Several years ago, we met Kapil Jawa, an MBA student. He shared with us a fascinating subject he had researched for his thesis: a values-based approach to measuring economic development. Just as economic growth is necessary for human development, human development is critical to economic growth.
One of the most startling things he demonstrated was that the lack of wealth was not the barrier to overcoming our world’s hunger, poverty and social problems. Citing data from the UN World and Human Development Reports1998, he showed that in 1997, Europeans and Americans together spent more on cosmetics, perfumes and pet foods than it would have taken to provide reproductive health, basic health and nutrition for all people on the planet. And military spending in the same period was 20 times that.
Kapil pointed out that Kautilya’s Arthashastra inspired the revival of many kingdoms after his reign. The healthiest state of affairs was one in which values higher than worldly possessions received honour and approval; maximum production was not the supreme objective of the economic organisation; commerce or wealth-making was not an end in itself; and merchants and manufacturers carried out their activities in a trust for the society they lived in. The word economics comes from the Greek word oikonomos, or “household management”. When we begin to manage our companies and our economies with the same character and interest as we would our households, it becomes easy to build the gross national character.