It is estimated that one percent of world’s population will own two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030. It’s time we consider a second audacious experiment.
Last week I suggested an image for human flourishing. A rising tide lifts all boats. Today we see a tide rising, but mainly benefiting the top ten percent. In fact, a new study predicts one percent of the world’s population will own two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030. The last time such a concentration of economic power occurred (the late 1800s Gilded Age), government stepped in, redistributing the wealth of the wealthy.
I’m not sure that’s human flourishing. It seems a far cry from what historian Paul Johnson calls the Puritans’ “audacious” vision. The New World was to be “A City On A Hill,” a New Jerusalem, seeking the flourishing of all. The Puritans felt conscience was critical to this vision. People of good conscience are virtuous. They’re self-governed, putting the flourishing of the community before individual concerns.
George Washington echoed the Puritans’ audacity in calling America an “experiment.” Our audacious experiment? Can a nation’s people be self-governed? The Framers said yes. They crafted an infrastructure, arranging our institutions to prevent the concentration of political power. This included the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
The legislative branch is where the sausage is made (making law is often equated to sausage making—messy). The executive branch administers the law. The judicial is an outsider. It doesn’t make or market sausage. It judges whether the sausage is good for all.
Modern economics lacks such an infrastructure, or framework. “We have failed utterly to prevent the concentration of economic power,” writes Matthew Crawford, “or take account of how such concentration damages the conditions under which full human flourishing becomes possible.” Rising income disparities lend credence to this.
The solution is an infrastructure arranging financial institutions to prevent the concentration of economic power. This is already happening in other organizations. Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik, authors of “Meltdown,” say healthy organizations keep themselves honest by leveraging “designated outsiders,” leaders who understand enough to be relevant but are removed enough to see things differently.
The Norwegian government is doing this. In 2005, it hired an outsider, Henrik Syse, a philosopher, to act as advisor regarding it’s $190 billion Petroleum Fund. Syse has no background in oil or finance. He’s a writer, philosopher, and Sunday School teacher. As an outsider, Syse often sees what petrol insiders overlook. Insiders are not stupid. They’re focused, and with focus we often lose peripheral vision—the wider picture.
All sorts of organizations rely on outsiders. Southwest Airlines, Pixar, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Innocentive, and Quirky, a manufacturing company that builds products dreamed up by a global throng of amateur inventors. Quirky’s founder Ben Kaufman says company insiders “know too much.” They think inside the box. He says outsiders often present the most interesting answers to complex problems, not despite their lack of expertise, but because of it.
That’s been my experience. Over the years I’ve helped several financial firms discover whether their investment strategies are contributing to a rising tide lifting all boats. I do it as an outsider. I know little about how the sausage is made in finance. My background is history (including church history), anthropology, sociology and theology.
An insider/outsider model ought to be the infrastructure for every investment firm. Maybe that sounds audacious, but maybe we’re due for another audacious experiment. Organizations go from good to great when they have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), a 10-to-30-year objective that serves as a unifying focal point of effort. The Puritans had a BHAG—the flourishing of all. Our nation is heading for a new Gilded Age. If we’re to see a rising tide benefiting all, we’ll have to change the reigning investment model (which is largely focused on maximizing individual return).
The change might be underway. Today some Christians are thinking more broadly about investing, and what promotes human flourishing. I’d encourage them to establish an insider/outsider infrastructure so that this audacious goal might be achieved.
 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (HarperCollins, 1997), 3.
 J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990), 107.
 Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Penguin Press, 2009), 209.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t (Harper Business, 2001), 233-234.