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In The Algebra Of Wealth, Scott Galloway’s Spot-On Career Tips Dwarf His Iffy Personal Advice

Though his philosophy and personal advice can be a bit thin, Scott Galloway’s swagger makes for entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking reading.

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Scott Galloway has stormed onto the scene over the past few years with his trademark blend of swearing, crying, and monotone delivery. He speaks with so little affect that his words seem less like opinions than well-proven facts he’s tired of rehashing. He uses profanity freely and generally projects an alpha persona, though he is known to get choked up when talking about his surrogate father figures and the opportunities America gave him.

Galloway has carved out a niche by combining his entrepreneurial charisma with a 1990s liberal sensibility. His new book, The Algebra of Wealth, offers a broader view of what leads to financial security. He breaks it down into an equation: “Wealth = Focus + (Stoicism x Time x Diversification).” Focus means drilling down on your talents (as opposed to your passion), stoicism refers to general character development, and then time and diversification are about effectively investing the spoils of your career. Not exactly ground-breaking, but Galloway isn’t promising to make you rich overnight or offering budget worksheets to get your finances in order.

In The Algebra of Wealth, Scott Galloway pontificates on careers, finance, and living a good life. But ultimately, The Algebra of Wealth is less a finance book than a letter Galloway is writing to his younger self, who was a financially successful but undisciplined young man. That personal element makes for endearing and authentic, though occasionally self-indulgent, prose.

The World According to Galloway

If you’ve seen Galloway’s recent clip on MSNBC or his “scorching” Ted Talk, you can get a sense of his schtick. Early in the book, he lays out his view of America today:

The median home price in the U.S. is six times the median annual income — fifty years ago it was two times. … Marriage rates among all but the wealthiest cohort are down 15% since 1980, as people can’t afford to tie the knot, much less have kids. Despite record growth in our broad prosperity, just 50% of Americans born in the 1980s are making more than their parents did at the same age, the lowest share ever.

He often comes back to this idea: that it’s never been harder to get ahead, get married, and get on with life. The social contract has been broken because our gerontocracy — Galloway likes to quip that D.C. is “a cross between The Golden Girls and The Walking Dead” — has consistently put the interests of incumbents over new entrants. It’s great to enter retirement today, with housing prices and stock values at record highs and Social Security providing a steady transfer of wealth from young to old. But it’s harder than ever for young people to get their first home or enter the stock market.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that Gen Z is actually unprecedentedly rich, and Galloway’s contention about fewer “kids doing better than their parents at age 30” ignores that 30-year-olds today are more likely to have attended college or even grad school rather than to enter the workforce at 18 (or younger) as their grandparents did. Moreover, blaming economics for the low birth and marriage rates gets things backward. As The Federalist’s David Harsanyi pointed out, emotionally and economically viable young men have never been in abundance, but marriage helps make them more responsible, sensitive, and ultimately wealthy.

Thankfully, Galloway doesn’t spend much of the book advocating for government reforms or bemoaning the state of modern capitalism. He’s too pragmatic for that. Instead, he says, “If the system suits you, play it the best you can. If it doesn’t … play the best you can.”

The Straight Talk

Galloway’s own view of his success is almost schizophrenic. On the one hand, he harps on all the structural advantages Boomers enjoyed. He was born a straight white male in the ’60s and went to UCLA when the admission rate was 76 percent and tuition was $1,350. He got a job at Morgan Stanley straight out of school, despite, by his own admission, receiving a 2.23 GPA and learning “nothing but how to make bongs out of household items and every line from ‘Planet of the Apes.’” Yet, he got into Berkeley for grad school and concludes that America used to be about giving “unremarkable kids” “a shot at being remarkable.”

Despite all this rosy talk of the plentiful opportunities of yore, Galloway clearly worked extremely hard. He loves to tell the story of how he would pull an all-nighter every other Tuesday at Morgan Stanley. He would show up at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday and work straight through until 6:00 p.m. Wednesday because he wanted his colleagues to know he was there to play. He also likes to say he spent all of his twenties and thirties working, and “it cost me my hair, cost me my first marriage, and it was worth it.”

Scott Galloway is unfiltered, and sometimes that leads to vulgarity. To explain where his son gets his tendency to misplace objects, he writes, “My ex-wife said if my penis wasn’t attached, we’d run across it in SoHo on a card table next to secondhand books and a script for Goodfellas.” Crude and bizarre. He describes the birth of his eldest as “when my first kid came marching out of my girlfriend.” Again, a crude and bizarre description.

Nevertheless, this unfiltered approach lends him a certain credibility. When he says wealthy people often have high character because success is easier when others help you along, there’s no ulterior motive. He advocates for a patchwork moral system (Galloway himself is an atheist) because he believes it will help you resist pitfalls, find success, and ultimately be more satisfied. But you get the sense that if he genuinely believed deceit and backstabbing were the best strategy, he would say as much.

His basic argument about career-building is a familiar one: Talent leads to mastery, which leads to passion. Navel-gazing to discern a passion and then hoping to match that to a career is often a fool’s errand. Instead, Galloway advises readers to seek a field with 90 percent employment in which they can end up in the top 10 percent. In other words, find a stable field where you can excel but not have to crack the top 1 percent to be successful (like you would in acting, athletics, fashion, etc.)

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Galloway spent his twenties and thirties working and playing hard. When he became a dad at 42, he realized he’d hardly saved any money. He felt like a failure. Immediately, he began saving diligently, and he’d built enough skills over the past two decades to build a nest egg rapidly. When he gives advice, though, he focuses on how he should’ve begun saving earlier, not why he began saving in the first place.

It wasn’t simply growing older. Becoming a parent and eventually marrying his girlfriend caused a fundamental shift in his approach to life, one that getting married and starting a family younger may have triggered as well. Galloway talks out of one side of his mouth about finding a partner as an instrumental tool for wealth generation, accountability, or happiness, but then admits, unashamedly, that he still watches porn, loves drinking, and is now switching to edibles because he likes the feeling of getting high without hammering his liver.

The point is, his career advice is often spot-on, but he can be myopic. He downplays cultural and personal factors, instead zeroing in on government policy and higher education as the means to elevate young men and women. He lacks the moral seriousness you would want from a true role model, but at the same time, he’s genuine and insightful in his own way. Like any crazy uncle, you have to take the good with the bad — and everything with a grain of salt.


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