Schopenhauer cites Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) (the “great professor of happiness”) who divides the needs of mankind into three classes (1) natural and necessary needs, that if not satisfied produce pain (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) which can easily be satisfied; (2) natural but unnecessary needs, such as gratification of the senses (physical and mental stimulation), which are a bit harder to satisfy; and (3) unnatural and unnecessary needs, the need for luxury, prodigality, show and splendor, which never comes to an end and is difficult (expensive) to satisfy. It’s a waste of time and energy to unduly pursue this third class “need”.
Wealth satisfies needs and is a blessing to be respected and appreciated. It should be used responsibly and regarded as a bulwark against future challenges and misfortunes. Wealth should never be seen as leave to get whatever pleasures one can out of this world. And it’s unwise to spend all of one’s earnings because valuable skills and talents can be exhausted or become antiquated, having been good only under a special conjunction of circumstances which has passed. The rags to riches to rags story is so common because most people do not handle wealth prudently. Shakespeare gave us the adage in Henry VI – beggars mounted run their horse to death.
Wealth is emancipation, rendering us master of our own time and powers, enabling us every morning to say this day is my own. Schopenhauer writes that wealth reaches its utmost value when it falls to the individual endowed with mental powers of a high order – doubly endowed by fate with both wealth and intelligence, enabling one to accomplish “what no other could achieve, by producing some work which contributes to the general good, and redounds to the honor of humanity at large. Another again, may use his wealth to further philanthropic schemes, and make himself well-deserving of his fellow-men. But a man who does none of these things, who does not even try to do them, who never attempts to study thoroughly some one branch of knowledge so that he may at least do what he can toward promoting it – such a one, born as he is into riches, is a mere idler and thief of time, a contemptible fellow.”
There is consolation from Voltaire, who said: We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals. But alas!, Schopenhauer writes, “let me observe by the way, that contemptible rascal is an attribute which may be predicted of an abominable number of people”. Don’t worry about them! Focus on cultivating your talent and faculties and be sure to have an Estate Planning War Chest full of knowledge and wealth because, as the Roman poet Juvenal put it, it is difficult to rise if your poverty is greater than your talent.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), observed that the fundamental differences (blessings) among humans are of 3 distinct classes:
- What a person is – personality, temperament, moral character, physical strength and intelligence
- What a person has – property and possessions
- How a person stands – position, his place in the estimation of others
Blessings of class #1 are clearly more important than those is class #s 2-3. Compared to genuine personal greatness in mind and heart, what a person has or how they are viewed is not as vital. Schopenhauer recognized that humans vary enormously in their “blessings”. He was anti-egalitarian in acknowledging that we are all very different, highly unequal in qualitative and moral aspects. It’s brutal to admit – but some people are clearly superior and some people are obviously inferior on many different levels that matter. But we live in an age of delusional denial of this fact – the media, politicians and academia repeatedly assert that everyone is equal and has the same merit and human value – it’s just not true. We all have equal human dignity but our skills, moral sense and intelligence vary wildly. What a person is, not what a person has or how they are viewed, is the key blessing.
Health outweighs all other blessings – a healthy beggar is happier than an ailing king. But beyond physical health, mental and moral strength elevates some humans. Schopenhauer writes: “A quiet and cheerful temperament, happy in the enjoyment of a perfectly sound physique, and intellect clear, lively, penetrating and seeing things as they are, a moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good conscience – these are privileges which no rank or wealth can make up for or replace. For what a man is in himself, what accompanies him when he is alone, what no one can give or take away, is obviously more essential to him than everything he has in the way of possession, or even what he may be in the eyes of the world. An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount or diversity of social pleasure, theatres, excursions and amusements, can ward off boredom from a dullard.”
Our blessings are valuable and not just the key #1 blessing of what we are. What we have is also important and it’s really the root subject of this Blog. On 9/13/16 I quoted Schopenhauer “People are often reproached for wishing for money above all things… but it is natural and even inevitable for people to love that which…is ready to turn itself into whatever object their wandering wishes or manifold desires may for the moment fix upon. Money alone is absolutely good, because it is not only a concrete satisfaction of one need in particular; it is an abstract satisfaction of all.”
Since the blessings of the first order decidedly outweigh the other two, it is a wiser aim to pursue the maintenance of our health and cultivation of our faculties, than at amassing wealth. BUT wealth cannot be ignored. Next week the Estate Planning War Chest delves further into the non-key blessing of personal financial wealth.
This weekly Blog is now 3 years old! Gandhi believed that “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny”. Some habits are bad…. but some habits are good and enriching – regular physical training, quality time with friends and family, musical or artistic pursuits and the persistent study of a branch of knowledge. I’m not a professional philosopher or economist, but as an attorney repeatedly delving into those disciplines, I probe for insight – deeper understanding of controversial, multi-disciplinary issues concerning personal wealth; and what better person to do it than a lawyer of moderate, not genius, intelligence who studies the ideas of historical geniuses?
William James (1842-1910) in his seminal book Principles of Psychology (1890) wrote:
Attention can be wandering and unfixed. It is probable that genius tends actually to prevent a man from acquiring habits of voluntary attention, and that moderate intellectual endowments are the soil in which we may best expect, here as elsewhere, the virtues of the will, strictly so called, to thrive. But, whether the attention comes by grace of genius or by dint of will, the longer one does attend to a topic the more mastery of it one has. And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character and will.
Decades in the future, imagine an all-powerful, superior intelligence considering whether or not to rearrange how wealth is distributed among humans on Earth. This Blog argues vehemently that my clients’, friends’ and family’s wealth should be preserved, left intact, not confiscated and redistributed – for a variety of good and convincing reasons. Reasons explored here weekly; like freedom to cultivate and develop our own blessings, without Government interference; to not have the good things in life doled out by a tutelary State. Socialism is intellectually and morally flawed – it can never work and it’s the only real alternative to free market capitalism. Next week, we explore the genius, Arthur Schopenhauer’s, ideas on personal wealth.
The United States was founded on the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704) – natural law and inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. Founders like John Adams (1738-1823) purposely built into our country Constitutional protection of private property rights from the tyranny of mob rule democracy. He warned that without safeguards, “The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all of their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them”.
Thinkers from James Madison (1751-1836) to F. A. Hayek (1899-1992) understand that property is a fundamental, profound thing to which we attach great value and have a right. It’s more than possessions or money; it’s our faculties, beliefs and profession. Government’s primary purpose is to ensure private property rights. True liberty cannot exist without individual property rights – only the distorted notion of liberty, where the individual is contorted and subsumed by the collective. We exposed the folly and sinister nature of collectivism, hawked by philosophers from Rousseau to Marx, on this blog and also hailed the intellectual and economic triumph of individualism.
Modern progressive attempts to re-design society into an engineered utopia are doomed and dangerous. Liberty is impossible if the Government’s goal is economic egalitarianism – people will always be different. Forcing equality is immoral, irrational and impractical. But there appears to be a current, worrisome break from our Founders’ principles and Constitutional limits on Government power. We were clearly warned of the danger of undiluted democracy, by Alexis De Tocqueville (1805–1859) and free market advocates like Milton Friedman (1912-2006), that economic liberty is indispensable to political freedom.
Fortunately, great historical thinkers gave us the foundational principles on which freedom, happiness and prosperity will always be based. They are not going away despite recent attacks. Mark R. Levin in his book Rediscovering Americanism (2017) points out that these principles are being undermined and ridiculed by today’s academia, media and politicians who “reject history’s lessons and instead are absorbed with their own conceit and aggrandizement in the relentless pursuit of a diabolical project, the final outcome of which is an oppression of mind and soul…. Once the poison of jealousy, contempt, and even hatred enters the bloodstream of the body politic, a dark foreboding bleakness will begin to cover society…”
Secure tightly the cognitive, moral and financial clasps of your War Chest. This is a nasty war of ideas. Our Estate Planning War Chest is a bastion of liberty and private property rights – inseparable concepts.
One of the benefits of being wealthy and stoic is comfort with the status quo of existing power structures. But understanding social critics who question the legitimacy and morality of our institutions (instead of just accepting the world as it is) can sharpen our rationale for not joining a social justice crusade. Both intellectual and moral understanding is needed because we are putting wisdom, not cunning, in our War Chest.
Noam Chomsky writes that the “Masters of Mankind”, the principal architects of government policy, pursue their vile maxim – “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.” He believes the Masters of Mankind actively impose a selfish attitude/belief he refers to as the Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, forgetting all but Self (with the Masters knowing that the system is rigged in their favor, so the poor will never achieve wealth). The Masters do this via the education system, advertising and propaganda. They “fabricate wants”, convincing people to seek personal gain so they can be diverted away from dangerous efforts to think for themselves and challenge authority. The public must be put in its place, marginalized and controlled for its own good. The masses are too stupid to run things. The “intelligent minority” must be protected from the “trampling roar of the bewildered herd”. The role of the general population is to be spectators, not participants in economic action. Chomsky calls for the subversion of this immoral social structure – “expanding the floor of the cage”, as he says.
Chomsky uses the term “privileged” when referring to himself and other intellectuals. I think “privilege” is a loaded word, but not when one is referring to oneself. Calling other people privileged to advance social justice is often founded on jealousy and resentment of the powerful. But Chomsky uses it to assert that intellectuals have moral responsibility because they are typically privileged (economically advantaged), which yields opportunity, and opportunity confers responsibility. “An individual then has choices”, he writes.
And that’s the important point – morality is a choice. It cannot and should not be imposed. Accepting wealth inequality is moral because that’s our system. We cannot legislate morality. Chomsky and others continue to fight the evil Masters of Mankind to advance the causes of freedom, justice, mercy and peace. It’s a good thing to champion the poor and the weak, but attacking the strong and successful based on the assumption that the whole system is oppressive and unfair, run by selfish Masters, is misguided and wrong. There are plenty of moral wealthy people. Wealth inequality is a natural state of affairs, not the result of systematic oppression. Coercive wealth equality is wrong. Mandatory volunteering isn’t volunteering. Forced sharing isn’t sharing. It’s up to each of us to choose whether or not we place morality in our Estate Planning War Chests.
Stoicism is a philosophy that leads to mental calmness, composure and an unruffled acceptance of the world as it is. It originated in ancient Greece with Zeno (334-262 BC) and was developed by a Roman slave, Epictetus (55-155 AD) and a Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD). Stoicism means keeping the Englishmen’s “stiff upper lip”, living with the virtues of temperance and fortitude. It’s a popular, admirable philosophy. The President of my daughter’s college even quoted a Stoic in his welcome speech to parents: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD).
Stoicism embodies moderation and self-control. The Universe is rational and there are reasons why everything is the way it is. To the extent that our emotions rebel against this – they are wrong. Stoics believe that emotions are judgments and therefore, cognitive. They are forms of knowledge (either true or false). For example, greed is the judgment that money is the supreme good, to be acquired by every available means. It’s a false judgment that can be corrected with reason. Plato (427 BC – 347 BC) wrote that knowledge divorced from justice should be called cunning rather than wisdom. The world should be viewed through both intellectual and moral lenses.
Stoicism is a necessary addition to the Estate Planning War Chests of the successful because there is a danger in success. Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) wrote: “When fortune smiles and the stream of life flows according to our wishes, let us diligently avoid all arrogance, haughtiness and pride. For it is as much a sign of weakness to give way to one’s feelings in success as it is in adversity.”
Enjoy success – but maintain moral strength, courage and humility. It’s the Stoic way.
As I began my career, studying and researching the trusts and estates business, the book The Millionaire Next Door (1996) by Thomas J. Stanley stood out in my mind. It profiled “millionaires” as surprisingly down to earth, frugal and not flashy with their wealth. They are more likely to drive an old pick-up truck than a fancy Mercedes. I admire the morality of this demographic – well grounded, family oriented with good money habits and a passion for what they do. It angers me that politicians and academics continue to attack my tribe with egalitarian wealth redistribution nonsense.
Testamentary freedom is a critical economic right that enables our demographic to perpetuate financial security across generations, and more importantly, values of personal responsibility, industriousness and thrift that lead to a family centered worldview focused on success and self-discipline. Critics attack the wealthy and inheritance rights when advancing an ‘equality for all’ agenda, and it’s wrong and misguided because inheritance: 1) is an incentive for wealth accumulation; 2) is a huge part of our economy and source of investment capital; 3) enables the support of dependents; 4) supports charitable and cultural institutions; 5) is fair because traditional recipients (spouse and children) contribute to the accumulation of wealth (via providing purpose and household stability to the bread winner); and 6) is morally legitimate because the abolition or substantial curtailment of private property and inheritance rights is Socialism. And as we’ve seen here week after week – Socialism is evil and rationally immoral.
The author of The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley, died on February 28, 2015 behind the wheel of a new Corvette rammed by a drunk driver. It turns out that Mr. Stanley had a taste for the finer things in life. But he was not a hypocrite. We get more joy out of life from experiences rather than things. A weekend drive in a car that goes really fast is a probably a little of both. But he earned that drive and that car. His book put an untold number of readers in a position where they’d be lucky enough to have that same choice themselves. Keep on stocking your Estate Planning War Chest.
[last paragraph based on a 2015 New York Times article paying tribute to Mr. Stanley]