Tragic Losses Result from Building on a Weak Foundation
- Austin Pryor Sound Mind Investing
- 2008 16 Jun
America's largest electric utility. The New York Stock Exchange. Our largest independent steel company. The largest gas company. The country's largest business monopoly. And the Bank of International Settlements.
In 1923, the presidents of these six prestigious institutions came together in Chicago for a meeting of many of the world's most successful financiers. Jesse Livermore, Wall Street's most famous speculator of the day, was also in attendance. They were all men of great wealth, stature, and influence. Yet, within 25 years, these seven men had discovered what we all learn eventually—the world just doesn't offer enough. One man had gone to prison, another was insane. Two had died penniless, and three were suicides. All had mastered the art of making a living, but none had learned how to live.
Now, as then, quality of life is difficult to come by even though we live in the most affluent society in all of history. Why is this? I believe it's because our society has moved away from the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which our country was founded. Consider the differences between society's prevailing attitudes toward life, work, and investing versus the historical Biblical view. Society and government's perspective is that we came into existence strictly by chance. Accordingly, we are just animals seeking to fulfill our needs. Furthermore:
1. The goal of work is to do whatever is necessary to achieve success. Indicators of success are the acquisition of money, possessions, and influence.
2. Because life is short, lifestyles are geared to immediate gratification—gaining as much pleasure as possible as quickly as possible. This leads to higher consumption now and less saving for the future. A high level of debt and continuous use of credit is considered an acceptable means to this end.
3. Investing is geared to get-rich-quick strategies with a short-term time horizon. The recessionary phases of economic cycles are dreaded and pose a constant threat to economic survival.
4. Because there is no ultimate purpose or morality, we are free to invent our own. Ethics are relative and personal. They generally play little, if any, role in making spending or investing decisions.
Contrast these views with a Biblical perspective that maintains we came into existence through the creative hand of God. We are essentially spirit beings with an eternal purpose. It follows that:
1. The goal of work is to use our God-given talents to serve others or fulfill a calling. Indicators of success are peace with God, showing love for others, and contentment in life.
2. Because eternal life is possible, a lifestyle of deferred gratification that is focused on eternal issues is appropriate. This leads to less consumption now and more saving for the future and for giving to Christian ministry. A high level of debt and continuous use of credit is discouraged as an unnatural and enslaving lifestyle.
3. Investing can be geared to slow-but-sure strategies with a long-term time horizon. Economic cycles are prepared for through a strategy of saving and diversification.
4. Because God has a moral purpose for His creation, a law of sowing and reaping prevails. Ethics are based on Biblical wisdom and play an important role in making spending and investing decisions.
Jesus is almost universally regarded as the wisest moral teacher of all time, even by millions who do not consider themselves Christians. After finishing what we call "The Sermon on the Mount," He said, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
Although our society and government may choose to ignore His words, at the personal and family level we still have the choice of preparing for the inevitable storms of life by following biblical principles. Take a good look around you. Rarely has the truth of the old hymn been so obvious: "On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand."
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Published since 1990, Sound Mind Investing is America's best-selling financial newsletter written from a biblical perspective.