The following is a guest post from my sister site, Kid Wealth.
We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning for the new year. One of the areas I’ve come across is my book collection. I feel like I’ve finished about ten books in my life, but somehow I’ve managed to own at least a couple hundred books. Of the ten books I’ve finished, at least two are by Malcolm Gladwell. You can read my Outliers review here and my What The Dog Saw review here. For some reason, I’ve never reviewed The Tipping Point or Blink on this website, which is weird because I would have thought those were the two Gladwell books I’ve read.
Wow, that’s quite a Grandpa Simpson story of a paragraph. In the cleaning, I came across Gladwell’s David and Goliath and realized that I’ve never opened it. Each chapter is a story of “underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants.” Gladwell makes the point that sometimes who we feel is the underdog should not be an underdog at all.
The second chapter caught my attention. The main point that Gladwell wants to make is that we think about school class size all wrong. We have always assumed that smaller classes help kids learn better and achieve more. He argues that’s simply not true.
To prove his point, he uses an analogy involving parenting and wealth. It can be hard to parent if you are very poor – “Poverty is exhausting and stressful.” A point that I’ve made many times on this website is that money may not buy happiness, but it can cure a lot of unhappiness. It is common sense enough that I don’t need to spend more words on this point.
As you go up the wealth ladder, it gets easier to parent. I enjoy having landscapers, which saves me time and energy that I can use to help kids with homework or another enrichment activity like Cub Scouts. However, there comes a point where more money doesn’t buy too much more time – the advantage of having enough money levels off.
Then something strange happens. Gladwell tells the story of a Hollywood producer who has hundreds of millions of dollars. Parenting becomes more complicated when you have too much money. The kids grow up spoiled. They see their parents with a Ferrari, and they expect that they can have almost any material object they want. Kids know you have more than enough for the PlayStation 5 and 40 new games. It’s much easier to explain that you can’t afford something than you won’t give it to them.
I think of my kids. They’ve seen me “go to work” once in their lives. (I had one meeting in Boston a few years back.) I write for the blog a lot, but they don’t see that as work. They don’t see my customer service gig as that’s through email. Fortunately, they actively participate in my dog boarding business. I can show them a lot about how money is earned. The dog boarding business was just supposed to be a little side hustle. I hadn’t planned on it becoming a full-time income. I got lucky.
In an alternate universe, my wife could have retired, and we’d use her military pension for income. Perhaps I have no dog business or a customer service gig. (These are new income sources over the last few years.) Our kids could grow up watching neither of us works aside from my blog hobby or answering a rare tenant’s phone call. For them, it would be normal that adults simply don’t work.
That could have been a big problem. What do kids think when they see that their parents don’t work? I tell my kids that doing their best in school is their job. I would have a problem telling my kids that they need to do their job while I spent the day surfing or golfing.
The biggest issue is when kids grow up with too much money; they don’t have to work hard to make money themselves. My wife was motivated to become a pharmacist because her family always had money problems. Pharmacy was a way out of a bad situation.
First generation FIRE has eliminated money adversity. The next generation has a very comfortable life. There’s nothing to light the FIRE fire.
Second-generation FIRE isn’t all bad, though. I haven’t met anyone who has said, “I wish I learned about compound interest and financial independence later in life.” They always wish they had learned it earlier. Second generation FIRE grows up with that. They know that a Kid Roth IRA can be worth a million dollars and can help them get started with that early.
Gladwell moves on from the analogy of kids, parenting, and wealth to get back to class size. His point is that there’s a Goldilocks Principle* where there is a “just right” class size. If you have a class too small, the group dynamic suffers, and you lose the diversity of class discussion.
* Gladwell never mentions the Goldilocks Principle. I stumbled upon it completely by accident. I thought that Goldilocks made sense to describe it, and I guess enough other people did as well.