To make a lot of money you spend your life making money, rather than focusing on important things, which is why we have so many dumb rich people.
We have this idea that rich people are smart. But think back to the smart people you knew in school, and compare them to the ones who went on to make money. If your experiences are like mine, there will very little overlap between them. The occasional exception will be the person whose ambition is not to be something (i.e., rich), but to do something, particularly some high-demand skill. Howard Hughes was a pioneer in aviation engineering, and Bill Gates was a pioneer in software.1)It should be noted however, in other parts of their lives they seem to have made a lot of dumb or otherwise regrettable decisions. Here in my part of the world, we have people like Jake Delhomme and Ron Guidry, guys who excelled in their sports because they loved the game, and who were a bit surprised when they succeeded and made a lot of money.
Of the two smartest people I knew in high school, one of them makes a lot of money, but it wasn’t his ambition. He’s just really good at what he does, and I think he’s also a bit surprised at how much he earns. The other one also enjoyed his work, and was successful enough that he could take an early retirement, but I hardly think he would describe himself as rich.
The same is true among my college classmates. I am often surprised at the people who have gone on to make a lot of money. I certainly saw nothing to distinguish them in school. (And more than one of them made his money in sketchy ways.) Others, however, had a passion for some job or profession, and they have done very well within their field, but they would hardly consider themselves wealthy.
As for medical school, any practicing doctor certainly makes good money, but practicing medicine is also limited. You can be quite comfortable, but to become truly rich a doctor has to do more than practice, she has to move into some sort of management or entrepreneurial role.
Of interest, however, more than one of the people I knew in medical training came from very wealthy families, some of them with household names. But all of them chose to make much less money as a doctor than they would have by working in the family business. So at least some of the smart people choose not to be rich, or at least choose not to pursue wealth.
I have known a fair number of really rich business people. I can think of almost none of them I would consider particularly smart. Sure, it takes a certain level of intelligence to manage a large business. But few of them ever told me something surprising, original, or clever. (One notable exception was the raconteur whom I noted in the opening to the post on Pejoratives. And I have to say, he seems to have made his money because he loved the job more than he loved the money.)
Most of the rich people I have known were united by one thing: a desire to be rich. That should not be surprising. You learn to excel at the piano by applying yourself to the piano as much as you can. And you learn to make money by applying yourself to making as much money as you can.
But there is not necessarily any genius involved. Work, focus, and learn; it’s true of anything we wish to do well.
Unfortunately, making money can have a bit of unsavoriness about it. To make money, particularly to make it quickly and copiously, often means being a bit pushy. It can mean cutting a few corners: underpaying and overworking employees, producing an inferior product, extracting hard concessions from suppliers, and paying everyone late.
Or when possible, not paying them at all.
Dumb Rich People
Sure, these dumb rich people swagger around with their fine possessions, clearly enjoying all of the attention, and looking happy. But step back and consider their lives. The research is easy, just scan the tabloids next time you’re checking out at the grocery store: divorces, family estrangements, betrayed friends and business partners, resentful employees and associates. As one of my favorite authors pointed out, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?”
So much of life is scut work. No matter what path we take, there will be a lot of dull, repetitive work. It seems to me, however, that we are happier when that work is connected to the people we love, and to our enjoyment of life. I don’t simply wash dishes; I wash dishes which feed my children, I wash dishes which allow me to enjoy dining with my family and friends.
What it Takes
It’s just a matter of focusing on a goal (money) and focusing diligently on the results (profit). So it’s a time function; the more time, the more success. Given that insight, people who make a lot of money, and people who succeed in anything, make sacrifices. Since a day has only so many hours, focusing more on money means focusing less on other things, particularly things like family, friends, and enjoying life.
In essence, the more you focus on money, the less you focus on being alive. As one writer put it, “Riches do not make one rich, but busy; they do not create a master, but a steward. Rather than possess riches, men are possessed by them. Wealth has brought death to many and stolen pleasure from all…”2)Fernando de Rojas, Celestina, Act 4 Scene 5, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Yale University Press, 2012.
The point is, wealth does not come from an increased intelligence, nor a greater willingness to work. It often comes from disordered priorities. Fact is, you and I could also be wealthy, if we wished to make those sacrifices. But we pursue things that are more important to us than money.
The reverse is true. I have known quite a few people who say things that are surprising, original, and clever. But almost none of them are really interested in making a lot of money, they are too focused on living their lives. They wish to spend no more time than absolutely necessary making money.
Unlimited Money, Limited Life
Time is an important insight. Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, How much money is enough? He gave the answer for the ages: “A little more.”
I don’t think that’s the answer most of us would give. Most of us have an idea of how much money we think we would need to live our lives happily, and we are also clear about what we would do with the money if we had it. For me, I would write, and travel with my family. You probably have an idea of what you would do, and in all likelihood, it wouldn’t be to go and make more money.
Note the priority implied in Rockefeller’s comment: the money itself is the point. Also note the implication that there is never enough money. If there is never enough money, then for all practical purposes, money is an unlimited goal.
Life, on the other hand, is tightly limited. So to pursue wealth, dumb rich people trade the precious few moments they have on this Earth. And for what? Just for the money itself.
So you don’t need a lot of brains to make money. In addition, to spend your life focusing on money suggests that you don’t have a lot of wisdom, either. Making money means discarding the central things in life, discarding the essential things which make us human.
That is a crucial insight. Repeatedly in this blog we have looked at the problems of dealing with complexity, and uncertainty: considering several ideas simultaneously; looking at how all the parts interact; the difficulty of balancing short-term and long-term rewards; and the importance of weighing different kinds of feedback. And the chase for more money means they have little room for gratitude, or for happiness, and certainly little for compassion. So we have dumb rich people who make money out of nothing more than a monomania for money. Which is greed, really. But because they have a lot of money, our culture insists that they are really smart.
And they believe it, too. That’s where we get into problems. They think they are so smart that they are qualified to make pronouncements about what is wrong with our society, with our government… and with the rest of us and the way we live our lives, which is pretty ironic considering the preceding.
And then they invest their money lavishly buying off our media and paying off our elected officials to convince us to subscribe to their stunted view of life.
And too many of us blindly follow them.
So these dumb rich people who have neglected their families and their own lives, these cloistered money-grubbers who have ignored the complex and nuanced factors that connect us to the world and to each other — begin dictating how the rest of us should live.
Read more about the toxic influence that dumb rich people have on our lives and the world.
Wall Street Bull courtesy of Sam valadi.