What Malcolm Gladwell's new book has to say about family finance

Published: Monday, Oct. 14 2013 11:40 p.m. MDT

The release of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book on the power positions of mislabeled underdogs, "David and Goliath: Misfits, Underdogs, and the Art of Battling Giants," has been met with an array of mixed reactions.

“The world becomes less complicated with a Malcolm Gladwell book in hand,” Janet Maslin writes in her review for The New York Times.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, according to Maslin, who points out what she believes to be inconsistencies in the narrative’s thesis and scientific shortcomings.

Others have been more inviting of Gladwell’s gathering of ideas.

Dave Berri, who reviewed the book for Freakonomics, believes that because critics are so worried about "whether the argument they think Gladwell is making is valid," they are missing the fact that "the stories Gladwell tells are simply well worth reading."

As Gladwell himself has argued in response to critics of "David and Goliath," his books are meant to be “intellectual adventure stories,” aimed primarily at getting people to “look at the world differently,” and not as hard science.

In "David and Goliath," Gladwell strives to reshape for the masses the beliefs that structure much of how families approach personal finance, particularly when it comes to the definition of "desirable income."

In a chapter dedicated to an explanation of the “Inverted-U curve,” Gladwell pushes against the notion that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

The "Inverted-U", he explains, is a theory that everything has its desirable limits on both extremes. Too much of a good thing can be as dangerous or counterproductive as too little.

How does this apply to finance?

While it’s true that parents who receive insufficient income may struggle to provide basic needs for their children, Gladwell argues that parents who receive too much income are more likely to struggle raising their children to be “normal and well-adjusted.”

“For most of us, the values of the world we grew up in are not that different from the world we create for our children,” Gladwell writes. “But that’s not true for someone who becomes very wealthy.”

According to Gladwell, the ideal income seems to be roughly $75,000 a year, which he says is just enough to live a comfortable lifestyle, but not so much that children never learn the true value of money.

“Wealth,” he concludes, “contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

JJ Feinauer is a graduate of Southern Virginia University and a content writer for the Moneywise page on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @jjfeinauer.

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