John C. Vogel thinks we’ve become greedy. Vogel ought to know – he’s the founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Group Inc, one of the largest mutual fund companies in the US.
Vogel has written a book due out next month, “Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life”. The title is taken from a conversation between writers Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller during a party at a billionaire’s estate. The story goes that Vonnegut pointed to the billionaire and asked Heller, "Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel Catch-22 has earned in its entire history?"
"Yes," Heller responded, "but I have something he will never have: Enough."
A few months ago, I took part in a focus group sponsored by a credit card company. The company was looking to understand….get this…why I didn’t spend more on the card. I turned to the moderator and said, “Because I don’t need anything.” Apparently, I was in the minority. The other participants seated at the table looked at me like I had just passed wind in church, and then proceeded to top one another with stories about how much they charge on their cards all in the name of collecting bonus points. That should have been my first clue.
Don’t get me wrong – I love stuff. I love money. But I just think that before you buy your stuff, you need to ask yourself two questions:
1) Do I really need it?
2) Can I afford it?
Likewise, I don’t think anyone is entitled to home ownership any more than they are entitled to a $40,000 Denali, a 50-inch plasma HDTV, and that wicked-cool Bang and Olufsen stereo. Nor do I think the government is obligated to ensure that you can keep any of it once you’ve maxed out your credit.
I keep looking for a silver lining in all of this mess. Maybe it’s this – perhaps this is the wakeup call for us to begin to take stock in what we truly have, and separate it from the things we don’t need.
The other night, Mrs. Goldwater and I had a friend over for dinner. Nothing fancy, just homemade pizza on the grill and a couple bottles of cheap red wine under the stars. As I unscrewed the cap of the second bottle, I came to appreciate fully the poignancy of Heller’s statement. I’ve got the fetching Mrs. Goldwater, good friends and family, great kids, a warm fire on a crisp October night...I have all I need. I have enough.