host of others have recognized Lee’s wisdom.

The book answered the question, “Who is Lee Kuan Yew?”  Lee is described as “a strategist’s strategist, a leader’s leader and a mentor’s mentor.”  In international affairs, no individual has been more eagerly sought out, more regularly consulted, and more carefully listened to by a generation of American, Chinese, and other world leaders than “the sage of Singapore.”

He points out that China intends to be “. . . the greatest power in the world.”  But he has the same view as I—this scenario need not lead to any military conflict, only economic competition.  He also thinks as I do that globalization is a good thing and will uphold world peace.

He makes a very good point that China can penalize any country simply by not allowing access to its market of 1.3 billion people.  But it is in China’s interest to have stability, concentrating on educating its young people, “. . . . selecting the brightest for science and technology, followed by economics, business management, and the English language.”

Lee explains that the United States should have established a free trade zone thirty years ago in Southeast Asia, prior to China’s rise.  One very important observation is that Chinese is a very difficult language, one that can be learned conversationally in a few years but very difficult to read.  Thus, China will have difficulty recruiting talent unless it does what Singapore did—make English the primary language.

Lee approves of the current China government.  However, he believes that in a couple of decades down the road, with cell phones, Internet and satellite television resulting in a much more urbanized, well-informed population, the present system won’t work.  I agree.

Some of China’s problems are the lack of the rule of law, cultural habits inhibiting creativity, conformity and their language with epigrams and 4,000 years of texts.  Lee said he once advised a Chinese leader to make English the first language, to no avail.

Lee thinks China can keep growing at ten to twelve percent per year due to the low (GDP – Gross Domestic Product) base for 1.3 billion people.  He also thinks a stable evolution toward a parliamentary democracy is possible.

Lee does not believe the United States will become a second class power, but he is well aware—as am I—of our debts and deficits.  He considers our language as one of our great strengths, since it is used by “. . . the leaders in science, technology, invention, business, education, diplomacy, and those who rise to the top of their own societies around the world.”

Even though America is experiencing difficult economic times, he believes our creativity, resilience, and innovative spirit will lead to solutions.  Lee believes America will remain the number one powerfor the next few decades partially because we are able to recruit English-speaking talent from around the world.

He says we have a “can-do” attitude with entrepreneurs and investors who “. . . see risk and failure as natural and necessary for success.”  He calls us a frontier society.    A negative point that Lee makes is that our democracy is such that to win re-elections, politicians have to deliver more and more—leaving the problems of debt to future generations.  I consider this to be a major problem for America, Europe and Japan, as well as elsewhere.  Lee considers it crucial to improve our school systems in order to compete globally.

Lee contends that it is a country’s discipline rather than its democracy that helps its people to succeed.  He thinks after World War II, we began putting too much faith in government.  He abhors “. . . guns, drugs, violent crime, vagrancy, unbecoming behavior in public; in sum – the breakdown of civil society.”  I agree that we have serious problems in these areas.  I think a big part of the solution to our problems will have to be education that focuses on values and wisdom.  That would include teaching in homes, places of worship and schools.  Wisdom encompasses the positive values such as empathy, truth, honesty, justice, cooperation, peace, compassion, universal well-being, creativity and comprehensive knowledge—from “The Centrality of Wisdom” in How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth.  Also necessary is the realization that the “war on drugs” just hasn’t worked.  For more insight on this topic, see Walter Wink’s essay, “Getting off Drugs:  The Harm Reduction Option” in the book I published, How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth.

Lee states, “America’s debt is what worries me most, because it will absolutely strike at the heart of America’s global leadership.”  I certainly agree.

In terms of China and the United States, he expects stability because cooperation and healthy competition is desirable for both countries.  “The danger of a military conflict between China and the U. S. is low.”  I agree, but China must be treated with the respect its size and importance dictates.  Lee expects this approach, too.

When I read a book, I mark it up and write comments.  This particular book had more “I agree” notations that I can recall in any otherbook.

Lee says that American influence is needed in Asia to balance China, yet we need to become more dynamic and less debt-ridden for that to occur.  Lee explains that the supremacy of the individual was not the reason for America’s success; rather “. . . .because of a certain geo-political good fortune, an abundance of resources and immigrant energy, a generous flow of capital and technology from Europe, and two wide oceans that have conflicts of the world away from American shores.”  This does seem to conflict somewhat from Lee’s glowing praise of America’s entrepreneurial, creative and innovative record.

Lee states, “America’s greatest long-term influence on China comes from playing host to thousands of students who come from China each year; some of the ablest Chinese scholars and scientists.  They will be the most powerful agents for change in China.”  Lee thinks it will be good for China to study how to minimize the negative effects of its growth.

Concerning India, Lee attributes its lack of greater progress to “. . . stifling bureaucracy” and corruption.  He’s quite blunt in saying “India is a nation of unfulfilled greatness.  Its potential has lain fallow, underused.”

Lee points to India’s lack of a common language, poor infrastructure and large deficits—particularly at the state level.  He says it’s really like “. . . 32 separate nations that happen to be arrayed along the British rail line.”  The caste system stifles meritocracy.

India does have certain advantages, such as the rule of law.  “India’s private sector is superior to China’s.”  It has a stronger banking system and capital markets that are more robust and transparent.  India’s population continues to increase, and Lee believes that this could be a real engine for growth if India meets the huge challenge of educating its young people.

One of India’s greatest opportunities is in manufacturing, as it is Lee’s superb analysis that no nation has progressed to become a major economy without going through an industrial revolution of manufacturing.  But India lacks roads, ports, railways, modern airports and has a burdensome red tape and endless bureaucracies.  Also, India should allow direct investment from outside their country.

Lee explains that China’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is three and a half times India’s GDP.  But India is a big nation of one billion people and “. . . India has some very able people at the top.”  India has a stronger private sector than China as well as a long-term advantage because of its democracy.

Lee makes a keen observation that the divide is no longer between communist and democratic nations, nor between East and West.  Muslim terrorists face the United States, Israel and their supporters while there is war between militant Islam and non-militant modernist Islam.  “Al Qaeda-style terrorism is new and unique because it is global.”  Lee believes that unfortunately “(t)his surge in Islamist terrorism will take years to tamp down.”  He says radical Islam without oil is a problem, but oil “plus” Islamism becomes a severe mix.  And he states Islamism plus oil plus weapons of mass destruction will “. . . . significantly alter the geopolitical balance.”  Incidentally, President Obama recently made a major foreign policy speech without even mentioning weapons of mass destruction.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of Islamic terrorism.”  It’s the illusion that radical Islam funded by Saudi Arabia over the last thirty or so years “ . . . can drive Americans out of the Middle East, destroy America, and frighten Europe; and thereby keep their Muslim societies pure and pious, as in the seventh century.”  I agree that they are doomed to failure because their aggression, including suicide bombings, is born of hate, rather than love, and therefore not from Almighty God—or Allah, the same God of us all.

Lee makes a very good point:  “In Muslim countries, it is a matter of time before the moderate Muslims have to put down the extremists, or they will end up with Taliban governments—in charge of them as in Afghanistan.”  He states that, “(o)nly Muslims can win this struggle.”  I agree with Lee that this terrorist ideology is based on “. . . a perverted interpretation of Islam.”

In terms of a solution, Lee states that, “(t)o make the long-term burden sustainable, the U.S. needs a broad alliance, to spread the load, to reduce excessive burdens on itself.”  This would include “. . . Europe, Russia, China, India, and all non-Muslim government . . . along with many moderate Muslims.”  It is critical “. . . to reassure and persuade moderate Muslims . . . that they are not going to lose, that they have the weight, the resources of the world behind them.  They must have the courage to go into the mosques and madrassas and switch off the radicals.”

In summing up how other third world leaders can achieve growth like Singapore, Lee stresses that the keys are social order, education, peace with their neighbors and the investment of future worth through the rule of law.   “A people’s standard of living depends on a number of basic factors:  first, the resources it has in relation to its population . . .; second, its level of technological competence and standards of industrial development; third, its educational and training standards; and fourth, the culture, the discipline, and drive in the workforce.”

He makes the point that “(d)emography, not democracy, will be the most critical factor for security and growth in the 21st century . . .”   I actually think both will be critical.  He and I do agree that, “(t)he quality of a nation’s manpower resources is the single most important factor determining national competitiveness.  It is a people’s innovativeness, entrepreneurship, team work and work ethic that give them that sharp keen edge in competitiveness.”  This supports my belief that we are now in The Innovation Age.

He writes, “The key to innovation and technology is people.  We must develop and nurture our talent so that innovation and creativity will be integral to education and training . . . from kindergarten to university, and on to lifelong learning.”  I agree completely.  This applies not only to Singapore, but to the entire world.

Lee admires Israel as a nation that has a population of four million Jews whose talents are ten times greater.  He compares Israel to Singapore, since both are bound by much larger nations and he believes both populations are exceptionally gifted.

Another comment I like is, “Old-fashioned notions that managers are out to exploit workers are irrelevant in today’s industrial climate.”  He also says “. . . management views that trade unions are troublemakers. . .” is outdated.  Instead, Lee says those stereotypes should be discarded “. . . if we are to build up relationships and cooperation between management, unionists, and workers.”

In speaking of Singapore, Lee says “. . . we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety, and loyalty in the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”  I fully agree with the following two comments:  “Unlike workers in the repetitive, machine-based age, tomorrow’s workers must depend more on their own knowledge and skills . . . They must be disciplined enough to think on their own and seek to excel without someone breathing down their neck.”  Those are wise and insightful observations by the sage of Singapore:  Take heed, world.

He is a firm believer that the English language will be an important basic skill in the 21st century.  He states that, “(i)f one is to succeed, one will need a mastery of English, because it is the language of business, science, diplomacy and academia.”

There are four big problems according to Lee—and me, too:

1.      Eurozone debt that threatens the whole world;

2.      North Korea’s adventuresome, nuclear-armed dictator,

3.      Japan’s stagnation, debt and aging population and its policy of not allowing migrants; and

4.      The danger of Iran developing a nuclear bomb and its likely spread throughout the Middle East (and I believe, its use by radical Islamic).

Russia has problems with a declining population apparently due to alcoholism, pessimism, and the inability to develop an economy independent of its energy and natural resources.

He says derivatives ought to be regulated, and I agree.  We already have way too many unwise, unnecessary and complex regulations, laws and tax rules that greatly hamper our economy and job creation.  However, complex derivatives have allowed rouge traders to wreak havoc because management really doesn’t understand them.  Few people comprehend these financial vehicles and yet huge profits and losses have happened.  Risks to the public are too great to allow these intricate secondary devices.

Lee states that the United States’ model of free markets is no longer considered ideal.  And while Lee states that China thinks it has a better system, I just read a New York Times article, dated May 25, 2013, that China’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang said that “. . . the central government would reduce the state’s role in economic matters in the hope of unleashing the creative energies. . .” of China.

Lee says, “The ultimate threat to human survival is global warming and climate change.”  He believes what will affect the coming years is technological change.  He says, “The present world is as full of promise as of perils.”  There is no question that “the rapid technological advances of the past few years have greatly accelerated globalization.”  He says, “Those countries that keep out advances of technology because of their undesirable by-products will be losers.”  I agree.  And I also agree with Lee that people should “. . . never lose their core values.”

I concur with Lee’s insight that “(h)uman talent is at present the most scarce and valuable resource for creating wealth in the knowledge economy. . .”  I call the present the “Innovation Age” instead; but our thinking is quite alike on the importance of human talent.

He explains that there are no precedents on how to keep the peace, stability and cooperation of a world with 160 countries.  Lee and I concur: “Globalism is the only answer that is fair, acceptable, and will uphold world peace.”

Lee says, “In their fundamentals, neither entrepreneurship nor business leadership has changed.  What has changed, and changed beyond recognition, is technology.”  I concur.  Lee states, “The gravest challenge will be to protect the values we cherish . . .”  That is so very important around the world, the positive wisdom-associated values of empathy, truth, honesty, justice, cooperation, peace, compassion, universal well-being, creativity and comprehensive values (taken from Copthorne Macdonald’s essay, “Centrality of Wisdom” in the book, How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth.)

Regarding the future of democracy, Lee has some definite convictions.  “The business of government is to . . . make firm decisions so that there can be certainty and stability in the affairs of the people.”  That’s basic and quite wise.  Lee also states, “From each according to his or her ability.  To each according to his or her worth and contribution to society.”  I agree, generally; but, I believe the allocation of capital through savings and investments is a contribution to society.  Of course, I also agree with Mahatma Gandhi’s admonition against wealth without work.  Passing wealth from one generation to another can be a motivating factor to the creator of the wealth; and, who knows when someone in a future generation might do amazing things with his or her inheritance.  Years ago many scientific advances came about by people of wealth having the time and resources to wonder about all sorts of things.

Lee points his finger at us: “Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society believing that all problems are solvable by good government.”  He also states, “In the East, we start with self-reliance.  In the West today, it is the opposite.”  I think the 2012 Presidential election showed there is a lot of truth in those statements.  He also says “. . . when the people who put their crosses in the ballot boxes are not illiterate but semi-literate, which is worse [this] is a government which is already weakened before it starts to govern.”  Throughout the United States and the world, education is the key to developing a world full of robust, stable, prosperous democracies –a world of permanent peace.  It’s not an easy road, but the hard way is sometimes the best way.

Lee is frank in his assessment of communism.  “Communism has failed.  The welfare state of Western democracies has also failed.”  I certainly agree about Communism; but, I sincerely think Western democracies—including our own—can become stronger with the superb kind of leadership of people such as Prime Minister Lee, President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In the chapter, “How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks,” the point is made that “(h)uman beings are not born equal.  They are highly competitive.  Systems like Soviet and Chinese communism have failed, because they tried to equalize benefits.  Then nobody works hard enough, but everyone wants to get as much as, if not more than, the other person.”  I agree with Lee, though I believe we are all equal before God.

Lee and I certainly concur on this wonderful quote:  “For at 60, more than at 50, comes the realization of the transient nature of all earthly glories and successes, and the ephemeral quality of sensory joys and pleasures, when compared to intellectual, moral, or spiritual satisfactions. . .”  Lee and I certainly concur that, “(y)oung people learn best from personal experience.”  In fact, I think in many ways the theory of learning by doing applies to all ages.

Lee explains that he is a pragmatist not guided by philosophies or theory, but by results.  His country’s rise from an average net income of $400 when Lee took over to over $50,000 currently demonstrates that he got those results.

We agree, “. . . not to try to impress by big words.  Impress by the clarity of your ideas.”  The chief editor at Pelican Publishing Company told me the same thing a few years ago in speaking of an author that had submitted a manuscript with a lot of flowery words.

Lee points out a truth not often heard: “No society has existed in history where all people were equal and obtained equal rewards.”  He explains, “. . . we needed to create the wealth before we can share it.  And to create wealth, high motivation and incentives are crucial to drive a people to achieve, to take risks for profit, or there is nothing to share.”

Lee explains some of the basics of a vigorous society, “. . . honesty and integrity, multi-racism, equality of opportunities, meritocracy, fairness in rewards in accordance with one’s contribution to society, avoidance of the buffet syndrome where, for a fixed price, you can take or eat as much as you want.  That is why welfare and subsidies destroy the motivation to perform and succeed.”  It’s obvious that Lee expects all able people to contribute to their nation just as President Kennedy once remarked quite famously.

In terms of leaders, Lee calls three “helicopter qualities” the most important: “Powers of analysis; logical grasp of facts; concentration on the basic points, extracting the principles.”  Lee states “. . . you must be able to soar above reality and say, ‘This is also possible’—a sense of imagination.”

In conclusion, the authors describe Lee Kuan Yew as “. . . this quiet, articulate, supremely confident, yet remarkable modest man from whom we have learned so much.”  I’ve been to Singapore recently have seen firsthand the results of Lee’s efforts.  He has proven himself a successful leader.

What follows is a summary of some of the important points in this book:

·         China intends to be the greatest power in the world.

·         If states or enterprises do not take heed, they will be denied the market of 1.3 billion Chinese citizens.

·         China’s progress cannot be assumed to be certain at any particular time because there are obstacles: the lack of the rule of law, a huge country with “. . . little emperors” throughout, cultural habits that inhibit innovation, honoring conformity and a very difficult language, especially written.

·         China is not going to become a liberal democracy.  I think over time Lee will be proved wrong about this, to which he hinted earlier in the book.

·         The United States has difficulties with its debt and deficit; but, Lee does not think the United States will obtain a second-rate status.

·         Presidents have promised too much to get elected and the debts and deficits have been carried forward from one administration to another.  I consider this to be a very serious issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

·         The United States should stay out of the internal affairs of China.

·         The United States must remain focused on issues relating to Asia.

·         India has a burdensome bureaucracy, a decentralized and difficult government, a caste system that inhibits opportunity for all and is “. . . a nation of unfulfilled greatness.  Its potential has lain fallow, underused.”

·         A big problem is radical Islam, which is made worse with oil and even worse than that with weapons of mass destruction.

·         Russia suffers from a declining population apparently due to alcoholism,   pessimism, lowering fertility rate, and shorter life expectancy.

·         There are no historical guidelines on how to keep the peace among 160 nations in the world with rampant technological change.

·         Globalism is essential and is the only way to have a fair, peaceful world.

·         The West believes too much in the importance of government.  In the East, self-reliance, not undue government assistance, is the way to prosperity.

·         People are not equal in their energy, drive, perseverance and basic ability.  And while I agree with this conclusion, I do believe we are all of equal value before Almighty God and we are all made by God with a mind, body and what I termed a “little piece of God.”

·         Lee wants to be remembered as “. . . determined, consistent, and persistent.”  He seeks results, not to be considered a “statesman.”

This wonderful book is certainly filled with awesome insights from the sage of Singapore.  I’ve now gone through the book four times—reading, making notations, analyzing, digesting—and have written this review so that others will be motivated to do the same.   I highly recommend this work to everyone so that you might understand Lee’s worldview, one that is simple, yet quite sophisticated.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande, Published by the Penguin Group (2014)

Reviewed by John E. Wade II

 

I highly recommend this practical, informative, and no-holes-barred book to everyone, from middle age to those who are grappling with the potential ending stages, which may include everything from life support systems to assisted living to nursing homes.  Many can also be enlightened by Dr. Gawande’s book, as it is wonderful for thoughtful people who seek to understand life.  Dr. Gawande is the author of three best-selling books and a doctor; his parents were both also doctors.

Gawande tells the touching stories of his own patients as well as his father, as he progressed and eventually died.  Tears came to my eyes at the passing of Gawande’s father. Personal stories are woven around surprising facts, such as the one about his medical school:  “Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying.  Yet, death, of course, is not a failure.  Death is normal.”

Gawande spoke of his Indian grandfather, whom his family held in high regard, as was the custom. “He emphasized education, hard work, frugality, earning your own way, staying true to your word, and holding others strictly accountable for doing the same.” By contrast, now people tend to understate their age to census takers while in prior censuses people overstated it.

With all of our current-day problems, Gawande states, “There arguably is no better time in history to be old.”  He makes an interesting statement, “The veneration of the elders may be gone, but not because it has been replaced by veneration of youth.  It’s been replaced by veneration of the independent self.”

Life used to be short and medicine of little help.  “Over the years, the advent of sanitation and other public health measures sharply replaced the likelihood of death from infections, disease, especially in early childhood; and clinical advances dramatically reduced the mortality of childbirth and traumatic injuries.”

As time went on, “The progress of medicine and public health has been an incredible boom—people get to live longer, healthier and more productive lives than ever before.”

But death is still there.  Gawande states, “. . . for most of our hundred-thousand year existence—all but the past couple of hundred years—the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less . . .”  So, today, with our average life span in much of the world climbing past eighty years, “we are already oddities living well beyond our appointed time.”

But there is danger to a healthy, old life.  The number of geriatricians in the United States has actually fallen by twenty-five percent between 1996 and 2010.  Incomes of adult primary care physicians and geriatrics are among the lowest in medicine.  I sincerely respect physicians and healthcare workers of all types.  They are noble, but they must take care of themselves, their families, and others, too.  And the elderly population is growing swiftly.

One sad fact is that, “Ultimately the average American spends a year or more of old age disabled and living in a nursing home (at more than five times the yearly cost of independent living). . . “ Planning for old age is something we don’t like to ponder.  If it could only be like Felix and Bella.  “At night they lay in bed in each other’s arms, awake and nestling for a while, before finally drifting off to sleep.  Those moments, Felix said, remained among their most cherished.  He felt they knew each other, and loved each other, more than at any time of their nearly seventy years together.” When Bella died, Felix “. . . had one great solace, however:  that she hadn’t suffered, that she’d got to spend her last few weeks in peace at home in the warmth of their long love, instead of up on a nursing floor, a lost and disoriented patient.”

Another patient in a nursing home has a drastically different experience:  “She felt incarcerated, like she was in prison for being old.”

In this review, generally, I am not going to describe the history of the care of the aged such as nursing homes, assisted living advances, and such.  The details in the book itself do a wonderful job at that.

I really enjoyed Carstensen’s reflections and analysis of growing old as stated by Gawande.  “Far from growing unhappier, people reported more positive emotions as they aged.  They became less prone to anxiety, depression and anger.  Living is a skill . . . The calm and wisdom of old age is achieved over time.”

Gawande reflected that how we spend our time may have a lot to do with how much time we expect to have left.  If you’re young and healthy, you’ll surmise that you will live forever.  “But as your time horizons contract—when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain—your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.” “It’s perspective, not age, that matters most.”  People, in general, live in a manner that fits their own life’s timeframe.

Gawande describes the “. . . Three Plagues of nursing home existence:  boredom, loneliness and helplessness.”  I fully agree with his later statement that, “We all seek a cause beyond ourselves.”  He writes, “The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as something greater; a family, a community, a society.”

In the United States, twenty-five percent of all Medicare spending is for the five percent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months that is of little apparent benefit. The question, therefore, is not how we can afford this system’s expense.  It is how we can build a healthcare system that will actually help people achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.

Gawande cited a study by sociologist Nicholas Christakis.  In it he asked almost 500 doctors of terminally ill patients to estimate how long they thought their patient would live.  Just seventeen percent underestimated it.  The average estimate was 53 percent too high.

In a Coping with Cancer study, two-thirds of terminally ill patients stated they had no discussions with their doctors about end of life care.  Most of those that did elected hospice care.  “They suffered less, were physically more capable and were better able, for a longer period of time, to interact with others.  In addition, six months after these patients died, their family members were markedly less likely to experience persistent major depression.”

One chapter ended with a touching scene when a father whispered into his daughter’s ear, “It’s okay to let go.”  Gawande stated, later that morning, “she just stopped.”

Gawande put it beautifully in these words.  “Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life ‘till the very end.”

This is a finely crafted and useful book, long overdue.  I tried to decide at what age a person should be to read this book, partly because it pertains somewhat to disabled people as well as the elderly and all who care for therm.  So, use your own judgment and perhaps read the book because it applies to you, or very well may soon.

Spiritually, I believe that for God, all things are possible.  I believe in an eternal life in heaven, full of love.  I do not see death vanishing anytime soon, but I do believe that God loves us with an enduring, steadfast love and that God has predetermined Heaven on Earth with humankind’s help and cooperation, someday, somehow.

You can find this book by contacting your local bookstore, and on Amazon (http://amzn.to/1Bg1J9V), Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/1zAysk5), and many other online sources.

Election 2016 Is on My Mind!

One of the worst things that can plague a democracy is corruption and distrust toward its leader.  That’s exactly what we would have if Secretary Clinton becomes the next president. It just doesn’t make sense to elect a person for president who can’t be trusted from the very beginning.

We need an honest, capable, and wise leader.  I fully understand that Secretary Clinton is intelligent and very ambitious, but in my assessments, she is not wise, capable, and honest. The fact is that if Secretary Clinton is elected, she would be following the sad, incompetent, dishonest, and unwise presidency of President Obama and his democratic supporters.

We direly need Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to solve the many difficult problems in Washington, the thing (solving problems) that he calls, “Fun.”  I don’t underestimate the problem, but he has already faced enormous obstructions, as he wrote about in his book, Unintimidated, which I have reviewed on this site.

It is not too early to learn as much as possible about these and other likely candidates. Election 2016 can’t come soon enough!

The Time is NOW to Stop Radical Muslims

The barbaric acts of the radical Muslims must be stopped.  Militarily they can not be allowed to go on.  But part of the long-term puzzle is a worldwide alliance of all major non-Muslim nations.  The Sage of Singapore recommended that approach.  This alliance would back the moderate Muslims.  But another piece of the puzzle is the reform of Islam.  The barbarianism must be removed as it does not come from God or Allah.

Now is the time for a Muslim reformation.  The world is too small to allow another genocide, such as those conducted by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others, to spread. We must move to nonviolence and eventually worldwide peace.

Imagine a World without Death

I recently read  a book about the whole process and history leading up to and including death.  I’ve written that as we move from The Innovation Age to The Spiritual Age, somehow, someway, God will eliminate death.  This book has not changed my mind.  But I will readily write that I don’t have God’s timeline.  Also, enormous difficulties are in our path:

·         Radical Muslims

·         Unsafe debt and entitlements

·         Nuclear warfare and use

·         Lack of water and unsafe water

·         Climate change

These obstacles stand out from others, yet there are many more.

For now, death awaits us, unless we improve ourselves through acquiring wisdom, shunning negative values, conquering internalized stigma and making stupendous advances in peace and security; freedom, democracies, prosperity, gender harmony, racial harmony, spiritual harmony, ecological harmony and health as well as moral purpose and meaning.

Each of us has our spiritual journey.  Sadly, many never take the first step.  Loving spiritual faiths can and do help us on our trek.

The sooner and the more ardent we are about our spiritual journey, the sooner we all will move through this Innovation Age to The Spiritual Age – Heaven on Earth.

The road ahead is uncertain as to its ups and downs and twists and turns; but the destination – Heaven on Earth – is an integral component of my faith.

As Harvey Cox wrote there are three mysteries in our lives – ourselves, others and everything else.  Our duty is, from birth, to seek wisdom and realize fully faith.

This faith must be a loving faith or it just doesn’t come from God.

Loving faith is something we all need, but we certainly don’t all possess.

We’re all children of God and have the free will to do bad things as well as good things.  It’s an honest statement – I believe – that we all can improve.

We have the gift of life and making mine count is what I am trying very hard to do.  I recommend the same for all – to seek wisdom, shun the negative values and realize that love, compassion and apathy are the base of humanity at its best – and why not the best?

I really don’t think heaven on earth is near – there is so much for us to do. But why not?  Humankind has come a long way just in the last 200 years of its 100,000 years of existence.  And I deeply believe God’s enduring, steadfast love is with us eternally.

Free will, in a way, puts humankind’s future in our hands, and that’s true.  But I believe Almighty God and our “little piece of God” will triumph, one by one, million by million, billion by billion.

God has the power to inspire us to allow us to deliver His message of love.

We are in a modern 21st century that can bring us bountiful gifts from God.  It’s His timeline, but we are part of the equation.

Democracies, Freedom, and Free Enterprise

I recently wrote some thoughts as I was reading through (for the second time, I think), Henry Kissinger’s recent book, World Order.

Although Kissinger doesn’t say so, I believe he thinks President Obama lost a war that had already been won, even though he had reservations about the nation building there and perhaps in the war itself.  Kissinger does give high praise to President George W. Bush regarding his courage during a difficult time after 9/11. I agree with Kissinger in praising President George W. Bush.

I think the main problem in Iraq, which has yet to be solved, should have been handled by President Obama. A state of force should have been established to allow Iraq to evolve into a stable, robust democracy.

I believe, as President Bush did, that we should aim for a world full of democracies, freedom, and free enterprise.  But I believe unless we are on the defense, non-violence should be our method of ridding the world of dictators and the lack of freedom.