Tim Ferriss built a media empire on the concept that you only have to work four hours each week to become wealthy and live a life of leisure. Although I admit that Tim Ferriss’ podcast has never appealed to me despite multiple efforts, I finally succumbed a few months ago and listened to the (audio)book that launched it all, The Four-Hour Workweek.
In his book, Ferriss details how he was able to build a brain-boosting supplement formula into a company that made significant amounts of money each year. He was then able to put the entire process on auto-pilot by hiring people to do the work for him. Like many gurus, Tim Ferriss proved a concept then proceeded to make a much larger fortune selling his advice (indeed, some gurus never proved a concept but sold their advice nonetheless, so I suppose that’s worse).
**This reminds me of the classic, hilarious scene in the movie There’s Something About Mary where Ben Stiller picks up a hitchhiker who tries to convince him about the seemingly inevitable success of 7-minute abs.**
Truly, a fool and his money are soon parted. These gurus peddle modern-day, get-rich-quick schemes reliant on their customer becoming skilled at marketing by leveraging technology (e.g., YouTube algorithms). Then, once that individual has enough positive cashflow, they can outsource their work to cheaper labor markets like India. Ironically, these gurus are using the system they are selling to profit from the naïve who themselves are looking to make a quick buck. It’s effectively a modern-day, social media pyramid scheme.
These gurus rely on examples of survivorship bias and ignore the far greater number of failures (and there are many, many failures). To be successful, these schemes rely heavily on a lot of work to become a marketing genius and the luck of having a viral video to generate enough eyeballs for advertising revenue or product purchases. But, this isn’t meant to be an in-depth exposé about the rise of fake gurus; for that, I suggest this article or this video.
My biggest issue lies with the underlying message of fake gurus – that earning money is far more important than contributing something positive to society and receiving some kind of benefit for your labor. What value does society get by someone building a brain-boosting company (the effects of which are questionable at best, fraudulent and harmful at worst) or real estate multi-level marketing club etc.?
It’s troubling to see the lure of get-rich-quick passive income overwhelm old-fashioned wealth building. The formula for accumulating wealth is fairly simple: earn, save, and invest. If your expenses are less than your salary, and you save the difference and invest it in index funds, you will build wealth that generates passive income. The process is painfully slow, but it’s the only one I know of that is truly effective for most people – even a janitor can become a millionaire in America.
If teachers are the third highest profession of self-made millionaires, truly anyone can become wealthy. Indeed, Mike Rowe built a very successful TV show highlighting the Dirty Jobs that America needed done as well as the financial and spiritual rewards of manual labor that are possible in a capitalist system.
The rise of technology doesn’t have to mean a loss of purposeful work (even when we leverage technology to advance that work).
Nick Maggiulli does an excellent job detailing this exact same issue in this blog post.