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Monday, 29 July 2013

Don't burn money, use it wisely

It is time to learn from our past and put our skills and resources into positive value creation.

NEXT month will be 68 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in Japan.

To some, it is just another month at work. Some may celebrate their birthday, some become parents and for some, it may coincide with festive celebrations. Certainly few of us are old enough to remember the impact of the devastating events.

Being an avid reader, this date reminds me that the real tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best skills to do man’s worst work.

The creativity and perseverance that led to the discovery of the power of atoms, which could light up the world and potentially solve our energy issue, was used to create hell on earth.

The discovery of neutron by James Chadwick in February 1932, Niels Bohr’s discovery of fission and ultimately, Leo Szilard’s method of producing a nuclear chain reaction or a nuclear explosion, of which he even filed a patent, would lead to the creation of what was euphemistically called Little Boy.

Hardly little at all, for the bomb had the power of more than 20,000 tonnes of TNT, which destroyed most of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 130,000 people on Aug 6, 1945. Three days later, a second bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki, killing between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

Looking at the incident as a case of creative discoveries being used for war efforts, one can’t help but reflect on how much of these resources could be used if such a detonation did not take place.

Going beyond the obvious tragedy of the loss of human life, there is the immense economic cost of cleaning up contaminated areas, reconstruction of buildings, productivity lost due to the physical injuries and sickness of the casualties, loss of national income, psychological damage, etc. How does one quantify that?

To me, it’s very clear that we need to divert our military resources to build more educational and medical institutions, research facilities, provide housing or even venture capital funds for start-ups that could create a world that is different, not destructive.

The 34th US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those whose hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”.

And he was a military man, the former supreme commander of the Allied Forces during World War II.

We may not be sure of how much Eisenhower’s grasp of value is, but it makes sense.

He said that the cost of a modern heavy bomber could finance a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It could even contribute to two electric power plants, with each serving a town of 60,000 in population. It could even construct two fully equipped hospitals.

As headlines blaring financial uncertainties continue today, it is a good time to wonder where all the money is going, and where are all the innovators and entrepreneurs to lift the standard of living and to fulfil the needs of society?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, nearly RM6 trillion is spent annually on military, defence and armaments.

In economics, the idea of opportunity cost always arises in business. An entrepreneur will always need to consider the cost of giving up something in order to achieve a business objective.

So what is humanity giving up by laying down arms?

- Open Season by LIM WING HOOI The Star
Business writer Lim Wing Hooi believes that the human race needs to invest wisely in its own future.