Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"Fundamentals of Prosperity"

Roger Ward Babson (1875-1967) is best known for founding Babson College, Massachusetts in the USA. When I was at Babson College for corporate training in 2000, I can sense a strong entrepreneurial ethos in the school. Little did I know that this founder is a fervent Christian who talks solid Christian values in his walk and talk. One of his classic contributions is a small book called: "Fundamentals of Prosperity" (Roger Babson, Fundamentals of Prosperity, NY: Fleming H Revell, 1920). This book has been republished in 2003 by Kessinger Publishing. It is available free on Gutenberg. Nine years after the publication of this book, the Great Depression began. It makes us wonder how many people actually heeded Babson's warning that undue focus on 'structure above ground' without adequate emphasis on the foundations underneath is a recipe for disaster. His main point parallels Jesus's teaching on building our house on solid rock instead of sand. Writing for business people, he is concerned for the future of the country, where people tend to focus more on 'structure above ground' instead of the critical foundations below the earth. The trouble increases when people continue to pile up "ten-story building on a foundation meant for only a two or three story building." (7)

Writing to business people, before modern marketplace theology becomes popular, Babson is already talking about Christianity in the marketplace. He thinks that business people are responsible for 2 things:
  1. NEGATIVE: For concentrating too much on the structures above ground without due concern for the foundation;
  2. POSITIVE: Business people can at the same time salvage the situation by strengthening the foundation while there is still time and opportunity.
Sources of Prosperity He then proceeds to talk about what are the key sources of prosperity, namely Integrity, Faith, Industry, Cooperation and factors of godliness. With regards to financial and economic panics, he wisely said:
Panics are caused by spiritual causes rather than financial. Prosperity is the result of righteousness rather than of material things. (72)
Using statistics from the government, he argues that situations of economic depression is a result of "extravagance, inefficiency and corruption," happening during prosperity times. Conversely, an economy recovers after a period of "industry and righteousness" during depression times. In other words, all the fruits of hard work and godly enterprise (contributing to prosperity) can be easily wiped out through extravagance, greed, inefficiency and corruption (which contributes to economic fallout). My Reflections on Babson's work Babson laments that the business people during his time were too concerned with structures above without adequate consideration for the foundation. I think modern times has not changed that peculiar habit. In fact, our modern society is drugged with quick-fixes, instant-solutions and easy-to-use methods. Moreover, Do-It-Yourself syndrome is everywhere, leading to an alarming reduction of dependence on one another. Moreover, our modern perception of 'prosperity' has become tainted with materialism. To be prosperous easily means a bigger car or a better house. It means bigger salaries or higher status through corporate promotions. Babson rightfully points us to the reasons why prosperity are there in the first place.
  • Without INTEGRITY, our investments are useless.
    For example, take the signing of a contract. It involves at least four levels of integrity. At the first level, we rely on the integrity of the lawyers who draft the agreement. Secondly, we need the integrity of the ones signing the documents on our behalf. Third, we need the integrity of the authorities and law courts to enforce any agreements. Fourthly, we depend on the integrity of the community at large to recognize the validity of such a transaction.
  • Without FAITH, one dares not venture to tap unexplored territory
    Like one who has a half-empty-jug mentality, One sees the problem and asks why? The one with a half-full-jug thinking will ask: Why not?
  • INDUSTRY, not genius is the mother of invention The saying goes that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Without the hard work of sowing, watering and plowing the ground, there is no fruit and thus no reaping. Someone has to do the hard work. We must refrain from thinking that profits can be sustained by simply relying on a keen sense of lucky judgment like a chance at a jackpot prize. For every one lucky winner, there are thousands, even millions of unlucky ones.
  • Without COOPERATION, there is no prosperity
    With the Internet and the highly internetworked societies today, everything that can be designed and produced requires cooperation. What began in the US has now affected many places around the world.
Babson proposes that we invest more in the study of the 'soul.' He observes rightfully that scholarships nowadays are given largely to people to build "structures above" rather than funds to strengthen people's training on Integrity, Faith, Cooperation, Industry, Ethical Behaviour and spirituality. We can easily hire an Ivy-League graduate, full of experience with blue-chip companies. However, can we detect that person's integrity, good ethical behaviour and righteous living? Human resources are indeed one of the most important assets of the organization. Recent examples show us the importance of integrity. Nick Leeson brought down Barings bank in 1995 in a major financial scandal. Recently, we hear about the Madoff scandal which has since caused the suicide of several people too distraught about the huge losses. Let us ask ourselves. Will we invest 100 million dollars into a fund with suspicious fund managers? No. Will we build tall buildings on a shaky foundation or an earthquake prone area? Probably not. Will we hire a high-class, highly educated, likable sweet talker, who can potentially climb up the ranks and bring down the entire corporation? Or will we prefer to look at character more than the physical impressions? Difficult to tell the difference. Then shouldn't we start to invest in scholarships and funds to train people in foundational skills, of ethical behaviour and righteous living, of faith and honesty to God? Unfortunately, our society is still too 'above structured' than foundational minded. How can we change that? I don't know, except to pray the Word, preach the Word and to share the Word. Let me end with Babson's classic words on the ups and downs of the economy.
"Whenever this line of religious interest turns downward and reaches a low level, history shows that it is time to prepare for a reaction and depression in business conditions. Every great panic we have ever had has been foreshadowed by a general decline in observance of religious principles. On the other hand, when the line of religious interest begins to climb and the nation turns again to the simple mode of living laid by in the Bible, then it is time to make ready for a period of business prosperity." (86)


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