Business & Money

Trust: The Basis of Economic Development

By Cedric Muhammad -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Jul 14, 2010 - 4:04:03 PM

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“…on matters of economics there is entirely too much distrust among us. We trust everyone but ourselves. We, therefore, have to build or produce trust in ourselves in order to do something for self and kind.”
–The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, “Message To The Blackman”

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Too often our discussions of economic power begin with a focus on money, without an understanding that money is only representative of relationships, agreements and values. Without knowing it we really use money almost like language—a symbolic way to communicate and relate with one another. If I draw up a list of items I want from a grocery list, I don't have to produce each item myself or fax the list to the producers of each item. If I live in a major city, I only have to visit a supermarket or even a convenience store and present a currency of some kind—U.S. dollars, euros, Japanese yen, South African rand—meeting the price the store owner desires. Money allows us to do three things: 1) give a price or value to a good or service (as a unit of account) 2) save for a future day (as a store of wealth) 3) exchange goods and services (as a medium of exchange). It is always providing us with information about something else.

Most people—who focus purely on money or the science of the management of it, finance—think that they have a strong grasp of economics. But they seem to forget that money - in these three forms is only a symbol or sign of something else—a relationship or interaction, an agreement or contract, or a value system.

Therefore the key to understanding economics is not just finance but the underlying reality that finance is a sign of—the quality of relationships and the accuracy of information.

In short, economic development takes place at its highest level in a society and community when the level of trust, the accuracy of information, and the honesty in conveying it is high.

This exists when not just individuals, but also their social interactions, are marked by high character, professional competence, and excellent communication. Out of this (or due to it) a system of high ethics, solidarity, and commerce develop.

If there is one thing that life and business have taught me in my personal, professional and spiritual travels, it is that you cannot build anything of lasting impact—a relationship, a business, or an institution—without trust.

It is the glue that cements love. It is the objective of all contracts. And it is the product of duty and responsibility.

Trust is so valuable because it is the bridge between the past, present and future.

It gives us confidence in what lies ahead because it is tied to the consistency of what came before, and is rooted in the reliability of our present reality.

Of all of the chapters in my three volume book series, “The Entrepreneurial Secret: Starting A Business Without A Bank Loan, Collateral or Revenue” perhaps the most intriguing and provocative is a chapter in ‘Volume 1: The Political Economy,' “The Secret Of Kinship Systems and Group Economics” which connects the prospects for success of today's entrepreneur, with the past history of how immigrant ethnic and religious communities have developed and prospered as a result of their savings practices. These cultural traditions for pooling money—whether the Partners of Jamaicans; the Gae of Korean immigrants; the Aktsiyes of the Jewish community or the Esusu of the West African community – all revolve around the principle that one's word is their bond and that in unity there is strength, as the sum of the group is greater than the individual parts.

So, is the success of these institutions in financing talented entrepreneurs based upon the group finding the most trustworthy entrepreneurs with the best ideas?

No.

It is not the character of the person receiving the monies that is the most important attribute in the arrangement, it is, rather, that there are others in the group who are willing to guarantee that the person will make good on the loan or investment. The beauty of the arrangement is that even if a person has poor credit, and a past full of mistakes and errors, their interest in maintaining good relations with those who are willing to vouch for them, is sufficient for the larger group to trust them with their money.

The group understands that peer pressure; the desire for solidarity and the feeling that comes with membership or belonging; and the maintenance of unity within a society can substitute for personal failings and offer an alternative way for people to ‘trust' one another.

This social arrangement can provide motivation for an untrustworthy person to want to become an individual in whom people can place confidence in and rely upon.

Recently, I was blessed to lead a group discussion of my nuclear and extended family about these principles and histories, and had the honor of having my Mother—raised in Jamaica—as a star witness, explaining in detail how the savings culture works in Caribbean tradition.

Some of my family members -born in America—had never heard this before and were amazed to learn that any group where trust exists, could immediately work out arrangements to back one another financially.

Specifically, I pointed to three areas where these principles could be applied: lifting family members out of poverty; providing start-up capital for business ventures; and funding the education of young family members. One individual afterward remarked, “…hearing the conversations reminded me that we have so many resources just within the family circles!”

One of the greatest effects of slavery, particularly on those enslaved in the United States of America, is that it stripped us of this greatest form of wealth—trust which is the key to tapping into the ‘many resources just within the family circle,' as my family member put it. As I explain in my book, when one considers that family and friends are usually the second or third greatest source of financing for start-up businesses, one can see how devastating the destruction or breakdown of a family can be—and even worse, the lack of trust that extends beyond the nuclear family structure and into the broader community.

This is why I advocate that all of us who are members of organizations and groups that are primarily little more than cliques, excuses to party, or casual in nature, find ways to gradually reform them and transform these institutions into kinship systems, where traditions and principles of group economics can be practiced.

Religious communities, fraternities and sororities, professional and trade societies, sports teams, ethnic groups and even street organizations (so-called ‘gangs') have what it takes to develop and use trust as means to support one another in positive ways.

As long as there is respect for and accountability to a third-party, a process, a common set of beliefs, or a teaching or philosophy, any group can develop the accountability and rules that are necessary to form a small economy, among themselves.

Recently I was part of a gathering where a question and comment was posed to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan regarding economic development. Minister Farrakhan, in answering, made reference to the Problem Book—a series of 34 word problems contained within the Lessons that Registered Muslims of the Nation Of Islam receive. The Problem Book thoroughly describes the miserable condition of Black people in America when they were found by Master Fard Muhammad last century. Regarding it, the Minister, gave insight in the form of what some may call a rhetorical question. He asked if the person posing the question (and all of us present) ever noticed that money is awarded after the problems are solved? Minister Farrakhan's point was clear. We must solve spiritual and moral ‘problems' before we receive a lasting financial or economic benefit.

All of this relates to the benefit anyone of us can receive by properly utilizing the Minister's Study Guides – “Self Improvement: The Basis For Community Development” in combination with the Economic Blueprint of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

In business and life, trust is not everything, but without it you have nothing.

(Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Union's First Congress of African Economist. He's the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://www.africaprebrief.com/) and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret' (http://theEsecret.com/). Cedric can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric@cmcap.com.)

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