The Color of Money: 'Enough' Is One Word to Live By

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, September 6, 2009

There's a word we all need to live by.

It could alleviate the stress many parents feel every time their darling child's birthday comes around. It would put an end to the term "bridezilla." It might mean the cancellation of Bravo's successful "Real Housewives" television series featuring seemingly wealthy women wearing too much makeup and too-tight clothes prancing around with overpriced Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Versace whatevers.

It could have saved us from the recession.


That's the word.

This two-syllable word drew me to the Color of Money Book Club selection for September. It's the title of John C. Bogle's latest work, "Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life" (Wiley, $24.95).

Bogle founded Vanguard Group in 1974. In the interest of full disclosure, I own Vanguard mutual funds in my 401(k) plan and other investment portfolios. I've also had the pleasure of appearing on the stage with Bogle. He strikes me as genuinely caring about individual investors.

Bogle's book may seem a pretentious choice at a time when many people are barely able to pay their mortgages or rent or medical expenses. Or they have been unemployed for so long that they've lost hope. But "Enough" is an insightful reminder of the danger of building an economy too dependent on and dominated by the financial industry. Bogle laments that we've created a culture whose heroes are hedge-fund managers and moneychangers whose reckless decisions have damaged so many companies, families and retirement portfolios.

This isn't a book most people would pick up and read for leisure. Bogle spends a fair amount of space (but not too much for my taste) criticizing the financial world, though he acknowledges that it has brought him great wealth. "Enough" is divided into three sections: "Money," "Business" and "Life."

In the section on money, Bogle skewers his own kind -- the investment community.

"On balance, the financial system subtracts value from our society," he writes. "We have moved to a world where far too many of us seemingly no longer make anything; we're merely trading pieces of paper, swapping stocks and bonds back and forth with one another, and paying our financial croupiers a veritable fortune. In the process, we have inevitably added even more costs by creating ever more complex financial derivatives in which huge and unfathomable risks have been built into the financial system."

Amen. Hallelujah and all that jazz.

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