Briefcase Study: Financial Independence is a Myth

In Articles, Articles: Kansas City Office, Articles: Salt Lake City Office, Briefcase Studies, SLC Winter 2022, Winter 2022 by Scott Dougan

‘Financial Independence’ is a wonderful goal, a beautiful aspiration, a worthy pursuit. But it’s impossible. If true financial independence is the point at which we have enough money to be free from needing to serve or be served by other people, then we’ve missed the point entirely.

If we look at a pile of wealth – money, property, possessions – from a distance, we see that enough of it will eventually generate sufficient income to allow us to not have to work for a paycheck any longer toward our pursuit of enough; we’ll have enough. But if we zoom in much closer to inspect that pile of money, we see that it’s comprised of ownership in lots of things that employ and serve thousands of people in order to generate the income that allows the perception of financial independence. Said in another way, money itself doesn’t free us up from having to earn it, money just sits there. It’s the investments that we call money that must be actively engaged in productive uses in order to have any real value. A certificate of stock in Ford Motor Company, for example, doesn’t do anything productive on its own, but the company that stock represents as a proxy certainly does do a lot. It employs thousands of people who design, build, and market things that get us to and from home and work.

So, by extension, becoming financially independent requires that we allow ourselves to be wildly dependent on the ingenuity and work ethic of others. Otherwise, the investment assets we own which free us up from having to work ourselves to a literal death have no value. It turns out that it’s the very act of trusting others that builds true wealth. I love the interconnectedness of that and I hope you do too. For if you don’t, it’s going to be tough to achieve any semblance of financial independence at all, and that would be a shame.

Money and wealth, it turns out, is simply proof that we served other people. We served them and they paid us in dollars as a way to show appreciation for that service. By extension then, we get to build our wealth over the years by placing our proof of service, money, into investments that require others to continue to serve one another. The financial economy is one big trust machine. Fortunately, it becomes easier to trust one another when there are rules and regulations in place to keep the system operating lawfully, responsibly, and in our collective best interest. For if those societal bonds are broken, we’re all in trouble. 

Striving for financial independence, that day when you no longer need to earn a paycheck from work, is a highly noble pursuit because it requires us to serve and to be served. I think this is a wonderful message to consider as we approach the holidays and the promise of the New Year.