How to Create Wealth

Dear friend,

A philosophical and economical question I’m having with myself, in regards to entrepreneurship, business building, and benefitting yourself/society; how do we create wealth? What is “wealth”?

Based on my studies, I think all wealth goes back to humans— human labor, human social capital, or wealth.

For example, the only reason the pharaoh of Egypt was so powerful is because he could rule thousands of people to do his own bidding (like making his epic pyramids).

I was reading some pretty old school economic theory by Fernandinho Galliani (whom Nietzsche loved dearly), and came across an interesting anecdote — there used to be a tribe that referred to their monetary system as “people currency”. For example, let’s say their monetary system was called the “humano” —which was equivalent to a 16 year old male, capable of doing labor.

For example, buying an oxen might have cost 5 “humanos”. Just substitute the concept of “dollar” with ‘humano’ to understand this analogy.

For example, modern states, governments, and institutions rely on people power. To me, there’s still nothing more valuable, beautiful, or precious than a human life.

And also from an economic standpoint; a human will always be more effective at “work” when compared to a robot (and unfortunately, in many places in the world, much cheaper to employ). For example when I was living in Hanoi in 2016, the owner of the apartment employed a full time girl named Trang, who was around 20 years old, and worked 6-7 days a week cleaning the rooms, doing laundry, general housework, etc. She also slept in the reception area couch at night (it looked like ‘indentured servitude’ to me). She was paid only $250 USD a month.

This blew my mind. Here’s this young, capable girl, who has an iPhone (an older iPhone 4 model), only earning $250 USD a month — for pretty much working 60-90 hour weeks. And apparently this is a pretty good wage for a Vietnamese laborer. Even if you go to college, get an economics degree, and get a full-time job at a bank after you graduate in Vietnam, around $500 USD a month is a good salary. Note also that in Vietnam (especially in Hanoi), I saw at least 1-2 Rolls Royce’s or Bentlys on a daily basis, and almost everyone seems to have the newest iPhone (which costs around $1500 USD for the newest iPhone X).

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make here is this:

Much wealth is created by “exploiting”/leveraging human labor.

Now, historically I believe this is how people got wealthy — conquer another tribe, city, village, etc, then take the men, women, and children, and turn them into slaves (where better yet, you can make them work for free).

Even today, you see lots of companies benefit from the labor of young and ambitious people — often by offering unpaid internships, or by squeezing every hour of productivity from them (making them work 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days a week).

Now, I think there are certainly ways to create new sources of wealth without exploiting the labor of others. Instead, you can create new wealth by exploiting your own labor.

For example, my labor of love is blogging, writing, teaching, distilling information, etc. It’s also my “Archimedes lever” (the one thing I’m really good at, which helps me best leverage my strengths, to make the maximum impact in the world).

I pretty much work all day — from when I wake up at 7-9am, until I sleep at 10-12pm, and “grind” 7 days a week. But it’s a labor of love. I don’t have a “work-life balance”; instead, I have “work-life integration”. To me, my play is my work, and my work is my play. I don’t even like the word “work”, perhaps the word, “plork” (play/work) would be a better term.

Anyways, the way I’ve been able to create wealth is simple:

Create and share information which empowers others.

To distill what I do, I try to create and share information which I find both philosophical and practical. Too much philosophical ideas aren’t applicable to real life, and too much practical information out there doesn’t have enough intellectual depth and elegance.

And that’s the exciting thing with the internet: you can create new wealth purely from your own mind, with the labor of your fingers, and your own ingenuity and inner-genius.

To me, entrepreneurship ain’t about making a billion dollars, nor is it about making a company with thousands of people.

To me, entrepreneurship is a practical philosophy of living life. To me, it’s about risk taking, about innovating (for the sake of it), empowering others, and empowering yourself.

I don’t even think you need to be fully self-employed to call yourself an entrepreneur. To me, if you want to take risks to change yourself and the world for the better, you’re an entrepreneur.

And as I have said in the past, our first goal is very simple: start a business that will just cover your basic monthly expenses and rent.

Because the goal is for you to achieve maximum freedom and flexibility in your life, not to maximize the zeros and commas in your bank account.

I’d rather be a pauper with maximum free time, than a rich slave.

Nassim Taleb has a good quote,

How to know if you’re self-owned or not: Can you take a nap when you want to?

To create new sources of wealth, provide a service, or sell products that help other humans. This can be educational, it can be labor-contract based (the ‘camera technician’ who shoots weddings and commercial work), or the artisan who makes straps, bags, and other goods for photographers or visual artists.

Consider, the power you have as a photographer in today’s brave new digital economy and world. You got the Internet, your own wits, and a camera. What else do you need?

Make your own luck, opportunities, and don’t feel shame in selling yourself. If you don’t sell yourself, who will?


Invest in yourself: Photography Entrepreneurship 101 >