Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Book Review

There are only about 13 to 15 million Jews in the world. [(Wikipedia. Jewish Population. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population) and (Jewish Virtual Library. Jewish Population of the World. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/jewpop.html)]

Estimates are difficult to come by of their aggregate wealth but their financial success, as a people, is truly remarkable.

Jews account for less than one quarter of one percent (0.23%) of the world's population. I estimate their aggregate wealth at $500 to $700 billion. The world, on the other hand, has an estimated aggregate wealth of $35 to 37 trillion.
The world's population, as of 2006, was estimated at 6.6 billion.

How do the figures relate? While the Jewish people account for only 0.23% of the world's population, they account for 1.25% to 2% of the world's wealth.

I had to extrapolate the estimates of the aggregate wealth of the Jewish people as well as of the world. For the world, my source was Capgemini, a prestigious U.S.-based consulting firm. [Capgemini. World Wealth Report. http://www.us.capgemini.com/worldwealthreport06/default.asp]

My research uncovered a lot of material about American Jews. I will quote only two sources here. I am not anti-Semitic and I wanted to select viewpoints that were as objective as possible. The first source was the report of a college professor's study on the impact of religion on wealth. She reported that:
American Jewish household certainly have a greater median net worth than people of other faiths: $151,000 compared to $40,000. [Keister Lisa. Ohio State Research. Ohio State University. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/relgwlth.htm]
The second was an American Jew's own analysis. [Silbiger, Steven. 2000. The Phenomenon of the Jews: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People. http://home.comcast.net/~neoeugenics/poj.htm] His article contained a lot of interesting tidbits, two of which I shall repeat here:
  1. Forty five percent of the top 40 of the Forbes 400 richest Americans are Jewish.
  2. One third of all American millionaires are Jewish.
I am amazed at the magnitude of this disproportionate ratio so when I came across this book entitled “Values, Prosperity, and the Talmud,” I promptly read it. Subtitled “Business Lessons from the Ancient Rabbis,” I read further that:
the Talmud (which means “study”) is a comprehensive manual for living that covers almost every aspect of life.
It emphasizes business matters because commerce, more than any other human activity, tests our moral mettle and reveals our true character, and because business offers us some of the best opportunities to do good deeds such as giving to charity, providing employment, and building prosperity in our communities and the world.
Rather than demonizing wealth and trade, the Talmud teaches us to treat commerce as a wonderful opportunity for improvement, challenging us to think of work and money outside the narrow focus of self-interest.
That sounds more than reasonable. There’s wisdom in that logic. I especially love the clause, “commerce, more than any other human activity, tests our moral mettle and reveals our true character.”

The author, Mr. Larry Kahaner, systematically organized and summarized the lessons he spoke of. Each chapter was devoted to a lesson and was sprinkled with anecdotes and sayings. The most surprising insight I had was the unsurprising nature of the lessons from the Talmud. The lessons emphasize honest conduct and fair dealings. They also emphasize respect and dignity for our fellow men. Upon reflection, the Talmud’s lessons should not have come as a big surprise. A tome this ancient can be expected to contain the fruit of generations of scholars who have tested and debated the merit of each sentence. If that is so, then the Talmud must contain statements of principle. Principles, of course, are self-evident truths. Principles are to human values as water is to the oceans. Principles cannot be distilled any further. Below is each chapter, its theme, and one or more favorite lessons from that chapter. My remarks are italicized.

The spirituality of money
  1. The ultimate role of money is to afford individuals and companies the time and resources to learn, grow spiritually, and do good deeds.
  2. Profitable companies have an additional responsibility to do good deeds with their money by increasing community prosperity through jobs.
  3. Financially successful companies focus on pleasing customers, respecting employees, and producing excellent products and services. Companies that strive solely for profit will fail.
Work as a holy act
  1. Work is considered a holy act, and all work has intrinsic dignity, no matter what the job.
  2. The main practical purpose of work is to earn money. However, work also builds self-esteem by allowing people to support themselves, their family, and the community. Work is our contribution to those around us.
  3. A day of rest during the week is necessary for a person's all-around well-being. It increases productivity as well.
  4. Strike a balance between work and leisure. Too much of either is harmful.
Treating workers well pays dividends
  1. Wages must be paid promptly.
  2. Employers are obligated to preserve and protect the workplace. It also must be a safe place to work.
  3. Never humiliate or berate an employee.
  4. Employers must direct their employees closely, letting them know precisely what is expected of them.
  5. Local customs for wages and working conditions should always prevail.
  6. Benevolent managers attract and retain the most productive workers. Leaders set the example for a company’s behavior.
Giving and getting a fair day’s work
  1. Employees may not engage in any activity outside their regular work that will impair their at-work performance.
  2. Employees must work a full workday.
  3. An individual should not seek a new job or engage in interviews unless he is truly interested in changing positions. A person may not take a job from someone else.
  4. I think this last one is less relevant today:
  5. Work close to home, even if it means taking a lower-paying job.
The bonding of corporate profits and ethics
  1. Profiteering on necessary commodities is not permitted.
  2. So many disgraced business leaders failed to practice this one: Even honest companies must avoid any possible appearance of impropriety in order to keep their reputations above reproach.
  3. As individuals, more of us should practice this one: The use of the corporate veil is not acceptable. All managers are responsible for the behavior of their companies. Every employee is responsible for acting ethically.
  4. You can find a lot of these especially in most competitive retail markets: All products must have a money-back guarantee.
  5. Adam Smith would be happy to see this one: The right price is determined by the marketplace—consumer and seller. Both sides have the same power to set prices.
  6. I think this is less relevant today: The seller must make sure the consumer knows exactly what he or she is buying.
  7. And so is this: “Caveat emptor” is not an acceptable credo. Merchants can show their products and services in the most flattering manner, and even emphasize their positive attributes, but they must also call attention to any faults.
  8. Buyers, too, have an ethical duty: Buyers may not show an interest in goods unless they intend to make a purchase.
Balancing the environment and profits
  1. Causing pollution is morally unacceptable.
  2. There is no such thing as local pollution. Locally produced pollution can have an impact on places and people located far away.
  3. About efficiency and economy of resources: Do not use more materials than necessary.
  4. Manufacturing processes that produce waste products are inefficient and less profitable. Manufacturing processes should mimic nature’s economy.
  5. Natural resources may be exploited but not wasted in order to produce profits.
  6. About balancing progress with the environment: Environmental health must be balanced with economic growth. Neither is more important than the other.
The rules of partnerships, deals, and debt
  1. When major stakeholders like CEOs stand to reap considerable buyout packages, this is frequently ignored—usually to everyone else’s detriment: Despite overwhelmingly positive factors, if two corporate cultures are not compatible, the merger or partnership between them ultimately will fail.
  2. The written agreement and honor: Honor all agreements with precisely written contracts.
  3. Lending money and being repaid: Money lending must be handled as if both sides were engaged in a business partnership; the loan must be for an activity designed to yield a profit.
  4. Lenders should not lend money to those with a low expectation of repayment.
  5. Lenders may not harass or embarrass debtors.
  6. Honor and repayment of debt: Bankruptcy is not an honorable way out of debt. All loans must be repaid in full.
Competition is for true competitors only
  1. Do not compete with established companies unless your products and services are substantially different in price, quality, and selection.
  2. A small company can successfully compete with larger companies by finding an under-served niche.
  3. Milton Friedman and Adam Smith would be happy to see this one: Robust competition always benefits consumers.
Education is a lifelong process
  1. Learning is a lifelong process. People must continue their education throughout their careers.
  2. Employee learning should be focused on critical thinking and not education by rote.
  3. Group learning is more effective than learning alone, because education involves asking questions and exchanging ideas.
  4. What’s one difference between information and knowledge? Students should differentiate between information and knowledge. Information is a commodity and assumes value only after it is filtered and analyzed and becomes knowledge.
Charity means more than giving
  1. Charity is everyone’s obligation. Donations kept close to home are the most blessed.
  2. Helping an individual or company with a loan, a job, or a partnership is the most noble form of charity.
  1. We were taught these two growing up: Reputations can only be built cumulatively, through protracted hard work, real deeds, and exemplary actions—not as the result of window dressing or short-term, high-impact efforts.
  2. In the final analysis, a good name is the prime factor in business success and the only element that endures long after the people who created it are gone.


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