“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
-- Albert Einstein
The vast majority of the 150 countries in which I worked in the past thirty years were in dire financial straits. There were observable and definable reasons why those financial problems existed. Long-standing traditions of economic and cultural abuse remained as impediments to financial growth and the easing of poverty. Nearly all dictators promised free health-care and rural electrification for the masses; none sufficiently delivered on those promises. As a rule, most constituents were held to subsistence farming and the lack of access to markets. In order to break the restraint of such dictatorial bondage, a different kind of thinking was required.
In the past two decades, some very creative ideas have been applied to those age-old problems. The implementation of cottage industries and micro lending programs made a significant impact upon market access, individual involvement in enterprise, and the alleviation of poverty.
Prior to my founding of Project C.U.R.E., I was involved in the investment and real-estate development business. My success in earlier business ventures had partly resulted from a childhood understanding and use of basic concepts of old-fashioned counter-trade and barter techniques. The fundamental principle at the heart of a successful barter transaction and, in fact, the basis for all successful free market endeavors is that everybody in the deal must end up better off. Based on the barter and trade concepts I had included in my first book What’cha Gonna do with What’cha Got?, I received an invitation to speak at an economic gathering at the Ambassador West Hotel in Chicago on April 17, 1984.
The purpose for the closed meeting was to explore ways to increase market share into lesser- developed countries by use of international counter-trade and barter. We hoped that as a result of our deliberations we could find a way to bypass the unfair manipulation and corruption of the dictators and their cohort governments, who were skimming revenues off the top of the countries’ economies by means of exorbitant inflation and phony currency exchange rates. In attendance were top US leaders of commerce and international business. I shared with the group what I knew about the subject, but as the others began to discuss their experiences and needs, I listened very carefully. There was such a great need for what we were trying to accomplish in the global economy! We were endeavoring to solve problems by using a different kind of thinking than had been used when the economic problems were created.
Many of the issues we were trying to resolve reminded me of what Armand Hammer, one of my entrepreneurial heroes, had encountered as an international businessman. Creativity and ingenuity would be the answer to working around the greed, corruption, and bureaucracy of the Third World markets and governments.
About half-way through the guarded sessions, I began to realize that I was not there so much because I had a lot of magic bullets to offer, but I was there because there were things being said and concepts being proposed that I needed to hear. My thinking began to change during and after that Chicago meeting.
Shortly after that meeting, and because I had been a participant, I was invited to attend a special economic focus meeting held in Indianapolis, Indiana, sponsored by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the welcoming speech of the gathering, we were told “You are all economists and we have brought you together to brainstorm how to develop practical economic models for lesser-developed countries. You are asked to be just as creative as possible, using such economic components as counter trade, barter, cottage industries, micro lending, incentive credits, or anything else you can think of. There are no holds barred as you put your economic models together.”
The meeting leaders went on to explain that the people living in the Lesser Developed Countries (LDCs) would remain in bondage as long as they were controlled by the economic practices of repressive and manipulated governments. Changes would need to take place to free them from the systems of closed and oppressive economies. In other words, we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
We were divided into teams and seated at large round tables and instructed to get to work. We began by reviewing such classical economic concepts as scarcity, choice, and cost; land, labor, capital, and the entrepreneur; supply and demand; methods offiscal responsibility; closed economies vs. free markets. We discussed the need to have a responsible government that could guarantee the enforcement of contracts and agreements. We included the necessity of having exclusive rights of private property to hold or transfer, and free enterprise with the possibility of personal incentives and profits. At our table, we included anything else we could think of to work into the mix.
The result of that meeting in Indianapolis was extremely significant, not only in its application to future programs in the LDCs, but it became one of the touchstones in the developing economic philosophy of the organization that eventually became known as Project C.U.R.E. And even to this day we are realizing, in even a greater measure that, we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.