Wednesday, May 06, 2015


Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying that one should leave "enough money to your kids so they can do anything, but not enough so they can do nothing." His stance on inheritance is that it would be unfair to select the finalists of the 100m olympics based on their parents times. This appeals directly to our sense of fairness. We should reward hard work. We should reward talent. Meritocracy.

You can however argue that talent is largely inherited, just like money. You can argue that an inclination to hard work is a talent. You can say that good parenting is an unfair advantage. Does that mean if you believe in equal opportunity, you shouldn't read your children bedtime stories?

Another issue is how much is enough? It is interesting to look at the Average GDP per capita of wealthy countries. If your money can earn 5% real return, you need roughly 20X that amount for your money to work for you so you can do nothing. If you your money can earn 10% real return (i.e. you are likely a Buffett like investor), then you only need 10X that amount to be in nothing territory. So Buffett could put his kids in nothing territory by giving them a muse of between $550K and $1.1m and the money would be earning the average GDP per capita of America of about $55K. I suspect he did a little more than that.

Since they are in nothing territory, they wouldn't be forced to live in expensive areas that are close to work. They wouldn't have to commute. They would be time rich so many expenses would fall away. Enough, even in rich country terms, is less that you would think. In less rich country terms, for your money to earn what the average South African GDP per capita is ($13K), you only need between $130K and $260K. Enough is relative.

Another nitpick I have is in the opposite direction. The Great Law of the Iroquois refers to environmental sustainability, "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation." Sustainability is effectively about seeing yourself as a custodian rather than as either an owner or a consumer. It is not yours to use, it is available to you while you look after it and make it better. This is an idea very much consistent with real wealth creation too. Wealth in finances. Wealth in education. Wealth in culture. Karabo told the beautiful story of the elders in her family becoming custodians of their education. Thinking in terms of future generations is a game changer with books and with saving. If you start planning beyond how much you need to retire, and wealth becomes something you look after rather than consume - everything changes.

Thinking about sustainability and enough

With machines slowly getting more efficient and us knocking on the door of artificial intelligence, there is no reason we can't free people up. The thing is our focus has been on the creation. Our focus has been on getting enough. If enough is less than we think, we can start thinking about what to do with free time. Not working isn't doing nothing. Not doing anything of value is.
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