“A Cross between Donald Trump and Buddha”

I’ve just caught up with Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, a BBC observational documentary on what might be called the “wealth guru” subculture. The programme, by Venessa Engle, included interviews with several of the gurus:  Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, T. Harv Eker, who divulges Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, and – from the UK – Marcus De Maria. However, the main focus was on the followers, including those who have found success (and in turn become “wealth mentors” themselves) and those who are still aspiring to the millionaire lifestyle – racking up thousands of pounds of credit card debts in the process, as they attend seminars and conferences and pay for financial mentors.

The “secret” appears to boil down to “get a property portfolio and some shares”, and reviews of the show unsurprisingly drip with disdain. From the  Guardian:

“We’re going back to feudal times!” Kiyosaki tells his loving fans. “When you had the rich and you had the peasants!” On this evidence, they look more like they’re actually going back to the wild west, where roving merchants peddled the curative properties of snake oil, and gullible, wounded souls with nothing else to hope for fell for their spiel hook, line and sinker.

The Independent, meanwhile, called the programme “quietly devastating”:

It turns out wealth creation is big business, from “how to” books to pricey seminars to a board game named Cashflow (a tongue-removed-from-cheek Monopoly). It’s a nasty web where self-help-speak, capitalist theory, and religious cultishness meet. And the wealth gurus squat in the middle like greedy spiders while poor, credulous individuals get themselves completely tangled up.

As for Eker – the self-described Trump-Buddha mashup:

This odious little man is one of those responsible for Janice [a nursery teacher] believing that if she rubs her earlobes while repeating “I am a millionaire”, she’ll soon be rolling in it. He’s fond of booming over a microphone to his many wide-eyed event attendees that the universe “owes” them a million pounds. 

The overlap with religion was of particular interest: one woman from New Romney explained how she became drawn into the scene when a young relative received a terminal diagnosis and she turned to the writings of a medium:

The very first book I read on self-development, or looking beyond “what is”, was by Betty Shine, and she was a medium, and then You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay was a huge impact on me… Then I discovered Robert Allen’s Multiple Streams of Income… Just because you have money it doesn’t mean you can’t be spiritual, and I mean, money’s passive, it doesn’t come with emotions, money is just a tool, and it’s up to us how we use it.

This sounds rather like a New Age version of the Prosperity Gospel: self-help, motivationalism, an optimistic spiritual message, and a dose of magical thinking.

Perhaps the most depressing interviewees were two teenage Kiyosaki acolytes. While some of the contestants on shows like The Apprentice have inflated views of their own business acumen, at least they tend to understand the need to come up with and develop actual business ideas. By contrast, these two were under the impression that the road to riches is a shopping trip to the estate agent with a couple of “wealth coaches” in tow.

Meanwhile, a professional investor named John T. Reed has a website rating – and debunking – a number of financial gurus here.

One Response

  1. Didn’t there used to be, somewhere in California (where else) a “Church of the Almighty Dollar”?

    Ah well, my granny didn’t tell me “there’s no such thing as an honest penny” but I can still wish that she had…

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