Guest Column

Not everyone can be rich

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Not everyone can be rich. This is not a statement on desire, persistence, talent or opportunity. This is a statement of fact. Being rich or wealthy is relative. If everyone is rich, then no one is rich.

Imagine if every person on the planet each received a billion dollars tomorrow. Suddenly, everyone is a billionaire, and everyone is poor. Stock prices would skyrocket. So would the cost of a dozen eggs.  Economies would collapse all over the world, and people would starve. The price of even a modest home would be billions of dollars.

The idea that everyone can get rich is ensconced in the American mythos. In an early meme designed to sell copies of “Poor Richards Almanack,” Benjamin Franklin advised:

                Early to bed and early to rise,

                Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

This wasn’t true in Franklin’s time and is no truer today. Plenty of people in Franklin’s time got up at the crack of dawn and went to bed at dusk and spent the daylight hours scratching out a meager existence on hardscrabble farms or other employment.

One of the early purveyors of the idea that everyone should be rich was Russell Conwell. Conwell was a Baptist minister and the founder of Temple University. He gave a speech titled “Acres of Diamonds” over 5,000 times. The essence of the 19th-century speech foreshadowed the Prosperity Gospel. Conwell told listeners that God wanted them to be rich and if they were not, it was because God did not like them and neither did Russell Conwell.

Dozens of inspirational writers and speakers followed Conwell’s lead from Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill to Buckminster Fuller and Robert Kiyosaki. Buckminster Fuller was an architect who is better known as the inventor of the geodesic dome. That fact might come in handy if you are ever on “Jeopardy.” Each of these influencers sold an idea that it was easy to get rich and that everyone could get rich just by following their advice. What they did not tell their audience was that they got rich by selling “Get Rich Quick” books and courses.

Today, we are daily assaulted by a plethora of influencers selling a variety of get rich quick products.  Each promises that it is neither hard nor time-consuming to get rich. Each sells the notion that if you are not rich, it is your fault. One pervading premise is that readers should do what rich people do.  Billionaires, we are told, read a lot. So, if you want to be rich you should read a lot, also. I think reading is a good idea, but it will not make you rich, and I am pretty sure that billionaires do not spend their days reading “Get Rich Quick” books.

Most of the people I know who have accumulated a relatively substantial amount of wealth will tell you, if they are being honest, that it was neither quick nor easy. They will also tell you that they gave up other opportunities along the way. Things like spending time with their family.

If you want to be wealthy, develop a skill that others will pay you for, save and invest. There are no short cuts, only hard work and sacrifice.

Scott A. Grant is an author, economist and financial advisor. He is currently writing a new book titled “No one wants to get rich slowly.” He welcomes your comments at scottg@standfastic.com.

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