Billionaire investor Charlie Munger: ‘The world is not driven by greed, it’s driven by envy’

Billionaire investor Charlie Munger says he’s never cared about comparing his riches to those of others. Rather, he says his motivation in accumulating wealth has always been about securing independence—the freedom to do what he wishes in business and in life — and he wishes more people would follow his example.

“The world is not driven by greed. It’s driven by envy,” Munger said at the annual meeting of the Daily Journal, the newspaper company where he is a director, earlier this year. The 98-year-old, who has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates at $2.2 billion, added that it’s easy and common for people to become envious.

No matter how much some people have, someone else will always have more, he noted. It’s a sentiment that Munger has expressed in the past and one he’s previously attributed to his longtime friend and investment partner, Warren Buffett. But Munger seems confident that he’s overcome the tendency himself.

“I have conquered envy in my own life. I don’t envy anybody,” Munger said. “I don’t give a damn what someone else has. But other people are driven crazy by it.”

Of course, it’s easier to say that when you’re a billionaire. Forbes lists more than 1,300 other billionaires with larger fortunes than his, including Buffett, who has an estimated net worth of $106 billion, but Munger’s wealth is still more than enough to ensure he would want for nothing.

In 2017, Munger said in an interview that he always tries to avoid feelings of “envy and jealousy” in business. Those types of thoughts can hurt your career because you’ll be more likely to make biased decisions that could turn out poorly, he added. In 2019, he spoke out against envy again, telling CNBC that avoiding envy is one of the “simple” secrets to living a long and happy life.

Indeed, a 2018 study found people driven by envy are more likely to experience poorer mental health and well-being. The rise of social media has also been criticized for feeding into people’s feelings of envy and materialism by constantly offering windows into the lives of people who either have or appear to have particularly luxurious lives.

Envy is simply “built into the nature of things,” Munger said at the Daily Journal’s meeting. The billionaire added that he can’t understand why people today aren’t more content with what they have, especially when compared to the hard times previous generations endured.

Munger himself lived through the Great Depression and cited poorer living conditions and shorter lifespans as far back as the 1800s as examples of how far humanity has come. “The fact that everybody’s five times better off than they used to be, they take that for granted,” Munger said. “All they think about is that somebody else has more now, and it’s not fair that he should have it and they don’t.”

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