“I care not so much what I am in the opinion of others, as what I am in my own; I would be rich of myself, and not by borrowing.” – Montaigne
The average Nicaraguan is born in a shack with a dirt floor. He earns less than $15 a week.
Enrique, my gardener in Nicaragua, and Yessenia, my housekeeper, do considerably better than that. But they are still, by U.S. standards, poor. Since I am in daily contact with E and Y when I’m here, I often think about how I can help them earn more money. They want more material goods in their lives (and who could blame them, when they see how we gringos live in person and on television).
E and Y have so little — $500 would give them a house for life — and I’d like nothing better than to wow them with a life-changing bonus. But I know from experience that giving them money will do nothing good. It will go as quickly as it came. Given money always does. Worse, it will reinforce the very bad idea that money comes from me to them, instead of from their own labor and ingenuity.
I hope this doesn’t sound like the rationalization of a cheap man. I did give Y the money for her house. But I made it a loan and had her repay it, because I wanted her to understand that money is real and represents something of value (hard work, enterprise, etc.). Also, I wanted to give her the chance to feel that the house was hers. But for every dollar I’ve given Y, E has hit me up for a dollar too.
E is not building a house with his money. He’s taking care of all sorts of “emergencies” that keep coming up. Because I don’t want to cause trouble between Y and E, I’ve been giving him his matching loans even though I know it’s not good for him.
What I try to do is lend E and Y money when it seems they really need it and figure out ways to let them earn more by doing other things. E is learning to fix things around the house and to paint. Y is learning to cook.
These skills will definitely help. But there’s an obstacle they face that is greater than their poverty or their lack of knowledge. It’s the idea they have about what the world owes them.
Y and E went to grammar school (the only school they had) during the Sandinista years. The Sandinistas, to remind you, were Communists — and, as a result, Y and E were taught two very dumb ideas about wealth:
- Everyone is entitled to an equal share of it. (“To each according to his needs.”)
- Those who have more of it than average should give it up. (“From each according to his means.”)
These ideas move very quickly into thoughts like these:
- “It is the responsibility of my government to take care of me.”
- “It is the responsibility of my boss and the business I work for to make me secure and financially successful.”
And I can sometimes see — or think I see –thoughts like these flickering around in the back of E’s mind.
For E, and maybe for Y too, the path to wealth is MMF. MMF, his boss, has the money that E wants. He doesn’t want to have money like me. He wants to have my money. He sees money as a sort of static thing — that there is just so much of it in the world and that the only way to get some for himself is to take it from someone else. Since I’m the only wealthy guy he knows, it makes perfect sense to him that his strategy for growing rich should be based on “101 ways to talk MMF into giving me money.”
Wrongheaded ideas about entitlement and static wealth are not by any means unique to Communist countries. They exist in every country of the world. In the United States, the country I know best, they are widespread — and probably growing.
In the U.S., they manifest themselves in all sorts of speciously good-hearted notions, such as:
- Businesspeople are basically greedy and unethical.
- Professors, artists, and writers are not.
- There should be a limit to how much a CEO makes.
- The more government regulates business, the better it is for the people.
I could go on, but I will not.
I’d rather get back to the main and essential point: The way you think about wealth is highly likely to affect your behavior in regard to it. For example:
- If you think you are entitled to be taken care of by the government, it is probable that you will spend some time and effort applying for government handouts.
- If you think that all the profits of a company should be distributed to its workers, you’ll never be happy with what you earn.
- If you think that no one is entitled to have more money than you, you’ll spend your time getting friends and acquaintances to give you some of theirs.
None of that will make you wealthy. In fact, it will make it harder for you to acquire wealth. Every minute you spend thinking about or asking for money you didn’t earn is a minute wasted and a bad habit reinforced. Becoming wealthy is not difficult if you are willing to work for it. Anyone who does the simple things I recommend in ETR can and will become wealthy. The trick is to overcome inertia — to get yourself going. In other words, action.
Action is the key, but action won’t happen until you decide that you yourself — and no one else — are responsible for your success. Get off to a good start today by retelling yourself the following truths:
- “My parents owe me nothing.”
- “My children owe me nothing.”
- “My friends owe me nothing.”
- “The world owes me nothing.”