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Three Ways To Be Rich

Once upon a time, there was only one way to be rich: Be powerful.

If you were powerful, you could take from others. Through force, you could take from others the fruits of their labor. And even if you got rich by luck or skill, such as through a bumper crop or skilled animal breeding or finding gold, you would lose it to someone more powerful. Once upon a time, you had to be powerful to be rich.

When you’re taking from others or trying to stop someone from taking from you, you’re playing a Zero-Sum Game (to learn more about Zero-Sum Games, see A Spy's Guide To Strategy).

There once was only one way to be rich: Be good at Zero-Sum Games.

Then came the elevation of Positive-Sum Games. Which meant voluntary exchange, instead of taking. You could become rich by convincing others to exchange with you. You could accumulate the fruits of their labor by giving them the fruits of yours.

By playing lots of Positive-Sum Games, you could get rich. And the powerful people only took some of it, instead of all of it, through taxes.

Which meant there was a second way to be rich: Be good at Positive-Sum Games.

It turned out that the best players in some Positive-Sum Games were groups. There were guilds, then companies, then corporations. In some Positive-Sum Games, groups were better at delivering the product or service in a consistent way to the people or groups on the other side of a Positive-Sum Game. Inside those groups were hierarchies for making decisions and dividing the fruits of the exchange. Which meant there was a third way to get rich: Climb high in the hierarchy of a group, so a lot of the group's fruits come to you.

These three ways to get rich are simple. Maybe, too simple. Maybe, they’re too simple to cover every aspect of human existence.

But that’s not their purpose.

Their purpose is to create a simple model in your head. A simple model that helps you make sense of a complex world. A simple model that shrinks the world to a size that fits in your head.

Looking for Positive-Sum and Zero-Sum Games help you create a simple model of cause and effect. They help you reason backward from effects to causes and back to effects.

So you can make decisions and act.

The next time you see someone rich, use this simple model to reason backward to which of the three ways it happened:

Did they get rich by taking from others in a Zero-Sum Game?

Did they get rich by playing lots of Positive-Sum Games?

Did they get rich by climbing high in the hierarchy of a group?

Use those questions to reason backward from effect to cause and back to effect.

So you can make decisions and act.

Because nothing happens unless you act.

And action in Positive-Sum and Zero-Sum Games is how you become rich.


To learn more about the simple model of Positive-Sum and Zero-Sum Games and how they apply to strategy, read A Spy's Guide To Strategy.

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