Do you want a successful formula for making a lot of money? (Main Forum)
A friend of mine used to run this line at the end of his emails. It's from St Jerome (c. 347-420) writing about the Roman clergy a long, long time ago:
"All their anxiety is about their clothes.... You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies."
I was reminded of it again reading the report of George Pell's little initiative last week, reported in the Catholic Weekly [LINK] and in CathNews [LINK], about the newly-established "Catholic Leaders Forum". The article in the Catholic Weekly was pretty gushing. The Catholic Church has long had a highly developed skill in opening the pockets of the wealthy to support its various endeavours. The explosion of revelations around the late Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado gave us considerable insight into that and the current scandals of what has been going on in the Vatican Bank point in a similar direction even if we do not see the fine detail – although the gifts to the Holy Father discovered in the Butler's apartment give some indication of the scale.
Is there a connection between wealth and cleverness?
I suspect this exercise of leaning on the wealthy is a bit of a "money for jam" exercise for the institution. In the popular imagination of all of us I suspect there is this association between money and cleverness. We all tend to assume that wealthy people are necessarily clever people and leaders. Their wealth is some demonstration of their cleverness and leadership abilities. When I was younger I think that's the belief I also had. Today I see it as an enormous fallacy. I don't pretend to know how the wealth of the world is distributed. Many have come up with theories from Adam Smith to the modern banking and economic gurus and many politicians. In my own immediate and wider family I see some with what we call "the midas touch" — everything they touch turns into money somehow — and others, some of whom in some overall scale of intelligence or cleverness, I'd classify a lot more highly than those with "the midas touch" constantly struggle or, at the least, are only moderately successful when it comes to "making money". In my own three children, the youngest seems to have the "midas touch", and the two older ones have had to engage in a lot more "hard work" to make their way in the world even though I'd classify them all as having about equal intelligence. Looking back I can see now that it has been that way virtually since they were babies and does not seem to have been heavily influenced by the education they received or the inputs from their mother and father. It almost seems an innate quality they were born with.
I look at a bloke like Bill Gates, or Gina Reinhart, and I am not particularly bowled over by the "intelligence" of either of them. There are many computer programmers who have come up with far better programs than Bill Gates but somehow "the universe conspired" for him and through the enterprise, Microsoft, that he built he became one of the richest people in the world. Gina Reinhart inherited at least the "starting kitty" for her rise, as did Rupert Murdoch and James Packer. A self-made individual on the present Australian landscape might be the Queensland electrician-turned billionaire, Nathan Tinkler, although judging by newspaper reports in recent days he might be starting to hit some kind of struggle street.
I don't know what the "magic key" is that makes any person wealthy. I certainly don't believe it is "cleverness" or "IQ" alone. Neither do I believe it is "hard work" alone. I've come across many people in life whom I'd classify as "hard workers" but wealth has never graced their pockets because of it. I wonder sometimes what part luck or serendipity plays in the way "the universe conspires" or "providence works" in the ways in which wealth and affluence is distributed? In Physics in the realm of chaos theory and quantum theory we have a better understanding today of the ways in which chance operates statistically to produce certain outcomes. I often wonder if there might be some connection between those discoveries in the sciences and how the wealth of a society ends up getting distributed?
I'm old enough now to have known and even worked with some people who are extremely wealthy, others who are extremely clever but not particularly affluent. I've also worked with plenty who are poor, and some extremely clever but perpetually poor. I've met people who have been very frugal and who believe it has been their frugality that has made them their fortune and I've met others who have been the complete opposite of frugal and who believe it has been their generosity and charity that has been the "magic formula". A couple of my best mates were "rolling in it" at earlier phases of their lives but in advanced age are struggling on the pension and in public housing. Some of them wonder where it all went belly up in their lives. I've met and worked with very conservative and private individuals who scrimp and save for their retirement and then some roller coaster dump truck hits their lives and they "lose it all" and end up living lives of "quiet and private desperation" embarrassed by their circumstances and the earlier certitudes they had that their conservatism and frugality was "the magic formula". I've met a couple of individuals in my life who have suddenly gone from struggle street to "Lotto-type" wins. In both cases the outcomes have been good but from time to time in the media we read stories of where Lotto wins have been the worst thing that ever happened to individuals and they end up losing the lot again.
I am not sure there is actually any "magic formula" that can make any person wealthy or even just "iron clad secure". Life for everyone is full of risk and even insurance ultimately cannot provide total security.
One successful formula for making money...
Bringing this all back to the ancient observation of St Jerome I do think one institution in society has developed a very successful "formula" for "making money". It is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. There are a lot of people around who have inherited money or been blessed with accumulating a pile and along with that they have some sort of guilt about it. They look around and in their heart of hearts they actually know it is not their own cleverness but through luck, serendipity, the conspiracy of the universe, or Providence that has blessed their circumstances compared to others. I suspect it is some of these people who have been a "snitch" for the likes of Marcial Maciel Degollado — and down through the centuries those who sold indulgences and other snake oil beneficences.
My own view is that the Church has a very subtle moral and ethical road to navigate in this realm of attracting support from the wealthy. In the end Marcial Maciel Degollado represents one end of the moral extreme — and seems precisely in the realm of what St Jerome was warning about all those centuries ago.
It is perhaps ironic that the other end of the moral scale today is to be found the self-made atheist/agnostic, Dick Smith, as the one in our own country running around at the moment encouraging the wealthy to be more philanthropic and to develop a greater sense of noblesse oblige in their outlook towards life [See "Smith threatens to out rich who don't help others" LINK]. "Noblesse oblige" is a French term that Wikipedia suggests "is generally used to imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibilities. … In American English especially, the term is sometimes applied more broadly to suggest a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate." [SOURCE]
A personal parable to end...
Let me end with a parable taken from my own life experience. I've told this before. My own father was the eldest in his family. For a long period of his life he had been the most successful in business compared to his 8 living siblings. I've told the story before of how their mother was taken away from them and committed to a mental asylum in the early 1930s when my father was about 19. His own father lost the plot a little and my father and his eldest sister became sort of surrogate parents to their younger siblings. The whole of our wider family looked up to them as "the elders". Throughout his business life my father had been very generous to the church but in advanced age (he lived into his 90s), and partly through Alzheimers, he gradually lost some of the respect that had been accorded to him when he was seen as a "high flyer" in business. I doubt he ever made it to being a millionaire but for a long period he was certainly in front of all the rest of them both in terms of his wealth and also his generosity. For the last decade of his life though he lived pretty frugally off the savings he had accumulated and my brother and myself inherited equally what was left. He made a small bequest to the Church of around five grand. When he eventually died, even though I had excellent senior contacts in the Church, I had difficulty trying to find a priest to officiate at his funeral. In the end I did find one and the funeral was a wonderful send off and tribute to his life.
Some years earlier one of his brothers had died. He'd never married and had long been seen as one of the scrouges in the family and a bit eccentric. He was a daily communicant and all that and had been very generous in his work with various agencies in the Church like the St Vincent de Paul Society. A standing joke amongst some of the younger members of the family in my generation though is that he was going to shovel all his money into heaven or leave it to the church. Despite his acknowledged generosity in his commitments to endeavours like the Vinnies the more general impression seemed to be that he was a tight arse, and a scrouge and an eccentric within our family. He had been one of the ones who had done great damage in my life and at one stage I spent over two grand to get a QC's written opinion as to whether he and a couple of others had defamed me. The QC is now a Supreme Court judge and his opinion was that I had a "prima facie" case of defamation against this individual although he had not been the prime cause of the defamation but a secondary agent. I could never get the evidence against the prime source and so I was never in a position to pursue the action for damages. The legal advice was that if I had taken action against the one I had the "prima facie" evidence against I would more than likely only have received nominal damages. Unrelated to the evidence at an earlier stage he had threatened me to my face to have been sacked from my employment within the institution – which I worked for at the time. I never had any illusions that he had the contacts who might be able to facilitate that. In the end when he did die he did leave all this assets to the church. There is even a rumour that the niece who had cared for him during the final part of his journey didn't even see a cent for the effort she put in. What surprised many when we rocked up to his funeral was who should be in attendance on the altar (but not presiding) but the local bishop. Money talks. I don't know how much he left to the church but suspect it might have been in the realm of half a million to seven hundred thousand from some estimates some of us in the family tried to do at the time. I also don't know how that might compare to what my own father had given to the church over his lifetime — and we struggled to even find a priest to officiate at his funeral. I can't recall any of the others having an archbishop in attendance at their funerals.
I relate the parable only in the sense that bishops and archbishops, anybody for that matter, ought be careful in what sort of messages they broadcast in their patronage of the wealthy and affluent.
[Editor & Publisher]
- Do you want a successful formula for making a lot of money? - Brian Coyne, 2012-08-18, 06:54
- Do you want a successful formula for making a lot of money? - gemstones, 2012-08-18, 11:08
- Also see the reports today in The Economist and NCR on Church finances... - Brian Coyne, 2012-08-18, 14:23
- Do you want a successful formula for making a lot of money? - louisquinze1, 2012-08-18, 17:37