The great majority of Americans are money illiterate, and unfortunately this is by intentional design. On the other hand, the 1%'ers hire family offices to protect, manage, and grow their wealth. These unique organizations not only provide traditional investment services, but also implement hands-on education for the next generation, the children. These children are taught to understand money, business, investments, retirement, and philanthropy. These families know that without this education over two-thirds of wealth is destroyed by the middle of the third generation. Translation - Senior builds a successful business which creates substantial wealth, Junior becomes a services professional such as a lawyer or doctor and remains a good steward of the inheritance, "Trey" then blows the trust money on Bon Jovi for his 21st birthday bash and other indulgences, and now the money is gone. These 1%'ers understand that money drives everything, and they must teach their family how to create and protect it.
But then why does the American public education system not include economic education as an integral part of everyone's "3 R's" beginning in the first grade? The answer is a structural error in our system - half nature and half nurture.
First, Nature. If we all knew just how easy it was, we would all be creating money, working for ourselves, creating investments for rainy days, and funding our own retirements, all without any involvement required by The State. If we figured out how easy it was, we would not need the massive number of Government employees who now consume 21% of our National Revenue (fyi, this number was only 2.5% in 1890). Let's also not forget that the 1%'ers would get quite upset if we all created brilliant ideas, products, and companies to compete with them. If we know how to make money, they all lose control over us.
For thousands of years, those placed in power, whether through violence or religion, have controlled the money. Religious leaders have told us that "the love of money is the root of all evil." Yet, if we took the time to read the religious documents ourselves, instead of letting someone else tell us what they say, we would discover these books repeatedly promise great wealth and comfort as a reward for hard and honest work. Religious texts stress that money is good. It is the reward with which you may take care of yourself, your family, and your neighbors, and we all need not be slaves to the Pharaoh, the Mayor, or the Roman Emperor. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
If The State educated us to understand rugged individualism and self-determination, there would be no need for The State. Today, although Americans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world, more than 80% of us have a zero net worth. With the loss of one or two paychecks, we are insolvent, bankrupt. Those checks we wait on are our Pharaohs and our Caesars. No one told us this is not how it was supposed to be.
Second, Nurture. Donald Rumsfeld, Presidents Ford and Bush's Secretary of Defense, stated, "A's hire A's, and B's hire C's." Let that settle. Even if the motivation was present, our public structure, and the good people we have working in this system, are not prepared to provide this education, themselves. But they could be! One workforce study determined that over 85% of Americans perform their occupation primarily for the money and claim that if they didn't need the money to survive, they would do something different. Yet even the other lucky 15% of Americans who select their occupation of choice understand that they may only continue their passion if they also create, save, and manage enough money.
Another aptitude study concluded that the majority of American workers who claim to "not like math," or to be "bad with numbers," score above the national average in this category. Therefore, these misconceptions and insecurities are simply learned behaviors attributed to parents, teachers, and social norms controlling our expectations. This correlates exactly to money. How many times have you, your spouse, or your best friend said, "I'm just not good with money!"? That's ridiculous. You are good at it!
Also, one recent study ranked U.S. children 27th in world rankings for science and math, while spending the highest amount on education per student. This is the definition of structural failure. Charter Schools, Magnet Schools, and select Academies and Public Schools have attempted to incorporate financial literacy programs, but these great efforts are drops in a bucket. We must understand that money will survive without the arts, but the arts will not survive without money.
Us products of public education (Walter E. Stebbins High School Indians!), and current parents trying to provide for their children, need to help drastically change the landscape of financial education in America. Starting in the first grade, we must teach children to understand money, then how to manage a household's economic challenges, followed by lessons in starting and operating a business. By their Senior Year, our students must achieve an understanding of investments in order to save, manage, and achieve an independent life, all equally important to the lessons with Pascal, Einstein, and Hemingway. And remember, almost oxymoronic, throwing more public money at this mission is not the answer. It requires a paradigm shift in ideology, along with the motivation to achieve this parity of knowledge.
I urge us to educate ourselves in what we will find are simple, financial fundamentals, and I urge us to provide our children with programs, books, and exposure to money and economics. Through allowances and teenage jobs which pay for performance instead of by the hour (Another Post), we can teach our families to not fear money, but to embrace it as a tool which may equalize our circumstances. No matter where or when or to whom we are born, if we educate ourselves about money, we can level the world's playing fields. We are not asking for equality of outcomes, but simply equality of opportunities. Take back control from those who wish you never figure this out.
"One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.