Note from Senior Managing Editor Christina Grieves: In today’s article, Alexander Green addresses a common problem that very few people talk about: a glaring lack of financial literacy, even among the most highly educated individuals.
But there is good news! If you find yourself coming up short in that department, check out Alex’s book The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio: Get Wise, Get Wealthy… and Get On With Your Life. The fully revised, updated and expanded edition of his New York Times bestseller was released earlier this year… and immediately sold out.
Luckily it’s back in stock, and it delivers even more must-have financial knowledge than the previous edition. In it, Alex details the importance of saving and investing, how the stock market works, and how everyone (including first-time investors) can achieve stock market success. If you’re at all concerned about your financial future, I highly recommend you pick up a copy today.
The other night I met two old friends – Hal and Scott – for dinner out.
They are two super-smart academics. One is a highly regarded astrophysicist. The other is a prominent author and expert on negotiation. Both are PhDs.
As is the case with all my close friends, no topic is off-limits for discussion.
Delicate subjects, of course, can lead to frank and even emotionally charged exchanges. And those can be fun.
Yet the conversation that evening felt different.
My buddies sounded agitated… then angry, and – finally – disgusted.
Were we talking politics… religion… transgender pronouns?
And the weird part? It wasn’t my opinions that upset them. (Although they weren’t crazy about those either.) It was the basic facts, the kind of essential financial literacy that every high school graduate should have…
It’s taken me a long time to realize that someone can be smart, educated, well-read and well-traveled, and still understand very little about how the economy works, how financial markets operate or how most wealthy Americans got rich.
One of the most fundamental misunderstandings about money is the idea that wealth is limited, so if one person has more, everyone else necessarily has less.
This misconception is so pervasive and deep-seated that many folks simply cannot wrap their heads around how the economy actually works.
Let me give you an example…
I grew up in a middle-class household in a small town in Virginia. My family belonged to a modest club with a swimming pool.
At the end of each summer, we had a pool party for the adults and children, one where the pool manager did something that drove the kids into a frenzy.
He would take a large bucket of coins – mostly pennies and nickels but also some dimes and a few quarters – and toss them into the pool.
The kids would then line up along the edge, gazing hungrily at all the glittering copper and silver below. Then he blew a whistle.
We all dove in and scooped up as many coins as we could, obviously trying to pick up the dimes and quarters first.
The big kids – who were stronger and could hold their breath longer – would always grab the most.
That left less for us smaller kids. And there was nothing we could do about it.
Believe it or not, there are millions of educated adults – including Scott and Hal – who believe this is how our modern economy works.
Wealth exists in a limited amount – like a pizza – and some greedy individuals have taken more than they deserve.
If Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey has more, that means other Americans have less, just like the smaller kids at the pool.
And that’s not fair!
Fortunately, this is not how our amazing free market system works. Unlike the coins in the pool, wealth is not a fixed quantity.
Wealth is continually created. And it grows. That’s why national GDP, median incomes and U.S. household net worth all rise over time.
Indeed, the Federal Reserve reported two weeks ago that U.S. households added $13.5 trillion in wealth last year, the biggest increase in three decades.
If wealth were limited or fixed, that wouldn’t be possible.
It’s true that upper-income households have seen more rapid gains in recent decades.
That’s not surprising in a knowledge-based economy where education and specialized skills are in high demand.
However, it simply isn’t true – as many Americans believe – that “the rich get richer while everyone else gets poorer.”
We can all get richer in the aggregate. And, indeed, we are.
The idea that the richest Americans are vacuuming up all the wealth is as nonsensical as the idea that the most fertile couples are having all the kids, depriving the rest of us of more children.
You can create more wealth through investing and compounding. And you can create more kids through…
Well, you’ve probably got that figured out by now.
It’s true, of course, that government taxes the most economically successful and redistributes the money to others. That happens in all Western democracies today.
(Transfer payments make up approximately 70% of annual U.S. government spending.)
But it isn’t necessary for one person to have less in order for someone else to have more.
Saving, investing and compounding – given time – will turn even a modest amount into a considerable sum.
Some folks, of course, can’t work, or they earn too little to save and invest. These individuals deserve our compassion and a social safety net.
But the rest of us have no good reason to be angry, resentful or envious, especially since the actions and investments of the wealthy help provide us all with what we want and need.
That’s a concept some academics don’t understand… or won’t accept.
So maybe we should talk about something less controversial.
Can I tell you about my pronouns?
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