On Get Rich Quick Gurus....

I read a fabulous article the other day that I had to share. The title of the article is The Fallacy of Success and it was written in 1909. As you read it (or just the few passages I will comment on here) think of the dozens of late-night infomercials you've seen that will teach you to make millions in the next 1-5 years through No Money Down!

The author openly mocks "Success" authors, with a fictitious quote from a book about how to succeed at cards:

"In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game. You must have grit and snap and go in to win. The days of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any game where two are playing IF ONE DOES NOT WIN THE OTHER WILL."
He follows that up with the quip, "It is all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of the game." Then he continues on to recount an actual article he found in a popular magazine (probably akin to People today, or US Weekly). The article claims to describe the Instinct that Makes People Rich. It begins by recounting the story of Cornelius Vanderbilt, an American railroad tycoon and ends by telling us that "The precise opportunities that fell to him do not occur to us. [...] we can follow his general methods; we can seize those opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance of attaining riches". Of this extremely vague advice, Chesterton remarks:
In such strange utterances we see quite clearly what is really at the bottom of all these articles and books. It is not mere business; it is not even mere cynicism. It is mysticism; the horrible mysticism of money. The writer of that passage did not really have the remotest notion of how Vanderbilt made his money, or of how anybody else is to make his. He does, indeed, conclude his remarks by advocating some scheme; but it has nothing in the world to do with Vanderbilt. He merely wished to prostrate himself before the mystery of a millionaire.
When Chesterton wrote this in 1909 he obviously could not have known about Robert Allen, Carleton Sheets, Robert Kiyosaki or any of the other self-proclaimed "gurus" would start marketing their systems on late night cable. So the only possible conclusion is that marketers like these are nothing new. They are simply passing along the same advice that's been sold for over 100 years (and probably much longer.

An astute reader will note an uncommon similarity between the closing of the article ("we can seize those opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance of attaining riches") and the article I wrote on the lucky rich ("then watch for profitable opportunities and seize them"). Both make vague references to these mystic opportunities that occur which you can grab and wealth will be yours. However there's a difference between their madness and mine.

I will willingly admit that I have no idea what those opportunities are like. I'm vague about those opportunities because I lack the ability to describe them better. I know these opportunities exist because of how others (like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs) have seized them, but that hardly makes me an expert.

The entire purpose of my previous article was to dissuade readers from relying on the dream of the lucky rich to fuel their future. While I don't know about how to create hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth in the next 10 years, I do know how to create $1 million in wealth over the next 20 (currently on track to break my first million in my mid 30's, without any windfalls or inheritances).

Are you aiming to join the wealthy elite with net-worths over $50 million? Best of luck, I know it's possible to get there and I'll cheer you on all the way, but don't ask me for guidance. The best I can do is help you try to build that $2-$5 million safety net... You know... Just in case that huge deal doesn't go through...


Landlord Shmandlord said...

Thanks for the great post!

Jessica Beganski said...

Real estate gurus are the snake oil salesmen of today. Buy this book, follow that system and you will have millions. There is truth in many of the books/seminars/
tapes but they are only tools to get you motivated and provide some valuable information, nothing more. I have utilized them as such to help educate and inspire me to build my own wealth, but ultimately my success is entirely up to me. But you can't make any money by saying that, can you?

David said...

Do you read Chesterton often or did you just happen across this article?

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