WEEKEND READ: The Richest Man in Babylon
George Samuel Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon (1926) is thought provoking, a perfect guide to financial understanding and success with money many wish they learnt early in their lives.
Using tales from Babylon, the wealthiest city of the ancient world, the book teaches sound financial principles in acquiring money, keeping money and making their surpluses earn more money.
A story is told of one Bansir, the chariot builder of Babylon and his friend Kobbi who spend years battling poverty. They were men with empty purses in the midst of plenty in the richest city in the whole world.
“Perhaps there is some secret we might learn if we but sought from those who knew," Bansir said to Kobbi.
There was a man in the City who, far and wide, was famed for his great wealth. He was liberal in his own expenses. But nevertheless each year his wealth increased more rapidly than he spent it.
His name was Arkad. The two decided to consult him.
In fact, Bansir badly wanted to meet Arkad in the darkness of the night so he could “lay his hands upon his fat wallet”, to which Kobbi replied: "Nonsense. A man's wealth is not in the purse he carries. A fat purse quickly empties if there be no golden stream to refill it."
To Arkad, they asked: "You, Arkad, are more fortunate than we. You have become the richest man in all Babylon while we struggle for existence. Yet, once we were equal. We studied under the same master. We played in the same games.
And in neither the studies nor the games did you outshine us. And in the years since, you have been no more an honorable citizen than we. "Nor have you worked harder or more faithfully, insofar as we can judge. Why, then, should a fickle fate single you out to enjoy all the good things of life and ignore us who are equally deserving?"
Road to wealth
According to Arkad, these men either had failed to learn the laws that govern the building of wealth, or else they did not observe them.
He told them a tale of a man called Algamish who taught him the road to wealth, and this was his advice: “Every gold piece you save is a slave to work for you. Every copper it earns is its child that also can earn for you. If you would become wealthy, then what you save must earn, and its children must earn, that all may help to give to you the abundance you crave.”
He emphasized: “If you did keep for yourself one-tenth of all you earn, how much would you have in ten years?”The book suggests that the reason many people are poor is that they use a big chunk of their incomes, if not all of it, to pay everyone else but not themselves – spending. They labor for others.
A part of all you earn is yours to keep, it continues. It should be not less than a tenth no matter how little you earn. It can be as much more as you can afford. Pay yourself first.
In Algamish words: “Wealth, like a tree, grows from a tiny seed. The first copper you save is the seed from which your tree of wealth shall grow. The sooner you plant that seed the sooner shall the tree grow. And the more faithfully you nourish and water that tree with consistent savings, the sooner may you bask in contentment beneath its shade.”
It is Algamish advice that Arkad went on to implement.
Arkad once gave a portion of his savings to the brickmaker who promised he would buy for him rare jewels that he could later sell at higher prices.
Algamish warned him: “but why trust the knowledge of a brickmaker about jewels? Would you go to the breadmaker to inquire about the stars? Your savings are gone.”
Lesson: Seek advice from those who are competent through their own experiences to give it.
On another instance, Algamish found that Arkad had entrusted part of his savings to the shieldmaker to buy bronze and paid him rental each fourth month, to whish he said “That is good. And what do you do with the rental?”
“I do have a great feast with honey and fine wine and spiced cake. Also I have bought me a scarlet tunic. And some day I shall buy me a young ass upon which to ride,” replied Arkad.
To this, Algamish laughed, “You do eat the children of your savings. Then how do you expect them to work for you? And how can they have children that will also work for you?”
Arkad, who had since mastered the laws of building wealth, would later be partner in Algamish estate and effectively became the richest man in Babylon.
To Bansir and Kobbi, Arkad said: Learn to make your treasure work for you. Make it your slave. Make its children and its children's children work for you.