When a society is wealthy, it takes on new responsibilities. New possibilities and opportunities open up for it. It has the potential to increase its own wealth and well-being many times over, if it just thinks ahead of itself and its own instant gratification. If it just thinks ahead of itself and its desire for personal gratification. If it just thinks ahead of now.
If the people of this wealthy society unite in common cause, they can do things that are impossible alone. They can do things that are impossible for individuals alone. They can even do things that are impossible for large institutions alone, or groups of those institutions. If the entire society gathers, unites, and agrees to work together, it can do things that have never been done.
At the same time, if a society chooses not to unite, it can fall back in time. It can lose its wealth and prosperity, its place in the world, its standards of excellence. It can lose the momentum it gained through youthful expansion, innovation, improvisation. It can lose itself, as all empires eventually do. Resting on its laurels, getting fat, lazy and stupid, it can think better of itself than it really deserves. It can fool itself into slow or swift decline.
And, it can miss its window. All empires have a window, an opening, a period of time that makes or breaks their future. If they do the right things during that time, they can prosper in the future. If they do the wrong things, they set the stage for a rapid or steady slide into weakness and despair.
Contrary to received wisdom, investment in commerce and corporations alone will not set the stage for future prosperity. It never has. If a society chooses to let the masses fend for themselves, and concentrates on the top tier, the financial elite, it will lose its momentum, its spirit of innovation, its skill and talent levels, and eventually its prosperity. If, on the other hand, it chooses to invest in people, in education, in the arts, in the infrastructure all of its citizens utilize, it will prosper in the short and long term. Those investments will pay off tenfold, through better, more talented artists, workers, citizens, parents, and friends. The synergy and energy created by that investment will help shape and reshape that society for decades to come.
Most empires never see this, or see this far too late. They miss the fact that when things are good, when the money is flowing into government coffers, that is the time to invest in the public. When the money is flowing into public coffers, that is the time to build roads, bridges, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, museums, galleries, lecture halls, concert halls, and so on. That is the time to build parks, clean up rivers, lakes, streams and clear the land, sea and air of pollution. When times are good. When that society is nearing the top of its game, invest in the public so the public can overcome down times, bad times, rough times.
It is also more than obvious that investing in the already rich is like giving the owner of a huge and prosperous cattle ranch a cow for his or her birthday. It is like giving the owner of a huge and prosperous haberdashery a hat for his or her birthday. It is also more than obvious that giving the gift of an education to someone who lacks one is the essence of common sense.
A smart society helps the greatest number of people achieve their fullest potential. A stupid, tired, defeated society gives up on that greatest number to concentrate on the already prosperous. It takes the quick and easy way out. It chooses to funnel its resources into a limited arena of the same. The same old same old. It chooses to die.
Is there a place on earth that has learned this lesson? Was there ever such a place?