Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Is It Possible to Build a Fortune and Keep Your Soul?

Publisher, mogul Felix Dennis, founder of Dennis Publishing Ltd. who publishes Maxim Magazine as well as nineteen other publications, and author of How to Get Rich, amassed a fortune, estimated at around $1 billion. Mr. Dennis claims one must be ruthless and that the "sliver of ice" present in all of us must surface and expand in order to become super-wealthy, filthy-rich or insanely affluent...well, you get the point.

Mr. Dennis asserts that the pie is finite. If a person wants to join the very few whose single portion is larger than half the population's portion combined, he or she must hog his piece of the pie at the expense of many...it's common sense. In other words, "Don't be evil" is more than naive when you choose to join the ranks of those who rule the world.

As I was listening to Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, interview Mr. Dennis about his book, Mr. Dennis made it abundantly clear that he was not talking about successful, or well-off, or even rich people...in fact, he considers millionaires poor. That should give you an idea of the scale of wealth he is targeting.

Then, along comes Ms. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, an Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, and author of more than seventeen books, and who I'm sure is brilliant. She totally dismissed what Mr. Dennis has to say without attempting to understand his point. I think after she heard drugs and whores, everything else Mr. Dennis had to say went in one ear and out the other. Immediately, after calling him a pig, she defended Bill Gates, the Google boys and others, claiming they had stable families, stable lives and remained drug/whore free. In addition, she didn't seem to grasp Mr. Dennis was referring only to those who have amassed a huge fortune. Tom Ashbrook, who is one of my favorites, didn't seem to get it either.

What is there to get? Aside from the fact that Mr. Dennis repeatedly made it clear he was only referring to the infinitesimally small percentage at the top of the "food chain" and that people (a woman who called into the show who did seem to comprehend) who were trying to accumulate wealth to take care of their disabled children's future - who own one house with a mortgage, and that even though they can afford two nannies, this sector of the population are not the focus of Mr. Dennis' book.

Even more importantly, both Mr. Ashbrook and Professor Kanter seemed to focus only on ruthless behavior that blatantly manifests itself as addiction to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Never mind, the "invisible" brutal, cutthroat decisions individuals en route to King Midas status must make fairly often. You know, those decisions that might result in the destruction, and possibly the death of thousands here and around the globe; those decisions that compromise the integrity of our Constitution; those decisions that might contribute to the collapse of our financial system...little things like that.

It is impossible to profit on the scale Mr. Dennis is talking about without first, activating that "sliver of ice" he mentioned, so that ice water can mingle and flow freely through the veins of those driven toward that goal. Relatively speaking, the Google boys and Bill Gates may appear to be teddy bears in comparison with the robber barons of previous centuries, however it's very difficult to measure the "ruthlessness" of the hyper elite today versus a time when the people's sense of morality was limited by ignorance; the level of technology only slightly more advanced than Bedrock; and a decent education, rare.

Let's forget the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll; the decisions that lead to atrocity and annihilation. Isn't the act of acquiring the level of excess wealth Mr. Dennis refers too, a little ruthless in and of itself, considering the number of people suffering from the lack of basic necessities? Remember, Mr. Dennis is not questioning the value of people like Bill Gates and the Google boys to society, as they have literally transformed and revolutionized our world in ways we could only imagine a few years ago. They may be worth every penny, however, a certain degree of an individual's humanity must be sacrificed in the process. I believe that's all Mr. Dennis was trying to say and I admire him for having the courage to illuminate the pitfalls and unsavory aspects of creating immense wealth.

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