Since ancient times, humans have continually waged war against each other. Numerous attempts have been made to unify the world, although in our modern day context, the world back then probably meant a country (China) or a continent (Europe). Wars were waged primarily to take over other people’s resources, although it was often given a nice name such as a Holy War or perhaps bringing freedom to the oppressed.
Once a resource is taken over and controlled, the resource can be used to generate great income for the victor without concern for consequences, for the loser bears all of them. Human beings were forcibly taken as slaves from one continent to the other. Mines and oil fields were plundered and depleted. Resources were controlled and made use of to generate wealth for the victors. With the wealth gained, more power was obtained and a new cycle of war and plunder occurs again. In the game Civilisation, the end result would be world domination. In real life, it went as far as becoming an empire in which the sun never sets.
In modern times, war is not fought as often. But it remained that the path to wealth lies in the control of resources. The more resources you control, the more you earn. With the wealth you earn, you control even more resources and the cycle repeats. Since we are just the common man, today’s article will focus on the level of the individual and not on a country’s nor a big corporation’s level. As a law abiding citizen and hopefully a person with decent moral standing, getting rich quick is therefore not something we can consider. But with enough time, effort and brains the common man can also be rich. Not obscenely rich, but rich enough for two or three generations.
In the past, many countries were agricultural-based. Farmland was especially important to the people. Within the farming system, the relationship of landowners and of the farmers were mentioned frequently across different media throughout the different eras. Landowners and farmers generally can be categorised into the following:
- Farm labourers working for a landowner and collecting a fixed salary.
- Farmers renting a piece of land from a landowner and paying a rental (usually in the form of crops) to the landowner.
- A small landowner in which the family farms by themselves.
- A medium to big landowner who employs labourers or rent out land to others.
By now you may already have seen some semblance to the modern day context of how it applies to us.
As a farm labourer, you work for the landowner and collect a fixed salary. Your labour is a resource, the landowner’s land is also a resource. Yet when these 2 resources combined and produced a harvest, the landowner took a majority of the yield. There is no such thing as a 50-50 split, because his land is a much more precious resource than your labour, and hence worth more in the production of crops. Whether you agree or not does not matter, because it is a fact that without his land, your crops cannot grow. But without your labour, the landowner is able to find other labourers who are willing to accept that portion of the salary. As a farm labourer, you are forever at the whim and fancy of the landowner. As an individual, you have little say over how much you are paid, how long you are employed as well as the welfare you are given while working for him. As a labourer, wherever you go, you are under the control of a landowner. Your resource which is time and energy is being controlled. Work under my terms or die from starvation and poverty.
Then there are the more enterprising farmers who are willing to take more risks and rent a plot of land. The risks usually comes in the form of natural occurrences – floods, droughts, pests etc. There is no way to know what will happen the next year, whether you get a good harvest or not. You work, pay the rent and take the rest of the harvest as your own. There is one problem though. During good harvests, landowners will increase the rental. But during bad harvests, the rental never goes down. Furthermore, once the rental goes up, it never comes down. But there is nothing much you can do. You either comply with the increase in rental, or you quit and find another landowner. However, in the past, the transportation system is not well-developed and people cannot travel far. Even if there is more than one landowner in the area, chances are they are in cahoots. On good years you can survive, but during bad harvests you will face much difficulties.
Next we have the better off families. Perhaps they worked hard, saved up and bought themselves a piece of land. Perhaps it was a piece of land passed down as inheritance. They have a land of their own. From here they can go 2 ways – rise up to be a medium landowner or sink down to any of the two categories mentioned above.
During good harvests, all is well. If you save up, you will have enough financial ammunition to either use it for shopping during the bad harvests or to tank through the period of bad harvests. Take note that where natural occurrences come, there is no saying what can happen. A drought can be for a few years. A flood can wipe out everything overnight. A locust swarm will make everything gone just like that. From spring to autumn, anything that happen during this long time is a cause of concern. It is also not uncommon to have a few straight years of bad harvests. During prolonged periods of bad harvests, those with no money will find themselves having to sell their possessions and ultimately their land at a fraction of their value in order to get money to survive at the present. The future holds no weight if you die today. In the face of survival, everything can be sold, including their very own sons and daughters.
But should the small landowner manages to save up enough money, during bad harvests, not only does he have the capital to tank through the crisis, he actually has money to go shopping and buy other people’s land at a cheaper price, upgrading himself to be a medium landowner in the process. As for the last category of the medium and large landowners, I believe I do not need to spell it out over here.
In this farm example, we see that 2 parties bring along with them 2 resources – labour and land. Yet due to the scarcity, we see that land is a more precious resource than labour, and hence those who hold land control the situation and the flow of things.
As a common man fresh into the society, we have no choice but to exchange our time and labour for money in the beginning. The money we earned, the experience we gained, the network we built etc all become part of our resource. From there we have 2 choices – to spend on consumer products or to use it to acquire more resources. Acquiring resources need not only be restricted to investments, and investing need not be in the financial (stock, forex, crypto, options etc) markets. Acquiring resources can range from investing in the financial markets to buying a property, from putting in an overseas bank with higher interests to setting up your own small business. How you acquire more resources depends on your creativity and your skill, and may very well be different from the methods I mentioned.
The aim of acquiring resources is simple. To upgrade from a little common resource (labour and time which everyone has) to preferably scarce resources (land) or a lot of common resource (money). The more (scarce) resources you have, the more you can earn in the future. But when you buy resources, you need to do sufficient homework and to check if that particular resource is actually a useful one. For example, property is something many people want. It is like the modern day farmland which all farmers desire. But if you are in China, then you may have to think twice, for China’s policy now is outright clamping down on housing prices, and their rental is cheap. Singapore has a high additional buyer stamp duty to prevent people from acquiring too many properties. Of course, property is not necessarily restricted to just residential properties, but can also range from industrial warehouses, carparks, farmlands, offices and even graveyards, all of which one may consider getting it.
Buy resources. Do not waste unnecessarily on useless consumer products. It is ok to pamper yourself every now and then, but remember that good harvests do not last. When recessions and financial crisis come, what you have stored up during the period of plentiful harvests will determine where you go from there. The face value which your Chanel bag gives will not feed you, but the additional income from your various resources will allow you to tank through the bad times.