THE RICHEST MAN IN BABYLON
by George S. Clason (1955)
Review by Jeremiah Koshal – Former Research Fellow, RCE
This is an interesting, short and easy-to-read book that describes the principles of becoming wealthy and living a richer life through a story format. The context is provided by the description of the city of Babylon, which is a mixture of grandeur and squalor, of dazzling wealth and dire poverty, crowded together without a plan or a system within the protecting walls of the city. This description is typical of any city we see today, whether in a developed country or under-developed—a combination of opulence and endemic poverty. Some cities in developing countries have been described as cities of ‘ten percent millionaires and ninety percent beggars’.The first part of the book talks about how we live a poor life in a rich country, yet always dream of becoming rich some day, or finding wealth miraculously through some means. It is true that despite working hard and laboring endlessly, we still may never earn enough to become wealthy. This is because becoming rich is not a haphazard game; rather it requires us to learn the basic rules, master them and pursue them to the fullest. For instance, we need to seek counsel from people who are rich or successful. The author posits that to get something, we must learn to seek it. We fail to become rich because we either have failed to learn the laws that govern the building of wealth, or we do not observe them altogether. We have to find out how others acquire gold instead of working without a well orchestrated strategy.The author argues that a part of what we earn should be kept for ourselves to use in future. He says that he found the road to wealth when he decided that a part of all he earned was his to keep. This sum should at least represent ten-percent of our earnings or more. It is important for those who intent to become rich to form a saving habit by living according to their income and seeking counsel with those who are wise.Through a narrative and ancient story format, a wise and rich man of Babylon named Arkad presents seven principles of working and becoming rich. These principles are universal and they are applicable even today:
- Start thy purse to fattening: This is done by contributing a small portion of earnings (keeping one-tenth of all income) for future use. “Wealth is like a tree that grows from a tiny seed”.
- Control thy expenditures: The remaining nine-tenths of the earnings should be set aside for the daily expenses and enjoyments. The things that we all call our necessary expenses will always grow to equal our income unless we protest to the contrary. Furthermore, each of us with our families does have more desires than our earnings can gratify, but we must learn to budget the necessary expenses.
- Make thy gold multiply: We must control our expenditures to protect our growing treasure. We must also consider means to invest our treasure or savings in such a manner that it grows or multiplies.
- Guard thy treasures from loss: The first sound principle of investment is security for the principal. We must learn to invest only in things that are safe and retrievable. Consulting with wise men and securing the advice of those experienced in the business is essential.
- Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment: We need to invest in a home as a way to reduce the cost of living and provide ample space for the family to enjoy interacting and playing together, especially the children.
- Insure a future income: We all need to make preparation for a suitable retirement income in the days to come when we are no longer young. We also need to make preparations for our families should we be no longer with them to support and comfort them. We may buy houses or lands for that purpose.
- Increase thy ability to earn: We must develop better skills, control our desires, and plan well. Desires must be simple and definite; they must not be too many, too confusing or beyond a man’s training to accomplish.
The author talks about fortune and good luck, and that this is not accidental. Good luck comes to the person who accepts opportunity. In other words, the person who sees opportunities and captures them without delay will be able to increase his wealth. Opportunity waits for no man; it is here today but tomorrow it will be gone, unless we seize it promptly. The spirit of procrastination prevents people from seizing the opportunity. Every man must master his own spirit of procrastination before he can expect to share in the rich treasures of Babylon. To attract good luck to oneself, it is necessary to take advantage of opportunities. Good luck often follows opportunity and hardly comes in any other form.
The author highlights the laws of better investment in the form of an ancient tale. Wealth comes to those who know its laws and are ready to abide by them. For instance, one-tenth of the earnings must be used to create a stable future for oneself and his family. If placed under good investment and wise counsel, the money will multiply itself. However, it could easily slip away when invested in businesses or purposes with which the owner is unfamiliar or lacks the foresight knowledge.
The author also talks about the role of wisdom in wealth creation. He says, “Without wisdom, gold is quickly lost by those who have it, but with wisdom, gold can be secured…” (pg. 68). Application of wisdom in investment decisions leads to increase of wealth. The author believes that the riches of Babylon were the results of the wisdom of its people. The people had to learn how to become wealthy. A combination of wisdom and the law of gold led to wealth and success. The principles of wisdom discussed throughout the book are basic and easy to understand.
The author articulates the principle of loan repayment as a way to help start and expand the sphere of wealth and riches. First, one must be knowledgeable in his area/field, as that has the possibility of further expansion. Second, he must keep one-tenth of the earnings for himself. This is one of the overarching themes/principles in the book. Then the author talks about spending only seventy percent of one’s income in living expenses. This will help cut down costs and repay the remaining twenty percent of income to creditors and decrease loans over a period of time.
There are several indirect connotations in the book implying that pursuing wealth should be both ethical and, to some degree, serve others. For instance, the author says that people have to find honorable ways to accomplish their desires. He also says that to be rich requires that one be generous in his charity. Arkad, one of the most successful people in Babylon, demonstrated this by gladly helping train others when requested by the king.
One of the shortcomings in the book is the fact that the author, though borrowing a lot from the Bible, seems to imply that all the good things, including wealth, bring happiness and contentment to people. He argues that wealth is power and with wealth many things are possible. This is partly true, as we know money and wealth can help alleviate many problems. But from a Biblical perspective, we know that a relationship with God is the only path to attain complete happiness. One of the things that the king of Babylon did with the city’s wealth is to build mighty temples for their gods and great irrigation canals for the city, both of which are good for the betterment of society.
Thus, the book is generally full of financial wisdom presented in a narrative format. It centers on a few rich residents of Babylon like Arkad and Dabasir, who seemed happy to help teach and train other people on how to become wealthy. The book should be appreciated for avoiding the financial jargon and big words that we often hear from the corporate world today.