wealth and intelligence


When most of us were younger, we were told to do well in school – make good grades, impress the teachers in order to get good recommendations, do extra credit.
Scoring well on the ACT or SAT meant a lot. Proving that you were smarter than the average bear somehow indicated future success. Yet intelligence isn’t always a marker of success – at least success as measured by wealth.  Wealth is not, of course, the only measure of success – far from it – but it is a measure accepted by our society as at least a general measure of overall success.

Intelligent people are often gripped by what I’d call (technically) “smart people stupids.” If you’re an intelligent person, it’s quite easy to imagine a variety of outcomes to any given set of circumstances. If A happens, then B or C or even D might occur. Wondering whether “slim chance event D” might occur can drive an intelligent person nuts – you might sit around wondering how you would deal with situation D; would reaction D.1.1 be appropriate, or D.1.2? How will this affect you 15 years from now?

Over the last ten years I’ve started to believe that intelligence – at least as far as the ability to imagine future events based on current circumstance – can be a crippling factor in the pursuit of wealth (and happiness). Someone who doesn’t have the ability to imagine positive outcome X may also be able to avoid thinking about negative outcome Y – and therefore be freed from worrying about the result of their actions. Worrying about the future is a heavy burden; not worrying about the future would be liberating for most of us.

I know people who don’t worry – like I do – about long-term wealth. They assume that they will have “made their nut” at some point – whenever they make it. Whether it’s the blissful ignorance of uncaring or fewer smarts I don’t know. I would assume that not worrying about the future is an overall net plus. It may put you into some pretty bad situations, but at least you won’t worry about the outcome.

I suspect that being intelligent and being wealthy will always be unrelated. Just because I can play the piano, for example, doesn’t make me smart or stupid. It just marks me as a good piano player. I don’t think wealth accumulation can be associated with intelligence for much the same reason – it’s a skill, just like musical ability, or sports ability, or the ability to learn and speak foreign languages. You can’t think your way into it – you have it or you don’t.

photo credit: swambo

(originally posted 3/09, in different form)