Howard's Reviews > Enough.: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life

Enough. by John C. Bogle
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Jun 15, 11

Read in June, 2011

I read this book on recommendation from Matt Heusser's blog, Creative Chaos (you can read his review here). I like what Bogle has to say in the opening about having 'enough.' Too often we think about what we could do with a little more, rather than thinking about what we can do better with what we have. On that point I agree. I hoped that he would go on to describe a method of growing a business that is sustainable, where success is measured by providing a stable work place; not by how the business booms and grows every year. What he actually describes is the evils of the financial industry and how his company, VanGuard, is doing business 'right.'

My reasons for wanting to read about business stability are based on my own belief. I believe that, for one business to do better, someone or something else must be doing worse. In the case of two competing companies, this is clearly true. However, if a company makes its living by mining coal or cutting trees, to do better is to mine more coal or cut more trees, reducing the volume of natural resources available to the nation at large. Even if the business does nothing but deal in financials, for the value of the business to go up, usually the value of something else must fall - the value of the American dollar for example (which means that those who are simply holding on to their money are losing value). In each of these cases, growth does not seem sustainable. Competing companies will go out of business leaving nowhere else to grow, a nation will eventually be deprived of its natural resources, or the value of the dollar will drop to trivial levels. Sadly, the way our economy is structured, if a business does nothing but sustain from one year to the next, it seems the company is considered to be doing poorly. If we are going to ever live in peace with each other and with our environment, we should dream of an economy of sustainability, not continual growth.

All of this is to say what I was hoping to read about. What I actually got was treatise on the dishonorable practices of the financial industry. Bogle would be in a good position to know, since he spent more than a half century in that profession. My take away from his statements is that dealing in financials should be avoided wherever possible. Like a carnivore that feeds only on other carnivores, the financial industry taxes the environment it is built on exponentially. Businesses that are traded publicly bear an incredible financial burden from the numerous hands that maintain the shares of the company. Furthermore, when a company or group of companies does well, the financier reaps the benefits. Like one who plays the lottery, the financiers play a game where some win big and others never see a payout. Unlike those who play the lottery, those who win big not only see huge personal financial gain, but are then lauded for their ingenuity (though the result might as well have been random). Moreover, if a company or group of companies does poorly, the financier continues to receive their stipend. Where else must this imbalance come from but the company that the financier trades and the investor that puts their trust in the financier?

This book is worthwhile if, for no other reason, than to learn the fullness of the imbalance the financial industry perpetuates. Bogle also puts forth remedies for this imbalance - financiers that are stewards instead of salesmen that look for long term gains instead of short term booms; professionals that work with a client instead of pushing the client around. These are certainly principals that apply to industries other than financial and principals that Bogle credits with the success of his company, VanGuard.

In the end, the book tends to be the ramblings of a professional late in his life (a view Bogle admits in the book). Bogle states that, in his life, he has achieved 'enough' and is happy by his level of success. I think by any standard Bogle was quite successful, so it might be hard for the average man to read this and feel that he too has enough. Somewhere between happiness through the ultimate divergence from materialism and Bogle's level of success lies a level of 'enough' for the common man also. I'd like to read that book.
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