Book Review: “Enough.” by John C. Bogle
Mrs. Money Mustache forwarded to me an interesting video clip on YouTube with this wise old guy dishing out some very humble and sensible lessons for living a meaningful life. As I watched, I came to realize the guy talking was John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, a place that has been leading the world in high-quality mutual funds since 1976 (and taking care of my own investments for about a third of that time!)
In the video, John was discussing his new book, which is called “Enough.” The founding premise of this book was an actual conversation that occurred many years ago. Two famous authors, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller are talking at a party hosted by a billionaire hedge fund manager. Kurt says to Joseph, “You know, this billionaire makes more money in one day than you made in your whole lifetime from your novel Catch-22“. Joe responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have… enough.”
That sounded like an interesting idea for a book, coming from a lifetime CEO of a company that manages well over a trillion dollars of the world’s dough invested in the stock market. So I checked it out of the library.
As I read the book, I learned the whole history of John C. Bogle, and I came to appreciate why he has a worldwide following of dedicated fans. He’s one of those rare low-key rich people that deliberately collects and spends only a tiny fraction of the earnings of most in his position, and puts most of his efforts into encouraging better results, through investment, for Vanguard’s customers, its employees, and for society as a whole.
Despite the fact that this guy knows the financial system better than almost anyone, he openly admits that “rampant greed threatens to overwhelm our financial system – greed which runs deeper than money. Not knowing what enough is subverts our professional values. It makes salespeople of those who should be fiduciaries and turns a system built on trust into one built on counting”.
The concept of Enough rings true to even little old Mr. Money Mustache. I can see that at a certain point of wealth, it becomes increasingly foolish to earn and spend any more on yourself. If you pay close attention, you will find you have Enough much earlier than you thought was possible. After this, you’re much better off turning your efforts to something more creative and generous. When people ignore this advice in massive numbers, they do it at the peril of themselves and their society.
The introduction is probably the most useful part of the book, followed by the chapters of the titles:
1: Too Much Cost, Not Enough Value.
2: Too Much Speculation, Not Enough Investment.
3: Too Much Complexity, Not Enough Simplicity.
4: Too Much Counting, Not Enough Trust.
5: Too Much Business Conduct, Not Enough Professional Conduct.
6: Too Much Salesmanship, Not Enough Stewardship.
7: Too Much Management, Not Enough Leadership.
8: Too Much Focus on Things, Not Enough Focus On Commitment.
9: Too Many Twenty-First-Century Values, Not Enough Eighteenth Century Values.
10: Too Much “Success”, Not Enough Character.
The most interesting insight to me in the remainder of the book was in Chapter 9 about the 18th century values. Bogle points out the incredible spirit of community-mindedness that was present in the leaders at the time – many of them being the founding fathers of the United States itself. Benjamin Franklin was the ultimate example, spending his life inventing cool things and starting useful groups, and then sharing them with society just for fun.
Franklin believed that “Knowledge is not the personal property of its discoverer, but the common property of all. As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”
To this I say, “Fuck Yeah!”. To those who would question the spirit behind Franklin’s words as being too liberal-minded and not capitalist enough, I would say, “Uh-huh, and which of the world’s economic powerhouse countries did YOU help to found recently?”. I think that whether you think you are liberal or conservative, you will still become richer by practicing less greed and thinking of a much larger and longer-term picture. This works on both the individual level and the country-wide level.
Unfortunately for John C. Bogle, despite being a hero to many and a great contributor to society, he is not a particularly concise or exciting writer. So I found myself yawning through about 200 of the 276 pages, even as I sleepily agreed with everything he said.
So if you just want the executive summary, I would say it is this: “Being a rich person doesn’t mean you have to be a big evil douche. But among the rich today, we do have a lot of this unfortunate breed. So we need to reward and encourage the good ones, even while carefully regulating a few walls around the worst offenders – otherwise get yourself ready for a neverending series of 2008-style Great Financial Crashes where great profits are made in the booms, and the governments (i.e. you and I) are forced to foot the bill during the frequent crashes.”
Thanks John C. Bogle for leading a good life and telling it like it is.
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