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Al Jacobs
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A. B. Jacobs is a professional investor with four decades of first-hand involvement in intricate business and investment activities.

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Intellectuals Beware Intellectuals Beware - Article by Al Jacobs

Several weeks ago I received a letter from a subscriber, Adele, which included the following comments:

“Over the past year you’ve outlined various techniques on how to prosper, often requiring certain arithmetical calculations. You’ve also recommended college courses that can be taken for self-improvement. I suppose these are good ideas, but you should know that not everyone is good at math, and some of us didn’t get very far in school. Do you really have to be a genius to become financially independent? What if you’re just ordinary? By just following the systems you outline, can you really prosper?”

My thanks to you, Adele, for raising a subject to which I may not have paid enough attention. Admittedly, I sometimes get carried away with a particular financial strategy while ignoring how it may be received by some persons. Although I try to avoid burying my audience in intricate details, I do resort to numerical analyses from time to time. If I’ve left anyone puzzled or frustrated, I can only apologize. I’ll try to keep things in proper perspective.

With that said, I now want to respond to your very penetrating question: “Do you really have to be a genius to become financially independent?” Perhaps it’s time that we consider exactly what role native intelligence plays in achieving monetary success. Although the modern public school establishment may contend otherwise, we cannot all be at the top of the class.

The challenge must be: If you diligently pursue the approaches I outline in my writings, but possess no more than average brain power, what are your chances? As we’re all aware, it’s common to equate intelligence with financial success, with one of the more overused put-downs being the perennial inquiry: "If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?"

The fact is, however, that affluence is not confined to the brilliant, nor are the brightest people necessarily the most prosperous. As a case in point, many members of the international high-IQ organization, Mensa, are of modest means. This is not meant as an endorsement of stupidity, for most certainly dimwittedness does little to promote wealth accumulation. Nonetheless, high intelligence is not the answer either, and Robert Heller in his 1974 book The Common Millionaire stressed that, down through the ages, a lot of untalented people managed to make a million dollars.

So the question remains: Exactly what qualities are most helpful in acquiring and retaining wealth, and where does intelligence fit into the equation? From my observations it appears that the necessary ingredients include habits of thrift and moderation, the diligent pursuance of a plan of action, and just plain good luck.

Admittedly the second of these three factors requires some acumen, which obviously works to eliminate the truly inept from the game. But on the whole it is the meld of character traits that seems to determine the outcome. My belief is that of these characteristics, "diligence" is by far the most important. If this is the case, then high intelligence conceivably acts as a bar to financial prosperity.

Unlike success in scientific endeavors, which requires profound skills to solve often complex problems, the continued application demanded in wealth accumulation is one that often requires little but a repetition of procedures, with no continual input of brainpower needed. Quite likely a mind capable of absorbing and processing new and stimulating information finds the demands involved in money-making a monotonous exercise offering little satisfaction except for the obvious benefits of having wealth.

When comparing brains versus achievement, here’s another thought for you. Perhaps the link between intelligence and financial success is not the direct correlation we’ve been led to believe. It might be that beyond some level, increased intellect is actually a deterrent in the wealth-generating process. As with any theory, no rationale is convincing without at least one testimonial to make the argument.

I’ll offer as a prime example a man who in the early 1990s achieved national prominence as a symbol of financial achievement: self-made multi-billionaire and presidential contender H. Ross Perot. There’s no denying that Mr. Perot displays some remarkable traits, foremost among them driving energy and a compelling self-confidence. I contend that it’s these characteristics which account for his spectacular success. On the matter of his intellectual brilliance, as evidenced by performance in a college classroom, you might note that, as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1953, his final year’s record in purely academic subjects would have placed him in the bottom ten percent of his class.

Let me conclude by proposing that the true relationship between mental capacity and financial success is most accurately reflected by a bell-shaped curve showing that success in wealth accumulation peaks at an IQ of about 115, dropping off at both higher and lower values. If this is reasonably accurate, then we of questionable intellect may take heart; there surely is a fortune waiting for us.



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Al Jacobs has been a professional investor for nearly four decades. His business experience ranges from real estate, mortgage, and securities investment to appraisal, civil engineering, and the operation of a private trust company. In addition to managing his investments on a day-to-day basis, he is a featured financial columnist for both online and print publications. He is the author of Nobody’s Fool: A Skeptic’s Guide to Prosperity. You may subscribe to his financial Newsletter, "On the Money Trail," at no cost or obligation, by visiting On the Money Trail


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