The End of Wealth

end wealth

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know there are some major problems in the world’s financial markets at the moment. Working for a global bank, I guess you could say I have a front row seat for this debacle that in recent days has worsened with the stunning collapse of Bear Stearns (Update: and all the other recent collapses! There are too many to mention now….).

Much of what I have read has blamed Wall Street for turning the problems related to subprime lending into a major global problem. But I also recently read this Newsweek article where a former mortgage broker shares his insights into the fraud and greed that has plagued his former industry:

Lenders… which underwrote loans offered up by brokers and resold them to giants like Countrywide, spent much of their workdays trying to spot the stupid tricks brokers routinely used to get unqualified borrowers approved for loans. They’d say a buyer intended to live in a house when it was really an investment property. They’d falsify the buyer’s income by having a relative pose as his employer, or use scanners and software to forge W-2 forms. They’d find ways to hide debts (like a car payment) by looking for a credit report that omitted key data. They also routinely gamed the appraisal system, encouraging appraisers to look for “comparables” that were far nicer homes in better neighborhoods—all in an effort to drive up the appraised value of the home they were mortgaging.

Perhaps because I know a lot of people in this industry, this article really got me thinking about wealth and the ways in which we go about trying to accumulate it.

Greed and shady business dealings are obviously nothing new, but what are we to make of them? And how does it relate to personal growth?

Ends and Means

Now, the last thing I want to do in this article is come across as self-righteous in the moral advice that follows. Let me state here that I am far from perfect, and I am not always proud of the ways I act. But this current chaos in the world’s financial markets, and other recent examples of greed (eg Enron), reminded me of Gandhi’s teachings of the seven things that will destroy us. These are:

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

As Stephen R. Covey points out in The 8th Habit, each of these admirable ends (eg wealth and commerce) can be accomplished through an unprincipled or unworthy means.

Many people give little attention to the means as their ego tells them the ends justify the means. Such an attitude was infamously advocated by Machiavelli in The Prince, a book which details the shrewd methods an aspiring prince could use to acquire the throne (remind you of any modern day politicians?).

If you live according to this philosophy, I would like to invite you to consider a very different way of looking at ends, and the means in which you go about accomplishing them. If you are to quell your ego, and instead live a life where you follow our conscience, then the ends and means should be inseparable.

According to Stephen R. Covey, if you reach an admirable end through the wrong means it will ultimately turn to dust in your hands. This is due to unintended consequences that are not seen or evident at first. The example he gives in The 8th Habit is:

  • The parent who yells at their kids to clean their rooms will accomplish the end of having a clean room. But this very means has the potential to negatively affect relationships, and it is unlikely the room will stay clean when the parent leaves town for a few days.

Now, to return to the topic of wealth, I think it is possible to see much of the world’s current financial problems as stemming from people who wrongly believe the ends justify the means.

My advice? It is fine to aspire to wealth, but don’t lose sight of the means to accomplishing it.

What do you think?

Photo by Mike Schmid

14 thoughts on “The End of Wealth”

  1. This is a very interesting and poignant article for the current state of the nation. I really like the way that you tie in the importance of principle and morals in relation to making money. That is something that many people forget, yet it is so important, even more so in an economic environment like this.

    Also, people shouldn’t forget that oftentimes having morals and character attract good people to you, which is often followed by wealth. Everything is connected.

    Just found your site and I am enjoying it, thanks!

    1. Hi Conrad,

      Great to hear you are enjoying my blog :)

      I agree – having morals and character can most definitely be a path to wealth. It may be slower than some other paths, but it will be built upon a strong foundation and therefore won’t “turn to dust” (as Covey puts it).


  2. I’m currently working on an income stream through my blog that will be the product of providing help and useful information to others. So far it has been a big eye opener.

    Returning to my career at this stage feels as if it would be unhealthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. It was a soulless unfulfilling time poor money rich existence with very little meaning or potential for personal growth. While I know this is subjective, subjectively speaking I would be crazy to go back.

    Stephen – Balanced Existences last blog post..Beginners Develop Quicker

  3. — All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Somehow, this whole ordeal reminds me of this book. Maybe those greedy moneymakers have forgotten their kindergarten lessons? Maybe we should keep teaching the same lessons in life until we die, and each time we failed class — we repeat the lesson. We fail, we learn — but hopefully we don’t make the same mistake again.

  4. Tender spot hurting a lot? Other side too? Bruises on your face and body throbbing? Is that blood running out your nose, skirt above your head in the wind, panties torn and soiled, titties swelling and turning blue by the minute, lost on the roadside, hoping not to die? Did you recognize the tail lights of the limo that threw you off? Was it the same limo that picked you up at election time, promising a good decent clean ride? Will you ever learn? Last time these guys did this to you, your babies were killed in Iraq and your retirement fund spent to do it, your taxes went up, you did not get destroyed by the weapons of mass destruction, they were never found. Poor little America. Our heart-felt prayers from Canada go out to you!

  5. This is a really thought provoking article Peter. I think it just supports Covey’s argument even more that you should live by principles, instead of sacrificing integrity for ends.

  6. Great way of looking at the world, and especially these last few days. It’s amazing to me on how many people get sucked up in the whole money [greed] aspect of business without actually thinking about implications for the future. Wouldn’t it be better if we all used our knowledge to better the world, instead of tearing down what others built just to show we have a better way? Ultimately it should all be about learning as much as we can about ourselves, and sharing the good we have to offer with others.

    Barbe Ratcliffes last blog post..From Past Life Regression to Life Change

  7. I happened upon your blog while browsing another blog on Technorati. When I began reading the 2nd part of this post, it was then that I realized I really like this blog!

    I believe that the true source of anyone’s wealth resides within their own creative spirit. Financial wealth, to me, is a byproduct of the wealth of creativity and integrity inside of them.

    However, wealth, when it is attained by any means necessary often leads to what we are currently experiencing. Sadly, it is how the Super Wealthy get even wealthier, buying up equity for pennies on the dollar. Attaining wealth without restrain is greed unleashed!

    I too, am someone who is interested in attaining financial wealth. This article cautions me and reminds that I must carefully examine my motives and my means for attaining it!

  8. Thinking in a way that sets up actions that keeps one within their means is quite motivational in itself. When one knows that they are building upward instead of heading towards a negative result, they are propelled forward. Staying below one’s means could be seen as the way to get movement occurring.

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