“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller

Traditionally, it was only the children of the rich who were freed to pursue their interests in arts, entrepreneurship or rather whacky ventures.  So each entrepreneur freed only his descendants from the compulsion of employment.

It’s interesting that heroes from the previous century Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore were born into well-off families and their ability to travel and focus on their interests certainly shaped their world-view.  And India certainly benefited from their contributions.

India wonders why Infosys has produced two candidates for the current parliamentary elections – Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder, and Bala KV, a former CFO.  To me the answer is simple – they have sufficient financial heft to enter politics not for personal gain but to provide a platform for expression, to gain popular legitimacy for their ideas.  Infosys stock options are an ingredient in the starting of many business enterprises in Bangalore (including my own – I was an Infoscion from 1998 – 2003).  Not only did Nandan amass clean money for himself (Rs 7700 crores/ $1.3 bn), but he enabled employees like Bala to have declared assets of Rs 180 crores (approx $30 mn)  Sure a billion is more than a million, but in India, half a million or less can ensure financial freedom depending on your lifestyle.

Employee stock options allowed many stakeholders the opportunity to create wealth.  Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs gained their initial money working at one of the big successes there – HP, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, eBay etc. They parlayed their stock options into other businesses, social enterprises or funded new firms.  Or used their financial freedom to take on corporate roles that were considered risky.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had an eco-system like that in India? We’d have so many more clean candidates standing for election, entrepreneurs investing in new businesses, promoting IT in rural locations or starting libraries for the under-privileged.  Because they’d do for the joy of creation, not to earn their bread.

It is important to work because you want to, not because you have to.  When you have sufficient for your needs (and of course this assumes that you have a cap to your needs) you start to think and invent and be more creative.  And here’s where the old-fashioned notion of ‘providing employment’ or ‘creating jobs’ falls short.  That is indeed a good thing, but even better would be if we were to create opportunities that gave people the escape velocity to exit the corporate rat race and do their own thing.  Business needs to fund this renaissance – not through corporate social responsibility, but with a change in mindshift from ‘providing employment’ to “providing the freedom to be unemployed”.

As a nation our focus needs to shift from poverty alleviation to creating economic independence for all.

Image Courtesy : [jscreationz]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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