“Do you know your numbers?”
That’s was my father’s question after a number of months after I released my first book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version. As one of the top Apple Business Consultants (and what a great way to be in daily contact with my target audience), I wrote it because I had more drive and talent than Apple was willing to tap into, this is how I started my side hustle. But this time my father’s question had an underlying tone, tainted with a hint of condescension. Answer correctly to his satisfaction and I avoided what was to come in negative terms! I didn’t know my up-to-date numbers, but I didn’t tell him that because I was still learning the ropes of not only being a first time author, but a budding new (and first in the family) entrepreneur, too. I was learning new numbers, like inventory, revenue, acquisition costs, and most of all, profit.
Yet, if I asked my father how well did he think he did in preparing me to manage the money I earned, he might become silent. My familial financial training and discussions consisted mostly of saving money rather than creating wealth. One Sunday afternoon moment stands out. He asked me as a high school teenager if I knew how much the family spent to run the household, I said the usual teenager, “I don’t know.” My father spent the next few minutes begrudgingly discussing how much the family paid for our mortgage, utilities, food, and other items. Contrast that with my wife’s financial training, her mother training her monthly to put the bills in a special location and then, at the proper time, writing out checks for each bill for her mother to sign.
My family could have been better, i.e. more frequent and consistent discussions and actual training creating good money habits. But I am not alone. During a very recent talk I gave to a BAM (Business As Mission) meeting at a local church, I asked how many were like me who felt ill or less prepared by both family and school classes regarding the discipline of handling of money? About 70 percent of the people raised their hands. If this is about our home financial life, what does it look like if someone now wants to become an entrepreneur and start creating wealth?
How do you like them numbers?
While Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey have been doing their part to counter financial illiteracy and to get that 70 percent number trending downward, there is more work to be done. While they help others learn how to manage their money, I help others learn how to earn their money with their God-given talents by starting their own business as entrepreneurs the biblical way. Part of this entrepreneurial numeracy training is getting others to break through various mental shackles. It starts with learning about earning from the Bible.
The first point is Jesus discussing working with millions of dollars in investments in a business context. The research that went into my second book, HWJDB How Would Jesus Do Business? has uncovered more of our Christian financial illiteracy. In the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), you find Jesus talking about a master giving three slaves, each according to their ability, a number of talents. The talent was the largest currency in the first century, up to 200 lbs of gold or silver which, at today’s price of gold of $1,300.00/oz, one slave got five talents worth over $20 million dollars, and he doubled it. Nearly everyone I ask knows that the talent was money, most are shocked when I reveal the literal value of what all the slaves received. If Jesus talked about these large amounts of money in a business context, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we also think about growing a business to these levels of revenue, even profits? Oh, and do it ethically?
The second point is a historical shift in our Yankee know-how mindsets. Americans prior to the Revolutionary War were becoming more prosperous and our mother country only saw our economic output from the fixed wealth mindset of mercantilism, where the individual subordinates his economic activity to the interests of the state. But after our Independence, we struggled to gain our economic footing as we grappled with our new nation based on a new set of national principles. A society where heredity status, entitlements, and class distinctions would be erased.
It was not until the 1824 Supreme Court decision of Gibbons v. Ogden that the economic chains and old attitudes of mercantilism finally were broken. This decision was not about more Federal government control, but the Court affirmed that the sovereign States could no longer grant exclusive monopolistic rights to businesses. It squelched this bad economic development habit. This positive court decision toward economic development had a “release of energy” and unleashed American entrepreneurialism.
A little over half century later, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), one of America’s richest during his time, published his book Triumphant Democracy in 1886 and outlined our economic ranking of America amongst other developed nations. He wrote his introductory statement to his book which he later gives evidence to back up his statements:
The old nations of the earth creep on at a snail’s pace; the Republic thunders past with the rush of the express. The United States, the growth of a single century, has already reached the foremost rank among nations, and is destined soon to out-distance all others in the race. In population, in wealth, in annual savings, and in public credit; in freedom from debt, in agriculture, and in manufactures, America already leads the civilized world.
So, after over 100 years of freedoms and efforts, most industries in America had outpaced our mother country and Europe in productive output. While America may not have achieved international recognition among the old world nation “elites,” the American people and immigrants who chose to flock here reaped the most important: personal economic rewards.
Back to the future
Reading Rodney Stark’s book The Victory to Reason, he outlines that the mindset of progression (improvement) versus procession (continuing on) was a huge part with the development of the subject of capitalism. In Florence, Venice, Genoa, and Milan, Italy around the mid 1300s they tackled illiteracy because nearly half of the children attended school.
But once literate, the foundation of capitalism is to become numerate, the ability to understand and work with numbers and math. But the most important principle: The application of numeracy to business concerns. Their highly successful “abacus schools” helped increased their computational skills, learning to calculate compound interest, and even mastering the principles of basic accounting. Surveying business ledgers during this time revealed not a single bookkeeping error, even when calculating six figure numbers to the penny (rounding was not an accounting habit).
As the Italian society’s wealth grew, so did its version of capitalism spread north to other nations. A byproduct of this wealth creation were the discussions around the morality of managing large amounts of money, i.e. not much different than Jesus discussing talents. Stark indicates their capitalism was shown to have been more developed before the Protestant Reformation came along. It seems wealth creation had spawned discussions on how to reinvest wealth instead of consumptive spending. It was more about being productive and less about privilege. In other words, capitalism helped spawn frugal money habits which became the “work and wealth ethic” of Puritanism.
To come full circle, it is Thomas Stanley, who wrote The Millionaire Mind, who echoes this frugal Italian capitalist thinking and wrote that nearly all good business money habits should directly crossover into one’s home life. That is, you operate an economically productive business which those good habits should crossover into one’s home life. Then those good entrepreneurial money habits passed down to your children and creating a wealth creation legacy that could last for generations.
When you become an entrepreneur, you shift from a consumer to a producer numbers mindset, with less discussion of the price of something and more of what is its value. This translates into what to do with your wealth by investing in, growing, and starting new businesses rather than a display of your wealth by buying more social bling.
Will you help promote the principle of being productive with entrepreneurship rather than consumptive, thus raising the tide for all?
 A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michel Allen, pg 49
 A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michel Allen, pg 163
 Triumphant Democracy by Andrew Carnegie, pg 1
 The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark, pg 107-108