"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." – Henry David Thoreau
I gradually became aware of a chink in the armor of my accounting education in 1981, my sophomore year in college.
I was being taught the importance of accounting in operating a successful enterprise, from the definition of profit to the necessity of cash flow. It was a concrete prism in which the world of enterprise I so admired could be refracted so as to make sense to a naïve student who believed he knew more than he did.
Beliefs, Not Knowledge, Define Humans
One of the problems with a business education is the constant pursuit of practical knowledge at the expense of pursuing answers to profound questions.
I now realize people are not guided by what they know, but rather by what they believe—their worldview, through which we all refract reality. And in August of 1981, my worldview was about to be punctured permanently.
As a barber, my father was an inveterate reader of Playboy’s interviews, which are excellent; the roster of interviewees is quite impressive. When devout Catholic William F. Buckley Jr. was asked why he would write for such a magazine, he wittily answered, “I write for Playboy because it is the fastest way to communicate with my 17-year-old son.”
My father read the interview with George Gilder in that August 1981 issue, which impressed him. Gilder had written Wealth and Poverty, a book Ronald Reagan was photographed with, along with giving it to members of his cabinet. Gilder would go on to become Ronald Reagan’s most-quoted living author.
Needless to say, I was not too impressed, pompously explaining to my dad how there are many crackpots who write economics books, most of which are useless, wrong, or belong in the fiction section of bookstores.
Fortunately for me, my father persisted, purchasing a copy of the book, convincingly insisting I should read it.
I did. In one sitting. It changed my life.
It opened my eyes to an entire new worldview that is beyond my capacity to describe in so brief a space. Chink, crack. My accounting armor was in scraps.
The philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “You cannot step in the same river twice, because by the second step it will already have changed.”
Thus began my crossing of the river to reach the other side, seeing the world from a different direction––one of value, opportunity, dynamism, entrepreneurship, and risk taking, rather than history, costs, problem solving, and an increasingly irrelevant accounting equation.
I must say, this side of the river is more wondrous and panoramic, allowing me to explain to myself with much greater clarity how the world really works.
To tie these synchronous events together, bringing me full circle back to that first reading of Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty, I was thunderstruck when I read the afterword to Gilder’s book Men and Marriage in the early 1990s, titled “The Faith of Fathers.”
Gilder explains that he never knew his father, a bomber pilot who was killed in World War II. The day after Gilder received the first bound copies of his Wealth and Poverty manuscript, an uncle told him about a box he came across in his attic of some of his father’s papers. Here is Gilder, explaining what he happened upon in those papers:
I eagerly went through them; at the top was a 175-page manuscript on economics that he was working on when he died. One of its themes was the importance of what he called “intangible capital.” It corresponded nearly perfectly with the key message of Wealth and Poverty: that the driving force of a free economy was not material resources or even physical capital, but the metaphysical capital of family and faith. In fact, my father’s work, if it had been completed, could very well have been entitled Wealth and Poverty.
C.G. Jung defines synchronicity as “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”
That is the perfect word to describe what happened on Monday, June 10, 2013. George Gilder’s latest book was published—Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It is Revolutionizing Our World—and to my complete surprise—and delight—he quoted from my book, Mind Over Matter: Why Intellectual Capital is the Chief Source of Wealth, published in 2008, which was inspired by Gilder’s own Wealth and Poverty some 27 years earlier.
All because my father insisted I read a book.
I suppose all sons, at one time or another, come to appreciate the wisdom attributed to Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned.”