The great money delusion is that we never quite have enough 

Humans repeatedly commit the folly of wanting... more

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 10:38pm

Do you have enough money? When John Paul Getty, at the time the richest man in the world, was asked this question he said that he could never have enough. His famous remark has now been worked into a new film about the kidnapping of his grandson, whose release was dependent on cash from Getty who claimed he lacked enough money to pay.

Fortunately, most people never experience hostage situations but they often feel like hostage victims as they face demands for money from all sides. Banks want loan repayments; utility bills make a regular and unwelcome appearance and then there’s everything else. Even stepping out of your front door is usually a prelude to yet more demands on the wallet.

Anxiety over money is one of the biggest causes of mental stress and it’s a kind of stress that is more likely to affect those with way more money than ordinary folk. Maybe it’s a case of the more money you have, the more you are likely to think about it. That’s not to say that people who are seriously short of funds don’t worry about money but they tend to be thinking about survival rather than where the next million is coming from.

Logically money should only be a worry where what’s coming in is exceeded by how much is pouring out. However it does not quite work like that. When the very rich are borrowing money their borrowings are usually described as shrewd leveraging for investment purposes, when those of lesser means resort to borrowing they are sternly reminded to live within their means. Advice of this kind is not however given when borrowings are on a herculean scale, such as the perpetual debts of the United States government, administering one of the world’s richest countries.

Thus an imbalance between in and outflows of money is not necessarily a problem. What is generally a far bigger cause for concern are monetary comparisons. Thus Mr W gets very anxious when he learns that Mr Z has earned that more than him and has a flashy new Italian sports car to prove it.

Some people describe this as being a case of mere envy but many individuals see money as a way of measuring achievement. It is, if you like, the ultimate quantifier.

This brings us to the burgeoning debate over the gender pay gap, an issue that recently threw the BBC, Britain’s public broadcaster, into turmoil when Carrie Gracie, it’s China editor blew the whistle on how little she was paid in comparison to her peers. 

Gracie said her gripe was not about the money as such but related to anger over inequality and systematic unfairness in the system. Yet the one thing that’s always true is that when people say “it’s not about the money”, you can be pretty sure that it is about the money, and why not? 

Perhaps it’s more honest to say it’s not just about the money. This is why, perhaps surprisingly, it turns out that most entrepreneurs are not primarily motivated by money. 

It’s not that money doesn’t matter, of course it does but the passion to expand businesses generally comes from a desire to do better, create something, gain the admiration of colleagues and even rivals. I appreciate that this sounds a tad like mushy business self-promotion but although really successful entrepreneurs may well like what money buys, what gets them up in the morning is something else.

Indeed it is possible to state that a businessperson solely concerned with building ever larger piles of money is the person most likely to end up running a failed enterprise. 

Look what happened to Martin Shkreli, the now notorious entrepreneur who acquired the rights to the life saving drug Daraprim and then raised its price by some 50 times and defended his action by insisting “we need to turn a profit on this drug”. Greed did not turn out to be good for Shkreli, whose drug company Turing Pharmaceuticals has singularly failed to become a big player in the drugs market. He now has other problems after being hit with all sorts of legal action over his previous activities as a fund manager. The point being that a greedy entrepreneur is likely to be greedy in everything he does. This obsession with money has a habit of defying good business sense and producing dire results.

Of course the purpose of business is to make money but that’s quite different from focusing on the money as the be all and end all. Great business leaders tend to take the view that their job is to take care of the business – not to sit there totting up every cent, they’ve got accountants to do that for them.

Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and a broadcaster