Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Folly of Wealth Envy

Emotions can change your life.  Properly applied, they can motivate a person to accomplish great things, to create and build and be a stunning success.  Emotions can also corrode a person’s character, however, and drag the soul into a pit of hatred and malice.  This is sadly obvious when someone drives an effort to punish other people for being successful, especially in terms of wealth.  A lot of folks miss that error, because frankly there are not a lot of rich people compared to most of us, and most of us have never even met a billionaire.  Even so, hating someone just because they are wealthy is morally wrong and a big strategic mistake.

Let’s start with the guy in the photo:  Warren Buffett.  I chose him as an example for the following reasons:  One, I disagree with some of his opinions on politics and business, which means I am not some devoted sycophant. Two, he’s one of the wealthiest men in the world, so he should be an obvious target for the people who hate the wealthy.  Three, he’s been remarkably candid about how he makes his money, and what he does with it.  Four, like almost every other billionaire, Buffett created his own wealth; he started his first business at the age of 13 (delivering newspapers and created a horse racing tip sheet), and worked his butt off from there.  You may also want to note that Mr. Buffett is nearly 85 years old.  Like most other billionaires, Mr. Buffett gradually built his fortune over a lifetime.  So let’s stop right there and consider that billionaires for the most part are people who have worked really hard for a very, very long time, and they were ordinary folks when they started their work.  So hating these kinds of people means hating hard work and being careful with your money.  If you want to argue that wealth represents evil, you’re already abandoning common sense.  

Other things about Mr. Buffett that should be observed, include the fact that he changed his jobs as he progressed, replacing the newspaper delivery and horse race paper with stock investments, then later buying pinball games.  Buffett also understood the value of education, attending Penn, then Nebraska, then Columbia to study business and increase the scope of his knowledge.  Finally, it should be noted that there is no exact number for how much Mr. Buffett is worth.  This is due to several factors, including the fact that much of his wealth is in stocks and businesses, and their fluctuations in value affect his own worth.   Which brings me to another point that the haters miss – most wealthy people do not have all that much cash on hand.  A ‘billionaire’ is called that because his total wealth crosses a target number, but most of the wealth is tied up in investments and businesses; the percentage of their wealth available to spend is usually rather small.  This is another thing about money – it is meant to be used, and can create wealth only if it is put into motion.  The people who are worth the most, are actually among the least likely to just sit on money.  The stereotype is grossly false.

Wealth is not a zero-sum competition.  Farmers are a good example of how things really work.  They plant some seed after plowing the fields, they irrigate the plants and protect them from birds and insects, and watch carefully over the fields until it is time to harvest, then many times the original seed is harvested in crops.  Sometimes crops fail, but other times you break records.  It’s a combination of planning, careful time management  and lots of hard work, with some good and bad luck along the way, finishing with a lot more work to bring in the results.  But work makes wealth if you are smart and careful and do the work.  Sad to say, too many people miss at least one of those three parts of the formula.  A billionaire never kept anyone from success, any more than Bill Gates’ success with Microsoft kept Warren Buffett from becoming a success, or Oprah Winfrey’s success in media kept Mark Cuban from being a success as well.  It’s far better to work to become a success, than to hate someone for enjoying the rewards of their own hard work.