Earlier this month, Yahoo Finance ran a story about a fellow personal finance blogger named Anton Ivanov. I’ve followed Anton since I started blogging over a year ago and I was often envious of his story, which can be best described by Yahoo’s headline: “A 27-year-old millionaire reveals how he built his wealth.” Anton was a “self made millionaire” who grew his wealth through practicing solid habits that ring true to just about every financial expert out there.
The problem? He’s a liar.
Anton is a millionaire. That’s not what he lied about. What he did lie about was how he got there. Instead of building his wealth from the ground up, he actually got a little help from the bank of mom and dad. It turns out that his parents passed away some years ago, leaving him with an inheritance of close to three-quarters of a million dollars.
Naturally there are a lot of questions here, and a lot of people have been livid over his deception. But for me, it reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while anyway.
There is no such thing as a self made millionaire
The “self made” anything idea is nothing but a bunch of bull honky. If you ask any successful person out there, whether it be on Wall Street, Beale Street, or Main Street, they will tell you about the influential people in their lives who helped them get there. And it’s not just about the people in your close circles. It’s society as a whole.
If you take a look at some of the richest men in the history of the modern world, it’s not hard to see that their wealth was a product of the people. Take John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt as an example. Each man saw his wealth explode during a time when society made massive revolutionary advancements in their chosen field: oil, steel, and transportation. Each understood that he didn’t amass his billions on his own, and all three of them spent much of their lives trying to give their wealth back to society in the form of universities, libraries, museums, and cultural venues.
Fast forward a couple hundred years and meet Warren Buffett who said, “I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.” Of course, none of this cheapens the definition of success. These aren’t the Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons of history. These men worked hard to build their enterprises and earned their wealth. It’s just a lie to say that they were self made.
Do the wealthy have a moral obligation to give back?
That’s a question that I’m sure has fairly equal support on both sides. Personally, I believe they do. And that’s simply because none of them have an “I did it by myself” story. Each has been a product of social investment and, like any CEO would do with a large portion of his or her company’s profits, each should reinvest in society to make it better.
This is why it makes my blood boil when I hear stories about the wealthy spending as much as $100,000 on a purse. I get that everyone has the right to do with their money as they please. But when I see such a high price tag for something so meaningless in the long run, I can’t help but think about all the people that could genuinely benefit from that money being put to better use.
That being said, I know that not everyone sees things the same way I do. Wealth distribution is a heated topic and I believe there are virtues and falsehoods on both ends of the spectrum. I am not one for forcing anyone to do anything just because I think it’s the right way–increasing taxes for the rich, for example. But I don’t believe for one second the excuse that the wealthy can do what they want with their money because they built it alone.
On personal responsibility
It’s easy to be an armchair critic, but it’s a lot more meaningful to become a part of the solution. I have strong opinions about the topic of wealth and giving, but rather than spending all my time criticizing others directly for not doing what I think they should, I try to use it as a motivation to build my own resources and to try to become a better person. Our system is broken, there’s no doubt about it. Greed has turned some of the greatest virtues of capitalism into vices. But life goes on and anyone expecting a bunch of chump politicians and businessmen to come along and fix it for them is delusional. A broken system doesn’t eliminate our personal responsibility to create something for ourselves and others.
In my ideal world, we’d all work our butts off and everyone would have what they need and more, with those who are more blessed doing what they can to help out those who have fewer opportunities. But since that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, I’m going to keep paying off my debt, growing my net worth, and trying to find opportunities to make a difference wherever my little contributions can.