Adventures in Faith

Conversations with Billionaires: Why Extreme Wealth Can Be A Curse

Over the past few months I've sat and talked with a few billionaires and centi-millionaires. And, I was surprised to hear more than once that such wealth is a curse. And so recently, coming out of one such meeting, I posted this on Facebook:

The comments on this post went back and forth with some identifying with the great challenge of wealth, and others saying that, in fact, wealth itself cannot be a curse with some suggesting ways to handle it. 

Without trying to make a case one way or the other here, I'm going to give more details about where these people were coming from, which will hopefully be of some use to us all.

1. First, keep in mind I was speaking to them about their philanthropy, and each of these folks gives away massive amounts of their wealth, some up to 50% per year. So, by any standard, they are extremely generous, far more than the average person, which is not typical of the extremely wealthy.

2. The principal wealth holder's I met weren't necessarily concerned with their own handling of their wealth, but rather how their family would handle it. In fact, one billionaire said to me that massive wealth almost automatically changes their kids and how they approach work, and not for the better. Statistics show that 70% of wealth is lost by the second generation, 90% by the third, which seems to support this concern. 

3. Even if the principal wealth holder believes that he can handle the wealth, there's a sense that it's not always easy to discern if one is doing so. And, the Bible speaks quite a bit about the heart being able to be deceived with regards to wealth. Does one's resources start to provide a sense of security, provision, and joy in place of where God ought to be? With the onset of massive wealth, this becomes difficult to discern. One pastor, Francis Chan, upon learning that his book would net him millions, set up a trust to ensure he couldn't use it for his personal lifestyle for this very reason (read the story here). 

4. People of extreme wealth are very concerned about their values, and primarily about their values not being upheld by their successors or those they give money to. I've heard this many times, and people have pointed to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as examples of wealthy families leaving money to educate students with certain values, which are now mostly lost. 

5. The nature of relationships automatically change, where most conversations seem to have a hidden agenda and/or lead to a financial transaction. This dynamic can quickly lead to guilt, family infighting, and abandonment by friends and family who become upset when requests aren't met, and ultimately, a lack of trust and deep loneliness.

6. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how one could or should handle the wealth. Even in the Facebook post I put up, people, complete strangers, right away started providing solutions about how they would handle it, and how they most certainly would not be cursed by such wealth. When one is extremely wealthy, it's almost an invitation for open criticism, whether they give it away or not, just by virtue of them being wealthy.

7. Giving the money away doesn't always feel all that helpful to the recipient. Some folks I'm talking to literally can't give the money away fast enough, and wrestle with the issues that come with giving it away. Individuals and organizations receiving funds sometimes seem worse off than before they got the funding. These kinds of unintended negative consequences are commonplace, and it soon becomes clear that giving money away is, in fact, difficult to do well.  

8. In the USA, we are in a society that values and has more wealth than any society before it. Even within the church, it's often the financially successful who are put on stage. We've witnessed the rise of the "prosperity Gospel" and yet, while the Bible uses the word "blessed" 112 times in the New Testament, it never once refers to material wealth. So, with great wealth in the US comes a certain fame and favoritism that would certainly pull away from, not towards, the key tenants of Scripture. 

9. Keep in mind that, most people who will read this post are actually very wealthy. In fact, if there were 100 people in a line representing the world's population, everyone reading this post would be in the top 5 wealthiest people in that line. Don't believe me, check the stats here at Global Rich List. For example, I'm in the top .08% of all humans! So while it's easy to point to "that millionaire or billionaire," for statistical purposes and from a global perspective, you might as well point to yourself. 

Now, all this having been said...

Is there a way to have wealth and still walk closely with God? Yes. 

Would such a walk be difficult and require one to hold onto that wealth very loosely. I think we can agree that, yes, this is true.

Given that I am primarily interested in building up the Church and providing solutions, do I have ideas about how to do this? Indeed, and if you're interested, you should sign up for my email list to be sure you don't miss out on the principles, tools, and resources that are coming very soon. 


I'm Leaving Silicon Valley to Work for a Very Silicon Valley Firm

I’m elated to announce that mid-June I will join the Geneva Global team HQ on Philadelphia’s Main Line to help grow the customer-centered service approach as well as deepen existing and forge new relationships.

Here's an infographic on the trajectory of my career, how it hits Geneva Global, and a bit about this one-of-a-kind company:

I’ll continue to connect with the amazing network of leaders I’ve met in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as in Seattle, Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. I’m very interested in connecting with individuals, families, foundations, and corporations who want to see their philanthropic investments applied and leveraged in the smartest way possible.

Want to know more about Geneva Global’s innovative approach? Contact me to arrange for a chat and a free copy of Doing Good Great, by CEO Doug Balfour.

Please note, given this new beginning and a focus on my growing family, I will be incredibly selective with personal consulting engagements.