Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Napoleon Hill: Demagoguery in Think and Grow Rich

Amercian self-help writer Napoleon Hill (1883-...Image via Wikipedia


The Presocratic philosophers Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, and Anaxagoras (Ionian philosophers, 6th century B.C.) spent their entire lifetimes searching for one single substance (irreducible) that would explain the universe. Others spent their lives seeking a formula instead of a substance.

Likewise, mathematicians, astronomer, and physicists, such as Euclid, Ptolemy, Pythagoras, Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, Pascal, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Einstein, and others searched for constants of the universe by means of mathematical methods-by deductive and inductive reasoning.

Scientists, based on axioms (self-evident truths), build models and equations that approximate and predict the regularities of the universe. Indeed, men of genius have confected some constants and universals truths that apply to the physical nature.

But we all know that to speak of axioms, formulas, secret knowledge, and constant about human nature and human behavior, is preposterous. Unique beings that we are, we each march to the beat of our own drums. Human behavior is an imponderable.

So when someone tells you they have found the secret formula for success and wealth and they want to sell it to you, I feel an ache in the soul, for I know that is demagoguery. In plain English a demagogue is someone who exploits the weaknesses and prejudices of the gullible; someone who is heartless to gain advantage at the cost of the vulnerable--those wishing they could own a secret to riches.

Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

Napoleon Hill's book is an example of demagoguery. It has sold millions of copies.

Though Napoleon Hill (the author) is long gone, the book remains and is a good seller. Some entrepreneurs even pitch the book in TV programs. They make a promise that anyone --yes, anyone-- who reads the book can become rich; that the secret, "the magic formula," is there for anyone who is "ready for it."

So, generation after generation keep reading this book and yet nowhere have I read, seen, or heard of anyone who can tell you what exactly that formula is. Is there a secret revealed as promised? No at all.

Napoleon Hill writes that the formula was handed down to him by Andrew Carnegie, and yet he took twenty years of his life to do research. Really? Why was research necessary if the formula was given to him? Pray tell me.

Kepler, Newton, Galileo, and Einstein found formulas and they shared with humanity. Even under duress, torture, and persecution they dared publish their scientific findings. They put their formulas in the public domain. Were Napoleon Hill a scientist --even a social scientist-- we could see his formula in journals, articles, books--in the market place of ideas. But, no! Such a formula is nowhere to be seen. It exists only in the kingdom of demagoguery.

The author says:
The major reason why I wrote this book on how to get money is the fact that millions of men and women are paralyzed with the fear of poverty.

That statement defies credulity and it is disingenuous. The reason he wrote the book was to enrich himself by preying on people's fears and rooted desire to be rich. This is the same trick we see every day in the internet--predators' get rich quick scams.

Shaking my head at the platitudes, commonplaces, and often downright nonsense that I find in Think and Grow Rich, I wish I could reach millions of people to lodge my protest. But instead of ending in further negative commentary, I will share some of my thoughts as to how we can work honestly at getting rich.

Adam Smith's Teachings

To satisfy not only your needs, but also to have something leftover, you either sell your labor or you sell a product, or both. That is in essence what this great Scottish scholar taught. This is the formula for wealth: a plain, humble truth.

So, if you sell your labor, then your labor must be worthy, it must be sought by others, it must have value, for employers to judge and reward. Training and education provide workers the skills necessary for the labor market; the higher the skills the higher the salary. The handyman in my building who used to earn a pittance is now earning high fees as a certified electrician.

However, neither spiritual success nor material wealth will come unless we work hard. A terrific nugget that I've always carried with me comes from Proverbs X:
"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand:
"But the hand of the diligent maketh rich.

Who can argue with that? If you're lazy you're bound to be poor; if you're industrious you'll be rich.

Not to brag but to share my experiences, I can say that I owe my good fortune to Adam Smith's insights: I learned valuable marketable skills, and I also learned to sell products. Yet nothing will be achieved if one doesn't save, for as Adam Smith said in his Wealth,
"Capitals are increased by parsimony, and diminished by prodigality" (CH III., PT II).

Yet it isn't strange to see that 90 per cent of the workers live by their skills, collecting paychecks for salaries or wages. About five per cent will develop entrepreneurial spirit and learn to create and sell products; the other, four to five percent fill the ranks of the unemployed.

Nothing prevents a worker from selling their skills and also selling products. The choice is ours. By having skills and selling products, I generate net income from which I pay all my monthly bills, with the surplus or leftover augmenting my net worth every month.

Conclusion and tough love

If you are curious enough read Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, but expect nothing of value in return, expect only disappointment at being duped. If you are determined to get ahead, then read an anthology where you can find Adam Smith's writings about the "Division of Labor."

The only formula for success is this:
To satisfy not only your needs, but also to have something leftover, you either sell your labor or you sell a product, or both. That is in essence what the great Scottish scholar Adam Smith taught.

This past summer and by accident I saw a former student of mine at a street fair. She was selling grilled corn on the cob. She is now in her second year of law school. With creaking sincerity in her voice she told me, "I never forgot what you taught me: 'sell your skills and sell a product.' I buy corn for a $0. 25 cents a head and I sell it for $3.00 each. This is paying for my tuition in law school."

The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, so the language is --by today's standards-- a little outdated; however, the section on "Division of Labor" is fresh and contains a trove of wise insights. Reading these two or three pages will help you get your share of the American dream--and so move from roaches to riches, from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Success is for All of Us!

Inferiority Complex?

3 Qualities for Success

The Best Leader?

How I Manage my Time

Adam Smith and Wealth

Born to Lead or to Follow?

Boethius and Fortune

Be Employee of the Month Everyday

Pascal on Love and Fidelity

Think and Grow Rich

If you are interested in seeing how I achieved personal success in the United States, you may find my book of short stories East of Tiffany's interesting. Some of the stories are based on my life as an executive, investment banker, and financial adviser to wealthy investors in the East Side of Manhattan.
Close to half-million people have read East of Tiffany's so far. Order your copy from either Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

Since English is my second language, Mary Duffy --a master of the English language-- aided me not only with the editing, but she also contributed her own stories. I love her writing in "When You Wish Upon a Star." This is a story based on a personal friend's life.

Senada Selmani, model

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