13 comments

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 titles of the chapters:
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 of 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.

  • ermine September 5, 2011, 3:50 am

    Sounds good, just to satisfy my inquisitive mind, the link to the Youtube clip is…?

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache September 5, 2011, 9:56 am

      Hi Ermine,

      It was the Mrs. that sent that link to MMM. :) I added a link to the video clip in the article. Thanks for asking!

      Reply
      • ermine September 6, 2011, 3:06 pm

        Thanks! You’ve got a point, the old boy does take a little while to get to the point, though what he has to say is sound enough.

        Mind you, I’ve done badly on 7 years of index investing in the UK. I’m with ERE on having reservations about the buy and hold model, perhaps there are too many people doing it now. Some of the top 100 indexes aren’t that well sector diversified as they used to be, with globalisation reducing diversity.

        Reply
        • MMM September 6, 2011, 5:18 pm

          I can’t argue with you on the results of the past 7 (or even 13) years. But I think the idea of long-term index investing involves much longer time horizons, like 25 and up – they do add this caveat in the books.

          For those with shorter horizons, you can always move up to looking at the actual dividend yield and P/E10 of the index to determine when you are wise to index into the market. I admit this is a form of trying to beat the market, but even John Bogle occasionally admits that it works, statistically speaking.

          Or you can get really fancy, as I see you do with your own stock picking on your excellent Suffolk blog. Since you are really focusing on buying solid companies at low prices and going after earnings (Buffett Style), I think you have vastly better odds for success than the momentum chasers and technical charters.

          Reply
  • Value Indexer September 5, 2011, 9:28 am

    I can’t even remember if I’ve read this book or just heard so much about it :) It’s a great message, but to take the other side would you expect an author to say that he’s “written enough”? Or John Bogle to say that Vanguard has reached “enough customers”?

    My financial plan is based on the fact that even if I stopped “working” I would want to start doing something new that would eventually make money because the process is interesting. Some might see this as not knowing when to stop but if it’s truly something that you can be proud of doing it’s probably better than golfing. I’m not interested in making money just to make money, I need to create real value along the way.

    Without knowing the financial industry that well one could guess that most people seeking to get more don’t truly know what they want it for, but for a few it may be more of a sport than an obsession. The way to tell may be by looking at whether they’re always trying to spend more or they don’t know what to do with their earnings.

    Reply
  • tim rapp September 5, 2011, 12:42 pm

    Yep, Bogle and Vanguard rock. Franklin was god (check out his autobiography, great read).

    I find most books have much more content than needed to tell their story. Publishers usually require authors to write 50,000 to 100,000 words (about 200-400 pages). Psychology comes into play — people won’t pay much for a thin book, so ironically we as consumers unknowingly force the industry to publish books with a minimum word count, even if fewer words can get the point across. Just try finding a (good) financial book with 100 pages or less…

    Reply
  • Brooke Trout September 6, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Can’t wait to check this out! I’m currently in the process of reading The Bogleheads Guide To Investing. What was most hilarious to me about the book which was published just two years before the mortgage crisis was the section on mortgage backed securities being something to avoid because they were high risk! There is also a substantial section about avoiding insurance backed securities too. When you are really using your noggin you can say its pretty logical that making money off of debt is a bad investment choice. The one question that no one can seem to answer for me right now though is where do treasury bonds stack up in all of this mess, especially in light of the recent political debate about our government defaulting…Yet books like Your Money Or Your Life and BGTI recommend investing in stuff like TIPS to counteract money lost due to inflation and trading costs. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far through all of this research is you can get a bigger return just from saving/reducing spending than investing. One of the best exercises was from YMOYL; tracking all the money that comes in to my life as freebies, discounts, coupons…We tend to dismiss these things as being trivial but its all a part of our actual networth!

    Reply
    • DTOM November 2, 2011, 6:53 pm

      Mortgage-backed securities are hardly high risk. Check out Vanguard’s VFIIX fund. It features low volatility and provides great current income and long term NAV growth. The GNMA’s in this fund are also backed by the US government.

      As far as insurance backed securities, Warren Buffet himself has quite a bit of money in insurance. Geico is one you may have heard of.

      How do treasury bonds stack up? They will be fine. In fact, now is a bad time to put money into treasury bonds because so many people have been buying them during this volatile stock market cycle which has ended up driving their value down. Treasuries are safe as long as the federal government still exists.

      Reply
  • ermine September 6, 2011, 3:00 pm

    > money that comes in to my life as freebies, discounts, coupons…

    Freebies, can’t argue with that. But no matter how high the discount or coupon it’s hard to beat not buying it in the first place :)

    Reply
  • Ademac September 6, 2011, 8:46 pm

    Thank you, I have requested this book from my state library.

    Reply
  • Brian M. January 11, 2012, 8:55 am

    The Boglehead’s Guide to Investing offers all the essential ingredients toward building a solid financial future for anyone who takes the time to read and apply its’ principles. Written from the perspective of three successful investors who have no motivation other than to share their wealth of investment experience with their fellow readers, they provide the reader with an easy to read primer on all aspects of building a successful financial portfolio.

    A striking example of the successful principles outlined is noted in the book itself, when it refers to a letter written to Vanguard’s former Chairman, Mr. Jack Bogle, by a longtime Vanguard investor. In the letter he thanked Mr. Bogle for allowing him to build a portfolio worth over 1.2 MILLION DOLLARS, while never earning more than $25,000 per year!

    So I ask, who can NOT AFFORD to read this book?

    In summary, if you are new to investing, or would like to further your knowledge of all the critically important aspects of investing, this book may very well be the best investment you’ll ever make!

    Reply
  • Chris S January 29, 2013, 9:23 am

    In case you’re interested: Here’s a new book that looks at the implications of the neglected concept of “enough” on our economy as a whole.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15814047-enough-is-enough

    Reply
  • Alastair August 7, 2014, 10:00 pm

    There is a linguistic example to back-up this excellent article:

    The word “rich” is related to German “reich”, which also means rich.

    “reich” comes from the verb “reichen”, which literally translates to “to reach”. Its more common usage however, is “to be enough”. It’s not too difficult to see how these ideas are related. Think about your arm outstretched, reaching for something. If everything is within reach, then you have enough.

    So we can clearly see that from an ancient perspective, a “rich” person was simply someone who could “reach” everything they needed – they had enough!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!

connect

welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

Ads

$25 Unlimited Smartphone
The Lending Club Experiment
A $500 Signing Bonus... WTF?
How to Start a Blog

latest tweets