Readers' Submissions

The Millionaire Next Door

  • Written by Harlequin
  • October 16th, 2002
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


There is a book I read several months ago, called: "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy". It is a semi-academic study and report about the wealthy in America and how they have come to be this way. I say 'semi' because it is written for popular consumption rather than publication in an academic journal. Essentially, what the authors did was to do a survey of rich Yanks, looking for the common denominators among them, and report on some so that you, the reader, can also become a millionaire.

The book comes to many conclusions about how the rich become rich in America: I don't remember all of them. However, there are 2 principles in the book that have stayed firmly in my mind:

1) When you talk about 'wealth', you must distinguish between a person's net worth and their lifestyle. There are high-flyers who spend beyond their means; they appear to be wealthy but in fact are not. In contrast, there are thrifty people with low-key lifestyles who slowly but steadily accumulate assets over their lifetime; these people are wealthy even if they often appear to be only middle-class. The book focuses its study on these 2 groups of people – i.e. it excludes people who inherit wealth or win some obscenely huge lottery jackpot.

2) The authors take a metaphor from sports in describing people who earn a lot of money as being "good on offence", whereas people who refrain from spending on non-necessities as being "good on defence". The book concludes that being in the latter group is more important to becoming a millionaire.

OK, why I am telling you about this book? Well, I collect a small commission from the publisher for everyone who clicks through to Amazon.com from this web site and orders the book. Hey, with the skyrocketing price of beer and barfines at A-Go-Go bars, pretty soon you will need to be a millionaire just to be able to go sanuking in Bangkok these days. Please go BUY THIS BOOK NOW so that I can afford to short time this awesome babe at G-Spot with the sweetest pair of…..

Nahhh, actually the book is a bit dull. However, I have recently been wondering how the principles mentioned above apply to Thai society, and how it would differ from America. I have been living here for a few months; I read the local newspapers, talk with local people and follow this and other Thailand-based boards on the net. I have a long way to go before I really understand how things work here. Still, here is my 2 satang worth on the issue:

1) Advantages of Birth: As we all know, Thailand is a very class-oriented society, more so than the Western world (and much more so than the U.S. of A., a country built on the principle that a person can go as far as their hard work and talent will take them). Choosing your parents wisely helps in any society, but I get the feeling that if you choose dirt-poor Isaan farmers to be your Mom and Dad here in Thailand, you face nearly insurmountable obstacles in accumulating wealth. I would guess that most Isaanese with any kind of wealth would be the young ladies who go to work in the farang scene and manage to marry a rich and lonely foreigner (or at least are clever enough to get a few sugar daddies to send them funds from abroad).

2) The 'Face' Thing: To have face in Thailand is often synonymous with having money. But how does one demonstrate to others in the community that one has money? Publish your stock portfolio in the Bangkok Post? No, you need to conspicuously consume. Alas, this you make you rather "poor on defence" – difficult to build up your net worth when you are trying to keep up with the Jones.

3) Spend it if you got it: Thais get paid monthly, and many seem to spend their wages like an oil worker on vacation in the LOS. Several members of this board have remarked on how ATMs get cleaned out at the end of the month, and just check out how packed the shopping malls are on the weekend after pay day! As with spending to maintain your face, a lack of budgeting skills also makes one "poor on defence".

4) Buddhism: I mention this apropos the point above, as a possible explanation why many Thais don't feel the need to save or even budget their disposable income. Most Thais are Buddhist, and I wonder if there is some aspect of the religion that makes wealth accumulation a low priority. I am really out of my depth here because I know little about the principles of Buddhism. I only mention this because I think about the Protestant Work Ethic, which sort of provides a religious sanction for wealth accumulation.

5) The Chinese Thais: In the LOS, if you have a millionaire living next door to you, he is likely to have ancestors who came here from the Middle Kingdom. I am not so out of my depth here because I have lots of close friends at home who come from China. On the whole, they are frugal to the point of almost being miserly. In financial matters, they play their cards very close to their vest – ask them how business is going and you will get an extremely vague answer (I think some of them do this because they are pulling some tax dodge, but every little bit helps when you are accumulating wealth). Most importantly, they 'invest' in their children – education takes priority over all other family expenditures. They talk to me about how their 8-year-old kids are going to Harvard, to Med school, Law school, etc. Well, if the Chinese Thais are anything like these immigrants in my country, they can't help but end up owning this place.

I have to confess that I grew up with the Protestant Work Ethic, which very much colours my point-of-view on money and wealth. I think about the times I have been in a bar, and the ladies are doing their best to extract money from me. I am not a big spender in these places, and I have no doubt they are damning me as a Cheap Charlie – a couple times they have told me this to my face. When I ask them why I should buy them a lady drink or a tip, I am told "because you have money and me no have money". Now, I could explain to them that I have money because I don't throw it away just to impress people what a big spender I am. But would they understand this? I think the principles of "The Millionaire Next Door" would be lost of most of them.

Stickman says:

It sure would be lost on them!