Sunday, November 16, 2008

Being John Bogle

This afternoon I received in my inbox a "Message from Jack Bogle," founder and former CEO of The Vanguard Group. Yes, I admit that I am a Boglehead and being such I have received this message. It included a chapter from his newest book, Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. In the introduction, Mr. Bogle tells a powerful story:

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch - 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, "Yes, but I have something he will never have... enough."

Enough. I was stunned by the simple eloquence of that word — stunned for two reasons: first, because I have been given so much in my own life and, second, because Joseph Heller couldn't’t have been more accurate. For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails.

This story reminded me of a meeting with an incredibly wealthy associate who I have known for many years. Enough is never enough for him and sometimes he shows an incredibly insensitive ruthless self-centered side that is baffling. This bright complicated intelligent man can be just as kind. I suppose we are all complicated beings. But how we view money can say a lot about who we are at the center of being With this friend, money means more to him than just about anything. Sometimes it seems as if money has imprisoned him.

When enough is never enough this is what scripture calls the "love of money" that is the "root of all evil." Greed and loveless actions is the result. It is not that money is bad, needless to say, nor is it what money can do that solely corrupts. (Many very wealthy people use money for great good. Whether through business or charity; this is truly admirable.) But it is the love of money that causes great problems, for it excludes all possibilities of goodness, save that which increases itself.

This associate tells me repeatedly that it's not about money or power; it's about the game. But without the pursuit of increasing money achieved in part by a single-mindedness and carelessness of others, there would be no game. Not being able to say enough also reminds me of another scripture; "the eye is not satisfied."

For his brilliance, hard work, ethics and thoughtfulness, Mr. Bogle is one who I greatly admire. Are we developing leaders like this anymore? From the inferences in the introduction of his newest book, it took a village to instill such principles. Can we return to this sense of collective responsibility that breeds individual accountability?


Catvibe said...

These posts on Bogle certainly give much pause for thought. I think this is a time to turn our thinking away from money and into creative building inspired by love. In a nutshell. And you know, it is good! Everyone I know is talking about how much they are reeling in and realizing how much their lives have been about shopping and spending. I anticipate closer relationships, more intimate and personal, more music and art, and game playing while sitting around a fire. How about going back to a Christmas that is about heart and profound love and giving of your SELF and SPIRIT, rather than a grotesque material extravaganza afforded by credit? I have nightmares when I think of those years of willing participation in the indebting of the masses. Especially when I see how that has affected the children born in the 80's. I hope they will be resilient because I think that things will be mentally tougher for them then most, and yet they will probably be the largest population that is helping to drag us out of this mess.

judith ellis said...

Wonderful thoughts, Cat. Thank you. There is no doubt that we need to return in a greater way to those sustainable things such as love. But out of love comes so much that propels society economically. Love is not only soft but hard. (Business management guru, Tom Peters, says "Soft is hard. Hard is soft.") Love is not only giving but taking. Love is not only sober but ebullient. Love is not only disciplined but relaxed. Love is not only creative but steady.

The wonderful thing about Mr. Bogle is that he has been massively successful, but he seems to have achieved success in a very ethical way. He seems to realize that there is no good in achieving so much that it cripples everyone else. If you are massively successful and those around you are not, that does not make you better but far worse. I think we are experiencing that right now. I have friends that are not affected by this crisis in the very least, at all, in fact. But they are uneasy none the less.

I still very much believe in the capitalist free market system, for at the root of it is choice. At the root is freedom. I believe in the "perfect law of liberty," as scripture says. But this system has to be forever infused with ethics, as any market is us. In fact, the present spirit of greed probably prevails, as we are ALL guilty to one extent or the other. The wonderful thing is that we can most certainly change if we are willing to do so.

It's all about choice. The choice, however, needs to involve the very thought of others. How does my decision affect others? There is no better house, actually or figuratively, personally or professionally, that love cannot build. Wisdom and understanding are needed. Both require a forever stepping outside of self.

"A child shall lead them."

Catvibe said...

I like your thinking Judith my friend.

judith ellis said...

Ah, and I like your photos and poetry; both are extensions of your thoughts. Thanks, Cat, my friend.