Staying Rich

By Gail Regan

By H. Gail Regan
Toronto – Canada

Wealth creation requires single-mindedness, a quality not useful for keeping a country rich once wealth has been obtained. It takes a functional mix of entrepreneurship, regulation, infrastructure and tax incentives to maintain prosperity. Good will, trust and hopefulness are also useful to sustain these.

A futuristic film by George Bernard Shaw, The Apple Cart, illustrates how to make a rich country poor. Set in very wealthy and still monarchical Britain, the film stars a young Helen Mirren who plays the role of ‘Orinthia’ the king’s mistress and advisor. In contrast to Orinthia’s pleasant braininess is the role of ‘Lysistrata,’ {nicknamed ‘Lizzie’ by her colleagues,} the minister for energy. Described by Shaw as a battle- ax and die-hard, she too is in love, with herself and her own department.

Lizzie is paranoid, always on the alert for threats to her fiefdom. She is envious of entrepreneurial enterprise, aghast that it should have a new energy project. She is greedy, coveting new technology for her own department. She says, “In this cabinet there is no such thing as a policy. Every man plays for his own hand.” Blinded by the grandiosity her responsibility enables, Lizzie has no idea of energy’s connection to the wider economy.

In the context of Lysistrata’s single-minded institutional ambition, it is likely that her projects will be boondoggles, workable but on balance destructive of national wealth. Suppose though that it just happens that the time is right for more government infrastructure projects and more regulation of entrepreneurial approaches. Suppose the wealth-sustaining functional mix can use Lizzie’s projects to correct over-reliance on weak government and private enterprise.

I think Shaw’s purpose is to emphasize that we must look to the human heart. When envy, greed, jealousy and other toxicities motivate projects that happen to work, wealth maintenance is misunderstood. People will think that because the projects are useful, the toxic motivations that inspired them must be O.K. too. In truth, toxic feelings and the corrective endeavors they inspire are destructive. Both mystify wealth maintenance and drive out the good will that sustains functional mix. It is this mix that sustains wealth but it must have the strength to absorb twisted thinking and misguided projects. Folks like Lizzie can overwhelm it.

When a project is motivated by toxic emotion, it may nevertheless be a good project for the time but, by mystifying and negating, it will eventually upset the apple cart of national prosperity. Wealth maintenance may harness self-interest and darker motives, but these forces should not govern. Clear hearts and minds are needed to stay rich.

H. Gail Regan is vice-chair of Cara Operations. She chairs Energy Probe, is a member of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, the Family Firm Institute and the Strategic Leadership Forum.  She has a PhD in Educational Theory and an M.B.A. in Finance. Her background in sociology and her personal experience of business have given her an intellectual interest in the problem of evil.

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